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Sida cordifolia L. 1753
(Malvaceae – the hibiscus family)
Common names: Flannel Weed, Bala
Sida comes from the Greek word σιδη (sidé), used in classical times as a common name for both the pomegranate and the yellow water-lily Nuphar luteum; cordifolia is from the Latin cor (cordis), the heart, and folium, a leaf.
This is a sparsely branched small shrub up to 150 cm tall, with fibrous stems. It has light green, slightly concave oval or elongated leaves with a shiny surface and dentate margins. The leaves vary in size, up to about 7 cm long and 5 cm wide, with 7–9 veins. The small flowers have yellow or whitish petals, often yellow-red at the base, conspicuous, and borne on short stalks in the leaf axils along the branches. The stamens cluster around the style, and there are numerous anthers. It flowers towards the end of the wet season. The fruit is a dark brown capsule, 6–8 mm in diameter, and splits into 6 or 10 single-seeded segments when ripe. Each seed is wedge-shaped, brown to black, with 2 stiff spikes at the tip.
This plant is thought by some botanists to be a native of India, where it is known as bala, and its seeds as bijabanda. It has been in use in Ayurvedic medicine for hundreds of years. Others consider it to have originated in the Americas. It is now distributed through all the warm regions of the world.
Flannel weed rapidly infests overgrazed areas near troughs and underneath shade trees. As soil nitrogen builds up from the effects of the nodulation of the legume roots, the weed spreads over the paddock, competing with more palatable pasture species.
An extract of the plant containing the alkaloid ephedrine is considered to be one of the most valuable drugs in Ayurveda. It is used to treat bronchial asthma, colds and ’flu, chills, lack of perspiration, nasal congestion, headaches, aching joints and bones, coughing and wheezing, and oedema. It is also thought to be useful both as an appetite suppressant and as a fat-burning supplement in the treatment of obesity. However, there are other alkaloids in the plant that are toxic, and it is dangerous to use home-made preparations from flannel weed. As well as this, the prolonged use of products containing ephedrine can be a risk to health. Its effects, similar to those of amphetamines, can be dangerous when taken in combination with other stimulants, particularly with caffeine. I note with interest that a number of states in the USA have banned the sale of dietary supplements that contain ephedrine.
Information about medicinal qualities of plants, or about their use as medicines, is for interest only, and is not intended to be used as a guide for the treatment of medical conditions.
Photographs taken at Nelly Bay 2010, Picnic Bay 2014
Page last updated 21st February 2018