African Horseradish

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The geographic origins of Corchorus olitorius, or Nalta jute, are disputed, as the plant has been cultivated for centuries both in India and in the African tropics. Some authors claim that the zone between India and Burma is where the plant is originally from. In any case, given the presence of several wild species of Corchorus, particularly in the African tropics, some believe that the original home may be here, where it is widespread both in the wild and as a cultivated crop.
Horseradish belongs to the malvaceae family, and is a perennial plant that grows up to four meters tall. The plant has many branches, with alternating leaves that are either simple ovals or elliptical shaped. The fruits contain seeds that vary between one and three mm in diameter. The cultivar that belongs to the olitorius group does not grow taller than two meters and it also has many branches.
When cultivated, the plant is sown at the beginning of the humid season, and even the leaves are gathered and cut into shoots between 20 and 30 cm long that are full of sap. Using the cooked leaves, or the powder of dried leaves, or even a powder made out of dried out, unripened fruits, a salsa is made which in Nigeria is used as a condiment for the classic akara balls (made using cassava starch, yams or millet). In several African countries the leaves are often cooked with peas, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, milk, meat, and also used to flavor dishes, along with bell peppers and lemon. They can also be used to flavor soups and, rarely, are eaten raw in salads. In Europe the product is sold as a powder as a Lebanese product, in which case it is called meloukhia, an Arabic name, but it is also known as “Jewish malva” or “vegetable of the Pharaohs”.
The root of this plant is used as a concentrate to ward off many physical ailments, such as tooth aches, constipation, febrifuge, or as a powerful tonic.

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