Gossypium herbaceum, commonly known as Levant cotton, is a species of cotton native to the semi-arid regions of sub-Saharan Africa and Arabia where it still grows in the wild as a perennial shrub. It is a sister-species of Gossypium arboreum.
It was first cultivated in Western Sudan, from there it spread to India, before being introduced to Egypt. It reached China around 700 AD and was first cultivated from this period. It can also be found in Pakistan and almost all of the former Soviet Union areas.
A legend was perpetuated from a factual description of this plant by Greek historian Herodotus in the 5th century BC. Although his book, simply titled Histories, was an account of a war between the Persian Empire and the Greek city-states. It also contained descriptions of vast lands beyond the boundaries of the world known by the Greeks at that time. He wrote: "certain trees...bear forth their fruit fleeces surpassing those of sheep in beauty and excellence, and the natives clothe themselves in cloths made therefrom." From this description came the legend of the "vegetable lamb plant" which was said to be a real sheep. The tree would grow from a melon-like seed and grow into a lamb rooted to the earth by a stem from its navel. It was said to graze on the surrounding vegetation until the all greenery around it was devoured at which point it would wither and die. A 14th-century traveler by the name of Sir John Mandeville, professed to eating the flesh of this herbal beast. Although scientists tried to debunk this tale it was not officially labeled as a fable until 1887.
G. herbaceum has high stems that grow 2 feet (0.61 m) to 6 feet (1.8 m) high with wide, hairy leaves. Their flowers are small and yellow with a purple center. When ripe and in warm weather, the flower capsule will burst and expose the cotton surrounding the seeds firmly. The cotton produced by this plant is short, about 2 inches (5.1 cm) long and is firmly attached to the seed, which is covered in hairy down. An acre of cotton can be expected to produce about 300 pounds (140 kg).
Cotton is usually used as a textile while making clothing and can be made into yarns and sheets of fabric. In the Levant seeds are often used for food. It is utilized so often because of its comfortable, breathable properties. It has been cultivated for women's menstrual cycle pains and irregular bleeding, and it also has been used after birth to expel placenta afterbirth and to increase lactation. Cotton has been used for gastrointestinal issues also, such as hemorrhages, nausea, and diarrhea, as well as fevers and headaches, especially in the southern United States. Levant cotton seed extract, gossypol, also has a potential use as a male contraceptive but can cause infertility after discontinuing. In lab rat studies, it has been able to stop pregnancies early.
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