Jute mallow (Chorchorus olitorius) is known as ‘denje’ in Chichewa. It is also sometimes called ‘Jew’s mallow’, ‘Nalta jute’, and ‘Bush okra’. It has been cultivated and has grown wild throughout Africa, Asia, and India for thousands of years. It was recorded to have been used as a food in ancient Egypt.
Nutritionally, the leaves can be eaten either raw or cooked. According to the World Vegetable Center, they are a rich source of beta-carotene, vitamin E, riboflavin, folic acid, ascorbic acid, calcium, iron, and protein. The leaves produce a mucilaginous texture when cooked, which is where it gets its name ‘bush okra’, or in Chichewa ‘therere‘.
The leaves have two distinct spikes at the base, which makes identification easier. The small black seeds grow in elongated pods which split open when ripe, and they are also edible. Research has shown that these seeds seeds contain: protein, carbohydrate, iron, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and vitamin A.
Commercially, a fiber can be obtained from from the Jute mallow plant, which is called ‘jute’. This naturally biodegradable fiber can be made into a wide variety of products. It is also environmentally friendly as it can be grown without all of the chemicals which are currently used in the production of cotton, and it has been estimated that a hectare of Jute mallow can absorb up to 15 tons of carbon dioxide, while releasing up to 11 tons of oxygen.
Malawi does not use this plant commercially, but in India, where numerous products are manufactured, the economic value of the jute industry is around 37 billion rupees (over 450 million US dollars). This is more than two-and-a-half times the value of Malawi’s entire tobacco industry, which generated $174.5 million US dollars in 2020. India now makes, sells, and exports jute products such as: rope, mats, baskets, flower planters, shoes, clothing, handbags, lampshades, and much more.
When we learn to use our resources to their fullest potential, we can quickly bring an end to things like malnutrition, hungry seasons, and poverty.