The plant occurs around the world.
The leaves are used as a vegetable. Young shoots and leaves are eaten as a vegetable in Southeast Asia. Occasionally it is cultivated for food or for use in herbal medicines.
This species is classified as a weed in parts of the southern States of the USA. It is usually (but not always especially in areas of high humidity where it can even be a garden weed) found in wet or damp spots.
This is a perennial herb with prostrate stems, rarely ascending, often rooting at the nodes. Leaves obovate to broadly elliptic, occasionally linear-lanceolate, 1-15 cm long, 0.3-3 cm wide, glabrous to sparsely villous, petioles 1-5 mm long. Flowers in sessile spikes, bract and bracteoles shiny white, 0.7-1.5 mm long, glabrous; sepals equal, 2.5-3 mm long, outer ones 1-nerved or indistinctly 3-nerved toward base; stamens 5, 2 sterile. In the wild it flowers from December till March.
Aerva lanata is often mistaken for Alternanthera sessilis, which is also of the Amaranthecea family, and looks similar. On careful observation you will notice that flowers of Alternanthera sessilis are situated over the stem and their shape is round. As its flowers look like the eyes of a fish, Alternanthera sessilis is called Matsyakshi, fisheyed. Other Indian names of this plant are Koypa (Marathi), Honganne (Kannada). Leaves along with the flowers and tender stems are used as vegetable in Karnataka. It is diuretic, tonic and cooling. Juice of this plant, deemed beneficial to eyes, is an ingredient in the making of medicinal hair oils and Kajal (kohl). The red variety of this plant is a common garden hedging plant, which is also used as a culinary vegetable.
This plant is available in the aquarium trade though it will not grow submersed for anything but short periods. However it can be useful in the tropical pond or terrarium though needs restriction as it can grow and propagate quickly under good conditions.
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- Grubben, G.J.H. & Denton, O.A. (2004) Plant Resources of Tropical Africa 2. Vegetables. PROTA Foundation, Wageningen; Backhuys, Leiden; CTA, Wageningen.