What is Crotalaria?
Crotalaria is a leguminous flowering plants genus. Rattlepods is the Crotalaria common name. The plant belongs to the legume Fabaceae family and Faboideae sub-family. Crotalaria species include about 500 shrubs and herbaceous plants.
Most Crotalaria varieties are native to Africa. About 400 plant species native to Africa grow in wet grasslands, especially depressions, flood plains, fields and roadsides, along rivers and swamps, and deciduous bushland. Certain Crotalaria species are used as ornamental plants.
Also known as rattlebox, the name rattlepod was derived from the nature of the seeds to loosen as they mature in the pods. The loose seeds make a rattling sound whenever the pods are shaken. The name was obtained from an Ancient Greek word for 'castanet'. Crotalaria is similar to the rattlesnakes genus Crotalus.
Some Crotalaria species are cultivated for human consumption. High yield plants resistant to diseases and with high nutritional quality are often chosen for cultivation and optimal survival. A community in India, the Mizoram, eat certain wild and cultivated Crotalaria tetragona (Tum-thang) species.
Crotalaria tetragona pods and flowers are used as vegetables, seeds consumed as pulse and buds and flowers used for garnishing food. Known locally as 'mitoo' Crotalaria brevidens is cultivated and grows wild in East Africa's Lake Victoria Basin.
'Mitoo' is a local cuisine prepared as a vegetable. The plant is highly nutritious, hence its wide use and consumption; it is rich in Beta carotene. Chipilin or long-break rattlebox, Crotalaria longirostrata is native to El Salvador, Guatemala and Oaxaca. It is a noxious weed in the United States.
Shoots and leaves are edible; they are desiccated for use as herbs or cooked and eaten green. It is rich in calcium, riboflavin, thiamine, iron, ascorbic acid and niacin. Crotalaria roots and seeds can be toxic. Animals refrain from eating the plant. Its seeds also shatter and spread widely.
Australian Crotalaria species are cultivated as grain crops. They thrive in soils poor in nutrients, dry environments and agricultural systems with low inputs. The Crotalaria plant species in Australia grow upright, bear flowers and fruits on the edges of branches, and neither shatter nor tend to dehisce. The seeds are either moderate or large for easy harvesting.
Sunn hemp or Crotalaria juncea is grown in the subtropics and tropics regions for lightened fiber, green manure and fodder. It's also a potential source of cellulosic ethanol for generating biofuel.
Popular Crotalaria Species
- Crotalaria pallida
- Crotalaria spectabilis
- Crotalaria pumila
- Crotalaria longirostrata
- Crotalaria ochroleuca
- Crotalaria brevidens
Crotalaria ochroleuca and brevidens are grown in western Kenya. They are consumed by luos, luyhas and kisii tribes. Apart from doing well in poor soils and being disease resistant, the two Crotalaria species are used as cover crops. They point to the fact that tribes in Kenya began cooking vegetables as a nutritious source of nutrients.
Grow Crotalaria at Home
You can grow Crotalaria at home to enjoy its rich aroma and benefit from its range of healthy nutrients. Whether you want to grow the plant in your garden or indoors, and whether you want it potted, grown in a sack or container, we've got you covered.
Browse through our list of garden tools and supplies, including a large grow pot, to help you plant the vegetable.