Corchorus olitorius

Jew's mallow


Corchorus olitorius

L. 1753

pronounced: KOR-koh-russ oh-lit-OR-ee-uss

(Malvaceae — the hibiscus family)


common names: Jew's mallow, bush okra

Corchorus is from the Greek κορχορυς (korchorus), thought to be another name for αναγαλλις 'η κυανη (anagallis he kyané), the blue pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis ssp. fœmina); olitorius is Latin, belonging to a kitchen garden.

This plant probably originates in Africa, though possibly in India and Myanmar, and is widely grown right throughout the tropical regions of the world, at elevations of up to about 700 m. In many countries it is a very popular vegetable crop, used as a spinach substitute, and it is also grown for its excellent fibre – together with Corchorus capsularis, it is the primary source of jute fibre. The types of the plant used as a leaf vegetable are quite distinct from the types used for jute production.

It is an erect annual, or short-lived perennial plant growing to 3.5 m tall, and it is usually quite strongly branched. The taproot gives rise to a sturdy and hairless stem, that is green with a faint red-brownish hue. The stem sometimes turns woody near ground level.

The serrate leaves are alternate, up to 7 cm long and 2 – 4 cm wide. The blades are narrowly ovate, ovate, or elliptical, cuneate or obtuse. The stipules are quite remarkable-looking, being narrowly triangular with a long point.

The bisexual flowers are solitary or in up to 4-flowered cymes opposite the leaf. The are on a short stem, with 5 free sepals, 5 petals, and 10 free yellow stamens.

The fruit is a cylindrical capsule, dehiscent, and divided into transversal sections through 5 valves. The fruit is 2 – 8 cm long, and its colour varies from greyish blue to green, or even brownish black. Each seed chamber contains 25 – 40 seeds, i.e., up to about 200 seeds per fruit.

For making jute, the fibres are extracted from the plant’s bark. The stalk is cut and then processed by rippling, partial retting, breaking, spinning and combing to obtain fine fibres that are then separated from any unwanted woody material. The fibres are then cured and dried. Many textiles are made from jute, such as yarn and twine, sacking, and carpet backing. The use of jute from this plant is limited to coarse fabrics.

The plant is cultivated in eastern Mediterranean countries and Egypt as a potherb, and has been done so at least as far back as the times of the pharaohs. The leaves are eaten both raw and cooked. It is an important leaf vegetable in countries of central Africa, and is also eaten in the Caribbean and Brazil, in the Middle East, and in India, Bangladesh, Japan and Chine. In Nigeria, the leaves are boiled to make a sticky sauce that is served with balls of cassava – the leaves quickly become mucilaginous when cooked. Dried leaves are used as a thickened for soups. A tea is made from the dried leaves.


There is a considerable use of the leaves in traditional medicines, as a remedy for aches and pains, dysentery, enteritis, fever, pectoral pains and tumors. The seeds are used in Nigeria as a purgative and a febrifuge. Root scrapings are used in Kenya to treat toothache, and a root decoction as a tonic.

The plant photographed was found growing as a weed in a Nelly Bay garden.


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.



Photographed in Nelly Bay 2019
Page last updated 2nd June, 2019