Family: Pedaliaceae, Sesamum indicum L.

Source: Simon, J.E., A.F. Chadwick and L.E. Craker. 1984. Herbs: An Indexed Bibliography. 1971-1980. The Scientific Literature on Selected Herbs, and Aromatic and Medicinal Plants of the Temperate Zone. Archon Books, 770 pp., Hamden, CT.

Sesame, Sesaum indicum L., is an annual herb native to the tropics and naturalized in southern areas of the United States. Also known as arbenne and formerly classified as Sesamum orientale L., the herb is cultivated extensively in many regions of the world, including the People's Republic of China, India, Ethiopia, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Sudan, Mexico, Guatemala, and the United States. The plant grows erect and reaches a height of 1 to 2 meters, with fine pubescent leaves, pale rose or white flowers, and a capsule-type fruit from which seeds are obtained (14.1-4).

The reported life zone for sesame is from 11 to 29 degrees centigrade with an annual precipitation of 0.2 to 0.4 meters and a soil pH of 4.3 to 8.7 (4.1-31). The crop does best in a warm temperature with a long growing season. Seed shattering is a problem with many varieties, so timeliness of harvest is important for maximizing yield. Plants are harvested by hand or machine, then threshed, dried, and stored.

The fixed oil, obtained by expression and known as either sesame, gingerly, or teel oil, is bland in taste and almost odorless. Constituents of the oil include olein, stearin, palmitin, myristin, linolein, sesamin, and sesamolin (14.1-35).

Sesame seeds are available hulled, unhulled, or ground and are employed as a condiment in breads, pastries, crackers, and confections. The seeds are also used in stews for the sweet nutty taste they develop upon cooking. Sesame oil, important because of its low cholesterol and high proportion of polyunsaturated fats, is used in oleomargarine, salad oils, and cooking oils. Sesame paste or tahini is a popular and nutritious spread in the Middle Eastern countries. Sesame seed residues have been used as a livestock feed.

As a medicinal plant, traditional uses of sesame have included limited application as a demulcent and emollient, and the use of sesame oil as a laxative and tonic. Sesame oil is also used as a pharmaceutic solvent, and sesamolin is also used as a synergist for pyrethrum insecticides (14.1-35).

Sesame is generally recognized as safe for human consumption as a spice and natural seasoning (21 CFR section 182.10 [1982]).

[Note: References listed above in parentheses can be found in full in the original reference].

Aromatic and Medicinal Plants Index

Last modified 6-Dec-1997