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Sesbania sesban - (L.) Merr.

Common Name Sesban
Family Fabaceae
USDA hardiness 10-12
Known Hazards Fresh seeds are poisonous to humans but are eaten after soaking for 3 days and then cooking[418 ].
Habitats Common along streams, swamp banks and moist and inundated bottomlands[303 ].
Range Africa, through Arabia, southern Asia to Australia. Widely naturalised in other areas of the tropics.
Edibility Rating    (2 of 5)
Other Uses    (4 of 5)
Weed Potential No
Medicinal Rating    (2 of 5)
Care
Tender Moist Soil Wet Soil Full sun
Sesbania sesban Sesban


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Sesbania sesban Sesban
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Summary

Sesbania sesban, otherwise known as Sesban or Egyptian river hemp is a nitrogen-fixing tree belonging in the legume family. It grows up to 7 m in height with many side branches from low down on the bole. It is vigorous but short-lived, living only up to 10 years. The flowers can be cooked and the leaves are eaten as a vegetable. The seeds can be grounded into a powder and fermented to make a paste used as a flavoring. The roots and leaves are used medicinally for scorpion stings, boils, and abscesses. In addition, the leaves are used in the treatment of sore throat, gonorrhea, syphilis, and jaundice. Seed oil has medicinal properties as well. Bark from this plant yields fiber which are useful for making ropes and nets. The bark, as well as the seeds, produces gum. The wood is used for making arrow, pipes, toys, and other items but more commonly used as firewood and for charcoal production.


Physical Characteristics

 icon of manicon of shrub
Sesbania sesban is a SHRUB growing to 5 m (16ft) by 5 m (16ft) at a fast rate.
It is hardy to zone (UK) 10. The flowers are pollinated by Bees.
It can fix Nitrogen.
It is noted for attracting wildlife.
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and can grow in heavy clay and nutritionally poor soils. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils and can grow in very acid, very alkaline and saline soils.
It cannot grow in the shade. It prefers moist or wet soil and can tolerate drought. The plant is not wind tolerant.

UK Hardiness Map US Hardiness Map

Synonyms

Aeschynomene sesban L. Sesban aegyptiacus Poir. Sesbania aegyptiaca (Poir.) Pers. Sesbania punctata

Habitats

Edible Uses

Edible Parts: Flowers  Leaves  Seed
Edible Uses:

Flowers - cooked[301 , 418 ]. They are included, perhaps as a decorative or festive ingredient, in foods such as omelettes[303 ]. The leaves and flowers are eaten as vegetable[301 , 317 ]. The seeds are ground into a powder and fermented to make a paste, known as 'soumbara', used as a flavouring[301 ]. Fresh seeds are poisonous to humans but are eaten after soaking for 3 days and then cooking[418 ].

Medicinal Uses

Plants For A Future can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.


The fresh roots and leaves are used to treat scorpion stings, boils and abscesses[303 ]. The leaves are considered to have antibiotic, anthelmintic, antitumor and contraceptive properties[303 ]. A decoction is used to treat sore throat, gonorrhoea, syphilis, spasmodic fits in children and jaundice during pregnancy[303 ]. An oil obtained from the seeds is accorded special properties in ayurvedic medicine and is reported to have antibacterial, cardiac depressant and hypoglycaemic actions[303 ]. The saponin, stigmasta-galactopyranoside, which is isolated from the seeds, shows spermicidal and haemolytic activity[303 ].

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Other Uses

Agroforestry Uses: This tree should prove to be an excellent pioneer species for establishing native woodland and woodland gardens[K ]. It is fast-growing, short-lived, fixes atmospheric nitrogen, provides a large bulk for revitalising the soil, and has a wide range of uses[K ]. The plant has been used to shade plantations of coffee, tea and cocoa[303 ]. It has also been used to provide a windbreak for bananas, citrus and coffee[303 ]. The growing plant will increase soil nitrogen levels through symbiotic interaction with bacteria, it has the ability to stabilize soil, and in Asia has been used as green manure for rice[303 ]. Its branches have been used as mulch and leaves as a green manure[303 ]. It improves soil fertility in a short-term rotation fallow[303 ]. The plant is also useful in combating the parasitic plant striga weed (Striga hermonthica). It stimulates the Striga weed to germinate, but is unsuitable as a host, so the Striga dies unless it can find another host nearby[303 ]. Some studies indicate that a one year fallow with this plant can increase maize yields from 2 to 4 tonnes per hectare without the application of nitrogen fertilizer[303 ]. It is a promising shrub for alley cropping because it is easy to establish, grows rapidly, coppices readily and provides mulch material of high nutrient content (particularly nitrogen)[303 ]. In some climates, such as in the highlands of Kenya, it may have a sparse canopy, and weed competition can be a problem[303 ]. The trees are suitable for use as live trellises for growing pepper plants (Piper spp.) on[303 ]. Other Uses Fibres obtained from the bark are used for making ropes and nets[46 , 303 , 317 ]. It has the potential for pulpwood production[303 ]. The saponin, stigmasta-galactopyranoside, which is isolated from the seeds, has glucuronide derivatives of oleanolic acid, which has been shown to have molluscicidal activity against Biophalaria glabrata, one of the known snail vectors of schistosomiasis[303 ]. The seeds and bark produce a gum[303 ]. The wood is used traditionally for making arrows, pipes, toys etc[418 ]. A popular crop for firewood and charcoal because it produces a high woody biomass in a short time, which, although soft, is relatively smokeless, quick kindling and hot burning[303 ]. The calorific yield for a 3-year-old tree is approximately 4350 kcal/kg[303 ].

Special Uses

Cultivation details

Agroforestry Services: Alley crop  Agroforestry Services: Crop shade  Agroforestry Services: Living fence  Agroforestry Services: Living trellis  Agroforestry Services: Nitrogen  Agroforestry Services: Windbreak  Fodder: Bank  Industrial Crop: Biomass  Management: Coppice  Management: Standard  Minor Global Crop  Staple Crop: Protein

A plant of the subtropics, also succeeding at higher elevations in the tropics, being found at elevations of 100 - 2,300 metres[303 ]. It grows best in areas where annual daytime temperatures are within the range 18 - 28°c, but can tolerate 10 - 45°c[418 ]. When dormant, the plant can survive temperatures down to about -5°c, but young growth can be severely damaged at -1°c[418 ]. It prefers a mean annual rainfall in the range 800 - 2,000mm, but tolerates m350 - 2,500m[418 ]. Requires a sunny position[418 ]. Tolerates saline, acidic and alkaline soils[303 ]. The plant has an outstanding ability to withstand waterlogging and is ideally suited to seasonally flooded environments. When flooded, it initiates floating, adventitious roots and protects its stems, roots and nodules with spongy, aerenchyma tissue[303 ]. It also shows some tolerance to moisture stress and tolerates soil alkalinity and salinity to a considerable degree[303 ]. Prefers a pH in the range 5 - 7, tolerating 4 - 9.9[418 ]. A fast-growing, but short-lived plant, often dying before it is 10 years old[303 , 418 ]. It has been reported to attain a height of 4 - 5 metres in only 6 months[303 ]. It thrives under repeated cuttings and coppices readily, with many branches arising from the main stem below cutting height[303 ]. Cutting frequencies are generally 3 - 4 cuts/annum, but up to 8 cuts are made in some areas[303 ]. Yields have ranged from 4 to 12 tonnes/hectare dry matter per year, depending on location[303 ]. Cutting height can also influence yield, with cutting heights of 50 - 76 cm favouring plant survival and productivity[303 ]. This species has a symbiotic relationship with certain soil bacteria, these bacteria form nodules on the roots and fix atmospheric nitrogen. Some of this nitrogen is utilized by the growing plant but some can also be used by other plants growing nearby[200 ]. The rhizobium requirements vary. There is a host-strain interaction, and different accessions of the plant require different strains of bacteria[303 ].

Carbon Farming

  • Agroforestry Services: Alley crop  Integrates annual crops with rows of perennials.
  • Agroforestry Services: Crop shade  Plants providing crop shade especially trees.
  • Agroforestry Services: Living fence  Simply managed rows of shrubs and trees.
  • Agroforestry Services: Living trellis  Plants to physically support other crops.
  • Agroforestry Services: Nitrogen  Plants that contribute to nitrogen fixation include the legume family – Fabaceae.
  • Agroforestry Services: Windbreak  Linear plantings of trees and shrubs designed to enhance crop production, protect people and livestock and benefit soil and water conservation.
  • Fodder: Bank  Fodder banks are plantings of high-quality fodder species. Their goal is to maintain healthy productive animals. They can be utilized all year, but are designed to bridge the forage scarcity of annual dry seasons. Fodder bank plants are usually trees or shrubs, and often legumes. The relatively deep roots of these woody perennials allow them to reach soil nutrients and moisture not available to grasses and herbaceous plants.
  • Industrial Crop: Biomass  Three broad categories: bamboos, resprouting woody plants, and giant grasses. uses include: protein, materials (paper, building materials, fibers, biochar etc.), chemicals (biobased chemicals), energy - biofuels
  • Management: Coppice  Cut to the ground repeatedly - resprouting vigorously. Non-destructive management systems maintaining the soil organic carbon.
  • Management: Standard  Plants grow to their standard height. Harvest fruit, seeds, or other products. Non-Destructive management systems.
  • Minor Global Crop  These crops are already grown or traded around the world, but on a smaller scale than the global perennial staple and industrial crops, The annual value of a minor global crop is under $1 billion US. Examples include shea, carob, Brazil nuts and fibers such as ramie and sisal.
  • Staple Crop: Protein  (16+ percent protein, 0-15 percent oil). Annuals include beans, chickpeas, lentils, cowpeas, and pigeon peas. Perennials include perennial beans, nuts, leaf protein concentrates, and edible milks.

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Propagation

Seed - requires pre-treatment to soften the hard seedcoat and allow the ingress of water[303 ]. This can be done by soaking the seed in a small amount of nearly boiling water (which cools down quickly and does not cook the seed) and then soaking the seed for 12 - 24 hours in warm water. Alternatively, a small area of the seed coat can be abraded, being careful not to damage the embryo[K ]. The germination rate of treated seed is about 65% in about 16 days[303 ]. Seed storage behaviour is orthodox. Viability can be maintained for 2 years in open storage at room temperature[303 ].

Other Names

If available other names are mentioned here

Alambu, Arisina jeenangi, Barya-jantis, Champai, Checheko, Chithagathi, Ekad, Jaint, Jainti, Jait, Jarjan, Jayant, Jayanti, Jayantika, Jayantri, Jayat, Jayati, Jayatiphul, Jintri, Joyontri, Karijeenangimara, Karunchembai, Kedangu, Mbondo, Muzimbandeya, Mwethia, Nellithalai, Raishingin, Rawasan, River bean, Samintha, Sassadenha, Sempa, Shevri, Shewarie, Suiminta, Thaitimul, Tingkwanga, Torero, Zamarke,

Found In

Countries where the plant has been found are listed here if the information is available

Cape Verde; Mauritania; Senegal; Sierra Leone; Mali; Burkina Faso; Ghana; Niger; Chad; Togo; Benin; Nigeria; Cameroon; Central African Republic; Egypt; Sudan; South Sudan; Ethiopia; Somalia; Uganda; Burundi; Rwanda; Tanzania, United Republic of; Kenya; Congo, The Democratic Republic of the; Angola; Zambia; Zimbabwe; Mozambique; Botswana; Swaziland; South Africa; Namibia, Afghanistan, Africa, Asia, Australia, Bahrain, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burma, Cameroon, Central Africa, Chad, Côte d'Ivoire, Cyprus, East Africa, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinée, Guinea-Bissau, India, Indochina, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Laos, Malaysia, Mali, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nigeria, North Africa, Northeastern India, Pakistan, SE Asia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, Southern Africa, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Suriname, Swaziland, Tanzania, Thailand, Tunisia, Uganda, Vietnam, West Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe,

Weed Potential

Right plant wrong place. We are currently updating this section. Please note that a plant may be invasive in one area but may not in your area so it’s worth checking.

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants Status : This taxon has not yet been assessed

Related Plants
Latin NameCommon NameHabitHeightHardinessGrowthSoilShadeMoistureEdibleMedicinalOther
Sesbania bispinosaPrickly SesbanAnnual/Biennial2.0 10-12 FLMHNMWe224
Sesbania grandifloraVegetable Hummingbird, Agati,Tree12.0 9-12 FLMHNMWe324
Sesbania herbaceaColorado River Hemp, Bigpod sesbaniaAnnual3.0 0-0  LMHSNM000

 

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(L.) Merr.

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A special thanks to Ken Fern for some of the information used on this page.

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