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What is Crambe?

B. Turner
B. Turner

Crambe is a genus of perennial plants that shares characteristics with mustard and rapeseed plants. While crambe includes many different species, these species can be divided into three basic categories. One category of crambe serves as a flowering garden plant, while a second is grown as a source of food for people and animals. The final, and largest, category of crambe plants is grown so that its large seeds can be harvested and used for a variety of industrial and manufacturing processes.

The crambe genus is native to the Mediterranean, and was not introduced to North America until the mid-20th century. Since that time, the plant has become a major source of interest for scientists and researchers due to its similarities with the rapeseed plant. Crambe is fairly easy to grow in most areas due to its high level of drought-resistance and ability to thrive under a wide range of temperatures. It requires silty or loamy soils, and does best when exposed to some dry periods. Watering should be scheduled during times when the plant is flowering or experiencing new growth, not during inactive periods.

Man mowing the grass
Man mowing the grass

Garden varieties of this plant include both pure and hybrid species. These plants tend to grow very large, but are prone to grow out instead of up. They cover a lot of ground, and produce large quantities of flowers. Crambe flowers feature brilliant shades of yellow and white, and tend to be small and numerous. These flowers have a very distinct fragrance that contains shades of honey.

The plant produces very large leaves that are roughly the size of a human hand. Many species of this plant serve as a leaf vegetable, particularly in the plant's native Mediterranean region. They may also be used as an herb for cooking or flavoring. Left unharvested, these leaves may dry up and form a tumbleweed that blows off away from the plant. The seeds of the plant are non-edible by humans, but are sometimes used in livestock feed.

Crambe seeds are considered one of the best sources of erucic acid, which is a modern alternative to rapeseed oil or whale oil. This acid serves as a source for biofuel production, which can replace fossil fuels in some transportation and industrial applications. Erucic acid is also used to manufacturer synthetic rubber, film, and some fabrics. This oil serves as a lubricant in motors and engines, and keeps the engine from locking or seizing. Erucic acid also serves as an anti-corrosive material for many types of metal.

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