1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Sesame

SESAME, the most important plant of the genus Sesamum (nat. ord. Pedalineae), is that which is used throughout India and other tropical countries for the sake of the oil expressed from its seeds. S. indicum is a herb 2 to 4 ft. high, with the lower leaves on long stalks, broad, coarsely toothed or lobed. The upper leaves are lanceolate, and bear in their axils curved, tubular, two-lipped flowers, each about 3/4 in. long, and pinkish or yellowish in colour. The four stamens are of unequal length, with a trace of

From Bentley and Trimen, Medicinal Plants, by permission of J. & A. Churchill.

Sesame (indicum).

1, Corolla cut open with stamens.
2, Flower after removal of corolla.
3, Ovary cut lengthwise.
4, Fruit.
5, Seed cut lengthwise. 3 and 5 enlarged.

a fifth stamen, and the two-celled ovary ripens into a two-valved pod with numerous seeds. The plant has been cultivated in the tropics from time immemorial, and is supposed on philological grounds to have been disseminated from the islands of the Indian Archipelago, but at present it is not known with certainty in a wild state. The plant varies in the colour of the flower, and especially in that of the seeds, which range from light yellow or whitish to black. Sesame oil, otherwise known as gingelly or til (not to be confounded with that derived from Guizotia oleifera, known under the same vernacular name), is very largely used for the same purposes as olive oil, and, although less widely known by name, is commercially a much more important oil. The oil is included in the Indian and Colonial Addendum (1900) to the British Pharmacopeia. The seeds and leaves also are used by the natives as demulcents and for other medicinal purposes. The soot obtained in burning the oil is said to constitute one of the ingredients in India or Chinese ink. The plant might be cultivated with advantage in almost all the tropical and semi-tropical colonies of Britain, but will not succeed in any part of Europe.

A detailed account of its history and the cultivation of the plant in India is given by Sir G. Watt, Dictionary of Economic Products of India (1893).