Cassava (Tapioka)

Manihot esculenta (Euphorbiaceae)

Characteristics

Woody shrub. Although naturally a perennial plant, Cassava is extensively cultivated as an annual for its edible starchy tuberous root, a major source of carbohydrates. Though it is often called “yuca” in Spanish America and in the United States, it is not related to “yucca”, a shrub in the family Asparagaceae.

Before consumption, it must be properly prepared, as improper preparation can leave enough residual cyanide to cause cyanide intoxication.

Distribution

Native to South America. Cultivated around the world in tropical and subtropical regions.

Natural Medical Properties

Cassava is often used in traditional medicine and has several applications.
The plant is antifungal, antiviral, mutagenic and antibacterial.
The roots of bitter varieties can be used to treat scabies, diarrhoea and dysentery.
The juice of the grated tubers is used to treat constipation and indigestion.
A flour made from the roots can be used as a dusting powder on the skin in order to help dry weeping skin.
Soaked with Carapa oil, it is used as a poultice on shattered muscles.
It is mixed with rum and rubbed onto children’s skin as a treatment for abscesses and skin eruptions.
It can be made into an ointment to treat fungal dermatitis.
The leaves are haemostatic.
They are made into a poultice to treat wounds.
The leaves are infused in bath water to treat influenza and fevers.
The leaves are heated and rubbed across sore eyes.
The stem is folded and rubbed across the eyes of people suffering from glaucoma.
The bark of the plant, together with that of Cordyline terminalis, is thought to prolong life.
Sugar cane and annatto are employed in an antidote to ingested water which has been poisoned by the soaking roots of this plant.

Did you know?

Cassava is the third-largest source of food carbohydrates in the tropics after rice and maize. It is basic diet for over half a billion people.

It is one of the most drough-tolerant crops, capable of growing on marginal soils.

Further reading:

Literature

World Flora Online
WorldChecklist of Selected Plant Families
A working list of all plant species