Melokhia (Corchorus olitorius, Corchorus capsularis)

Corchorus is a genus of about 40-100 species of flowering plants in the family Malvaceae, native to tropical and subtropical regions throughout the world. Different common names are used in different contexts, with jute applying to the fibre produced from the plant, and Mallow-Leaves Mulukhiyah applied to the leaves used as a vegetable. The leaves of the Corchorus plant have been a staple Egyptian food since the time of the Pharaohs and it is from there that it gains its recognition and popularity. Varieties of Mallow-leaves stew with rice is a well known Middle-eastern cuisine.

The plants are tall, usually annual herbs, reaching a height of 2-4 m, unbranched or with only a few side branches. The leaves are alternate, simple, lanceolate, 5-15 cm long, with an acuminate tip and a finely serrated or lobed margin. The flowers are small (2-3 cm diameter) and yellow, with five petals; the fruit is a many-seeded capsule. It thrives almost anywhere, and can be grown year-round.

The genus Oceanopapaver, previously of uncertain placement, has recently been synonymized under Corchorus. The name was established by Guillaumin in 1932 for the single speciesOceanopapaver neocaledonicum Guillaumin from New Caledonia. The genus has been classified in a number of different families including Capparaceae, Cistaceae, Papaveraceae, and Tiliaceae. The putative family name “Oceanopapaveraceae” has occasionally appeared in print and on the web but is a nomen nudum and has never been validly published nor recognised by any system of plant taxonomy.

The plants of Corchorus genus satisfy the world with great amounts of fiber needs. The fibers from these plants are the most widely cultivated vegetable fiber after cotton.

Young malukhiyah leaves are used as a green leaf vegetable; Corchorus olitorius is used mainly in southern Asia, Egypt and Cyprus, Corchorus capsularisin Japan and China. It has a mucilaginous (somewhat “slimy”) texture, similar to okra, when cooked. The seeds are used as a flavouring, and a herbal tea is made from the dried leaves. Malukhiyah is eaten widely in Egypt and some consider it the Egyptian national dish. It is featured in cuisines from Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, Jordan and Tunisia.

In Nigerian cuisine, especially amongst the Yorubas, it is commonly used in a stew known as ewedu, a condiment to other starch-based foods such as amala.

In India especially in Sambalpur and Western part of Orissa it is a favorite food during the summer months. Locally it is known as “Nalta Sag”. Usually it is lightly sauteed and eaten along with Rice and Water Rice.

In rural villages of the near east many families grow their own Mallow Leaves. It constitutes a significant constituent of their diet, thickening dishes and contributing vitamins, especially A. Here is a picture of the plant taken in Bi”lim:

The leaves are rich in betacarotene, iron, calcium, and Vitamin C. The plant has an antioxidant activity with a significant α-tocopherol equivalent Vitamin E.

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