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Crambe abyssinica Hochst. ex R.E.Fries

Crambe, Abyssinian mustard

Source: James A. Duke. 1983. Handbook of Energy Crops. unpublished.

  1. Uses
  2. Folk Medicine
  3. Chemistry
  4. Description
  5. Germplasm
  6. Distribution
  7. Ecology
  8. Cultivation
  9. Harvesting
  10. Yields and Economics
  11. Energy
  12. Biotic Factors
  13. References


Interest in crambe is three-fold (1) the seed oil is one of the richest known sources of erucic acid, (2) rapeseed oil, traditional erucic acid source, is being altered genetically to contain less erucic acid, and (3) crambe appears to be a better potential domestic crop than rapeseed (Lessman and Anderson, 1981). It is the cheapest source of erucic acid, which performs better than any known material as a mold lubricant in continuous steel casting. It is also in demand for making 'Nylon 1313', a tough form of nylon used for molded plastic, for articles as bearings and heavy fibers in brushes, as an additive in plastic films to prevent sheets from sticking together, in plasticizers to keep them soft and flexible. Hull-free seeds contain about 26% protein. Crambe meal is used as plywood and rubber adhesive, as a source of protein isolates, and as an additive to waxes. Crambe meal, after unpalatable material is removed or made inactive, may be used as supplement for ruminants not to exceed one-third to one-half of the supplement; it is not recommended for hogs and poultry.

Folk Medicine

No data available.


Per 100 g, the leaf is reported to contain 32 calories, 89.0 g H2O, 4.2 g protein, 0.6 g fat, 4.6 g total carbohydrate, 1.6 g fiber, 1.6 g ash, 176 mg Ca, 70 mg P, 2.9 mg Fe, 85 ug beta-carotene equivalent, a trace of thiamine, 0.09 mg riboflavin, and 0.7 mg niacin. The seed contains 15.5 g protein, & 55.5 g fat, 26.5 g total carbohydrate, 10.8 g fiber, and 3.0 g ash (Gohl, 1981). As harvested, crambe seed-plus-hull averages only 32% oil, the hull making up 30% of the harvested product. Crambe oil contains 55-60% erucic acid, 15% oleic, 10% linoleic, 7% linolenic, 3% eicosenoic, 3% tetracosenoic, 2% palmitic, and 2% behenic acids. The dehulled seed contains 4.6% moisture, 45.6% crude fat, 24.2% protein, 3.1% crude fiber, 4.2% ash, and 18.3% N-free extract. After oil extraction, the seed meal contains 6.8% moisture, 0.4% crude fat, 44.8% protein, 4.6% crude fiber, 7.9% ash, and 35.5% N-free extract. Conventionally prepared crambe meal contains substances that are growth inhibitory and goitrogenic to non-ruminants and unpalatable to ruminants. Epi-progoitrin is the principal glucosinolate in crambe seed meal (8-10%). Sinapine (which hydrolyzes during seed germination to sinapic acid and choline) makes up 0.27-0.56% of the meal (Lessman and Anderson, 1981).


Erect, annual herb, up to 1 m tall, branching mostly in the upper half; leaves large, ovate in outline, pinnately lobed, progressively smaller upward; inflorescence a long panicled raceme, the lateral branches of which are sharply ascending and shorter than the primiary axis; flowering indeterminate; flowers small, whitish; pods numerous, spherical, one-seeded, indehiscent; seed interior yellow. First-formed pods usually remain on stalk until last-formed pods mature. One plant may produce 530-1,840 fruits.


Reported from the African Center of Diversity, crambe, or cvs thereof, is reported to tolerate drought, and poor sandy soil. It will not tolerate wet or waterlogged soils. Several selections have been made, and because of its confusion with Crambe hispanica, putative hybrids have been developed. (2n = 90).


Originally described from East Africa, but introduced into Europe, North Africa, and later to United States, and Russia. It has been grown experimentally in Russia since 1932 and in United States since the 1940's.


Ranging from Boreal Moist to Warm Temperate Dry through Moist Forest Life Zones, crambe is reported to tolerate annual precipitation of 3.5 to 12.0 dm (mean of 13 cases = 6.5), annual temperature of 5.7 to 16.2°C (mean of 13 cases = 10.0), and pH of 5.0 to 7.8 (mean of 13 cases = 6.6). (Duke, 1978, 1979) Cool season crop, well-adapted as a spring crop in wheat-growing areas of the Pacific northwestern United States. A spring and fall crop can be grown, e.g. in Indiana. Grown as far south as Venezuela and as far north as Sweden and Leningrad. In seedling stage, it survives temperatures down to -5°C. It fares poorly where weeds are a problem. Does best on medium-light to heavy soils that are fertile and well drained. Sandy soils may be used if nutrients are provided, about 50-75 kg N/ha.


Early planting favors high yields, but crambe can be injured or killed by freezing temperatures. Therefore, planting should be delayed until danger of a severe frost is past. Conventional planting and harvesting equipment can be used. Seeding rate of 17 kg/ha in rows 16 cm apart, if germination is 80-90%, thus giving about 126 plants per sq. m. Rate may be reduced for rows less wide apart, or increased if germination is less than 80%. Seed should be planted 2.5 cm deep with a grain drill in firm, well-prepared soil. Irrigation may be necessary during the growing period. Cultural practices are similar to those used for small grains. A fertilizer program similar to that for small grains is also suitable for crambe. Cost of production is about the same as for barley. The major problems are weed control and seed-shattering.


From planting to harvest requires about 100 days, but this may vary considerably. Plants are harvested after leaves have dropped and seed pods and stems have turned light straw colored, with combine either cut directly or after swathing. Oilseeds with high oil content such as crambe are usually processed in a two-step operation with half the oil pressed out and the rest extracted with a solvent.

Yields and Economics

Yields vary widely from 1,125-1,624 kg/ha in Russia and 450-2,522 kg/ha in the United States, with yields highest in weed-free fields. In irrigated fields with additional nitrogen, yields up to 5 MT/ha have been attained. Buchanan and Duke (1981) take a conservative 1,120 kg/ha for their yield calculations. That is slightly less than is reported by a farmer in Kentucky who followed his crambe with soybean. Yields of more than 1,400 kg/ha are reported over a four year period in Sweden (FCA 04534(035)). As crambe is a new crop, only limited data are available. However, yield figures and specific demand for the oil indicate crambe is a potential oilseed crop of good economic value. In 1972, about 700 hectares were cultivated, mainly in Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio. Many countries in Europe are also experimenting with crambe as a possible new crop.


Test plantings in Russia, under a wide variety of ecological conditions, gave oil contents of 25-33% for seed with hulls (dehulled seeds reached 54%) (Cornelius and Simmons, 1969). Lessman and Anderson (1981) report yields of 169-840 kg/ha in Indiana, 2,000 in Missouri, suggesting oil yields of about 60-600 kg/ha.

Biotic Factors

Fungi reportedly found on crambe include the following: Alternaria abyssinica, A. brassicola, Fusarium avenaceum, F. conglutinans, F. culmorum, F. equiseti, F. martii, F. redolens, F. scirpi, F. solani, Plasmodiophora brassicae. The nematode, Heterodera schachtii, has been isolated from crambe. Cabbage maggots cause damage in some areas. Plants are more susceptible to insect attack if damaged by hail, wind, or rain. Seed weevils, Ceutorhynchus assimilis, which transmit the turnip yellow mosaic virus, may infect crambe (Horvath et al., 1973).


Complete list of references for Duke, Handbook of Energy Crops
last update July 8, 1996