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Wednesday, July 27, 2011


Johnson grass

Johnson Grass is the parent of Sorghum bicolor, and is an invasive weeds which grows between the grain sorghum in many countries. It is also known as Sorghum vulgare. This grows wild in Pakistan and India and is sometimes used in traditional medicine as a soothing herb for digestion, and a decoction of the seeds can be made into a paste for skin problems and irritation. The grains are also a diuretic and a decoction of the seeds can be made using 2 ounces of them in 2 pints of water, boiled down to one pint. The seeds may be eaten raw or cooked and can be ground into flour used to make breads or made into porridge, like oatmeal.
  Sorghum is grown for its grain, while sweet sorghum is grown for its stalks which are made into sorghum syrup in a process similar to extracting the juice from sugar cane. Both sweet sorghum and Johnson’s grass can grow to more than 6 feet tall but the grain sorghums are dwarf varieties, making it easier to harvest the seeds, which, when on the plant look like huge heads of millet (bajra).
  Sorghum can be used instead of barley for brewing and this is done in Nigeria and Uganda where it is employed for making lager type beer. It is cheaper than barley so good for commercial producers of beers.
  Sorghum is indigenous to Africa, although it was domesticated in India before recorded history, and was growing in Assyria by 700 BC. It reached China in the 13th century and got to the rest of the world much later, although Johnson Grass is native to the Mediterranean and Europe as well as the Middle East, where it has been used as forage for animals. In fact there are somewhere between 20 and 30 species of sorghum growing around the world. S. bicolor is the one that is mainly produced commercially though.
  Sorghum is a drought resistant cereal crop as the leaf blade and sheaths are covered with a heavy white waxy substance which seals in moisture, protecting the plant from water loss. It is therefore useful in drought-ridden countries in the developing world and in Africa there is the Africa Biofortified Sorghum project which was set up to help reduce the deaths attributed to malnutrition, which, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) constitutes a “silent emergency” killing millions of people a year and depleting the long-term economy of still-developing countries. The sorghum is being enhanced with vitamin A, the amino acid lysine, along with the minerals iron and zinc.
  Sorghum naturally contains three of the B-complex vitamins, B1, B2 and B3 and all 8 essential amino acids as well as 10 more including lysine, but it does not contain vitamin A and only small amounts (relatively) of iron and zinc .It also is rich in phosphorous and potassium and also contains calcium and sodium. It is high in fibre and has both Omega-3 and -6 fatty acids present. It has potent antioxidant properties and is gluten free which makes it a good alternative grain for those with gluten allergies.
  Much of the sorghum grown around the world is for fodder, and a lot goes into the production of ethanol, which is used to raise octane levels in petrol. When it is eaten the hull is usually left on so that all the nutrients are present. It is the third most important cereal grown in the States, although it is not generally eaten there, but made into syrup or put into animal feed. It was taken to the US sometime in the early 17th century and was cultivated in the southern state by slaves. It is used to make industrial adhesives, in wallboard, and in paper-making.  It is also used for biodegradable packing material. In other countries where it is allowed to grow tall the stalks are used in weaving and the red pigment from the plant is used to dye leather. The dried stalks can be used for fuel for cooking so it is very useful. Sorghum dye has been patented in hair dying products.
   It is used in traditional medicine in the countries it grows in to treat a number of ailments wherever it grows. For example in Nigeria it is used to prevent miscarriages, as a soothing agent for the mucus membranes and to aid digestion, as a diuretic and to soothe the skin. It is also used as a poison. Sorghum bicolor is also used to treat stomach aches, cancer and epilepsy, and the seeds are made in a decoction for diarrhoea. The stem is used to reduce tubercular swellings. It is also used for anaemia sufferers and as a blood purifier and tonic.
  In India jawar is used to get rid of intestinal worms and as an effective insecticide as there are phenolic compounds and tannins in it which keep insects at bay.
  In Brazil a decoction of the seeds is given for respiratory problems, for example bronchitis, coughs etc as well as for kidney and urinary tract problems.
  Sorghum bicolor contains hydrocyanic acid and hordenium alkaloid and so is poisonous if ingested in huge quantities. The Saika people of Nigeria use sorghum extracts in arrow poisons.
   In medical research it has been found that the aqueous leaf-sheathe extract of S. bicolor can protect the liver and could be a treatment for anaemia. However a lot more research has to be done before this is proven. The red pigment in the leaf sheathe seems to have these protective properties. This research was published in the Journal of Cell and Animal Biology Volume 9 (4) in September 2010 by Akand I.S. et al. Other research has suggested that the plant may help in increasing cell immunity in people with HIV/AIDS, but once more this has yet to be demonstrated in humans.

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