The cotton plants are an annually growing herb belonging to the genus Gossypium of the Malvaceae family (mallow family). The cotton plant is usually a shrub-like herb that grows up to a height of two to five feet. The plant bears broad three-segmented greenish leaves, which are about 2 inches to 6 inches in length and emerge alternately on the stem. The blooms of the cotton plant are cup-shaped with big and flashy petals whose hue ranges from white to yellow. The flowers have a purplish or reddish spot close to their base. The fruits of the cotton plant enclose the seeds in capsules, also referred to as ‘bolls'. The seeds are surrounded with white colored soft hairs or the cotton fiber that are easy to spin as they naturally even out and coil when they are dried. The cotton plants bear blooms and fruits almost all the year round.
Although cotton is native to tropical regions, it is now successfully cultivated even in temperate climates having proper distribution of rainfall. Nevertheless, the entire cotton cultivated in the western regions of the United States and around 30 per cent of Southern cotton grown under irrigation. Almost all commercial production of cotton in the United States originates from different forms of upland cotton (botanical name, G. hirsutum). In addition, some amounts of cotton is also acquired from the sea-island as well as the American-Egyptian cotton - both of which belong to the species G. barbadense. On the other hand, the cotton species - G. arboreum and G. herbaceum - are mainly grown in the Asian regions.
At one time, a major part of the history of the United States was related to the cotton plant. There are two reasons for this - first, the commercial value of the fiber, and, second, owing to the cotton cultivation's relation with slavery. Archaeological findings show that way back in 3500 B.C., native Indians were possibly growing upland cotton (G. hirsutum) in Mexico's Tehuacán Valley region. It may be mentioned here that the G. hirsutum variety of cotton is indigenous to the tropical regions in North America. In fact, presently, upland cotton or G. hirsutum comprises most of the cotton produced commercially around the globe. In addition to the fiber, oil extracted from the cotton seeds too is an important commercial product of the plant these days. The oil extracted from cotton seeds is utilized in the production of margarine, shortening, salad as well as cooking oils.
Besides the above mentioned commercial utilities of cotton, the plant is also valued for its remedial properties. Indian and other traditional medicine practitioners regard the cotton plant as a ‘female medication'. Koasati and Alabama Indian women prepared a tea by brewing the root of the cotton plant to alleviate the problems associated with childbirth and facilitate the delivery process. The tea prepared with cotton plant roots are administered to pregnant women just before they are about to give birth. Interestingly enough, even the present day herbal medicine practitioners use the tea prepared with cotton plant roots to ease delivery as they assert that the roots contain a substance that effectively augments the tightening of the uterus at the time of child birth. In addition, herbalists further state that the cotton roots enclose an element that encourages regular menstruation.
It may be noted here that the cotton plant is indispensable for the valuable fiber produced by it. The plant is extensively cultivated in most tropical regions of the world for its fiber that is used by the textile industry to manufacture a wide range of cloth and clothing. On the other hand, the cotton seeds enclose around 20 per cent to 28 per cent oil that are utilized to turn out oil and are a priceless source of protein. The process of clearing the cotton of the seeds also referred to as ginning, and the production of cotton seed oil leaves behind a waste material that is used to turn out cellulose, glycerin, drying oil, linoleum and several other produces. The cotton variety that is refined usually has a white hue. Apart from this, some other varieties of cotton are found in a range of colors, including creamy, green and even brown. The industrial features of the cotton fiber is dependent on a number of assessments, including strength, length, thinness, breaking length, suppleness, the number of crimps it possesses as well as mellowness.
The length of the cotton fiber usually differs from 20 mm to 60 mm, while the fineness is in some way determined on the basis of its linear density or metric number. In other words, the thinness of the fiber is measured according to the length of the fibrils in one gram of fiber calculated in meters. In other words, a higher value indicates the enhanced thinness of the fiber. The strength of the fiber or the pressure at which it splits is a significant aspect of the quality of the cotton fiber and it hinges on the strength used to break a solitary stretched fibril. Usually, the breaking strength of the different cultivated selections and other types of cotton range between 4 and 7 g. It has been found that usually, undeveloped fibers of cotton, particularly those collected by opening the fruit capsules after frosty nights have a very poor breaking strength. In fact, the industrial type or use of cotton fibers are based on a number of factors associated with the cotton fibers as well as their technological aspects. Altogether, seven industrial types of cotton fibers exist and every one of them possess specific virtues vis-à-vis the fineness, length, and their breaking strength. The first, second and third types of industrial variety of cotton are taken from the superior quality cotton selections, while the cotton fibers of the other industrial types are acquired from average quality fibers of the cotton fruit capsules of bolls.
It is significant to note that the most expensive as well as most resilient types of cotton fabrics are usually manufactured with fibers obtained from the first three industrial types of cotton mentioned above, but the textile industry do not have much requirement for them. In fact, the greatest demand for fibers, almost 70 per cent, is for the fiber obtained from the fifth industrial type. This type of industrial cotton fiber is mainly used to manufacture fabrics used for mass use. It may be noted here that the fiber yield forms a significant aspect of the different types of cotton. The fiber yield of cotton is calculated as the proportion of the weight of unadulterated cotton fiber and the weight of unprocessed cotton wool and is denoted as a percentage. Typically, the cotton fiber yield is further divided into low (less than 30 per cent), average (between 30 and 35 per cent) and high (more than 35 per cent). In effect, the cotton fiber yield is determined by the mass of 1000 cotton seeds and its index. The fiber index is the mass of the fiber denoted in grams acquired from 100 seeds of the cotton plant. Before the cotton seeds are readied for sowing, the long fibers are taken apart by the ginning process at the outset. In the next step, the short cotton fibers (linters) sticking to the seeds after the ginning are got rid of by using machines. It may be mentioned here that ginning is the initial phase of processing raw cotton fibers.
Removal of the linters chemically is required to obtain the desired looseness of the cotton seeds and also excludes the necessity for any additional processing of the fibers. The cotton seeds are usually implanted in closed drills or spacious rows with the space between two rows varying between 60 cm, 90 cm and 105 cm. It has been noticed that the cotton plants cultivated in the farthest regions in the North yield larger amounts of the fiber. Usually, the cotton seeds are sown quite deep into the soil, between 4 cm and 6 cm in depth, but the plants grow best when the seeds are sown at depths ranging between 4 cm and 5 cm. The normal yield of cotton plants on one hectare of land is anything between 1,500 kg and 2,000 kg.
Root bark, seed oil.
As discussed earlier, apart from the commercial use of the cotton plant for its indispensible fiber and valuable oil extracted from its seeds, the herb is also valued for its remedial properties. Both the seeds and the roots of the cotton plant are used to treat several conditions. The roots are especially used as medication to alleviate conditions especially related to women.
These days, herbalists seldom use the roots of the cotton plants as a medication. However, there was a time when herbal medicine practitioners used the cotton roots as an alternative for ergot (Claviceps pulpurea) - an herb used extensively to stimulate and ease child birth. When used medicinally for this purpose, the roots of the cotton not only have a gentle effect, but are also safe. In fact, consumption of a tea prepared by brewing cotton roots just before child birth helps to encourage the contraction of the uterus and also hastens the process of child birth. In addition, cotton roots are also effective in helping abortion or the commencement of menstruation as well as lessen period flow. The bark of the cotton root also promotes blood clot formation as well as breast milk secretion. On the other hand, the oil extracted from cotton seeds is used to alleviate profuse bleeding during menstruation and endometriosis. No doubt, the herb has been named as a ‘female medication'.
While herbalists have been using the cotton root to ease child birth, modern scientists have also endorsed this particular medicinal property of the herb stating that the possibility of the remedy being effective is substantial. Even present day traditional medicine practitioners administer a tea prepared with the cotton root to women to ensure regular menstruation cycle. Several researches on the subject have demonstrated that this particular use of cotton seed is effective.
This species of cotton plant is mainly grown for the valuable fiber contained in its fruit capsules and is regarded as the most significant plant among all cotton species. It supplies the majority of the saleable cottons that form the indispensible raw material for the textile industry. The linters or short pieces of fiber attached to the cotton seeds after the first ginning have an average quality and are smaller compared to the fibers of the G. barbadense species. Partially concentrated edible oil is extracted from the cotton seed that is made use of in preparing shortening, salad and cooking oil as well as margarine. In addition, the cotton seed oil is also used as a defensive layer. After the oil is extracted from cotton seeds, cottonseed cake is left behind as a residue. The cottonseed cake, also referred to as meal, is rich in protein content and is a vital food for domestic animals. In effect, bread made with cottonseed protein is a superior source of protein compared to the enhanced white bread - six slices of cottonseed protein bread supplies as much as 20 per cent of the adult Recommended Dietary Allowances or RDA.
Low quality residue of cottonseed is used as an organic fertilizer, fuel as well as preparing beds for planting trees. Fuzz, short pieces of fiber, which is not eliminated during the ginning process turns out to be linters in canvas, mattresses, furnishings, yarns, carpets and wicks as well as surgical cottons. In the chemical industry, this is used in manufacturing films, plastics, rayons, sausage coverings, shatterproof glass, cellulose explosives and varnishes.
The roots and seeds of cotton plant have been traditionally used to treat tissue growth inside the nose, development of uterine fibroids as well as other forms of cancer. A polyphenol obtained from the cotton plant, gossypol is known to have features to combat cancer. A moist and sticky tea prepared with raw or roasted cotton seeds are administered to patients suffering from diarrhea, dysentery, bronchitis as well as hemorrhage. The flowers of the cotton plant too possess medicinal properties. They promote flow of urine and possess the powers of softening or relaxing and are used to treat hypochondriasis, a medical condition wherein an individual is excessively preoccupied with his or her health. The leaves of the cotton plant may be infused in vinegar and applied externally on the forehead to heal headaches. This infusion was also used by the slaves in early America with reasonable success and without any adverse after-effects for inducing abortions.
People in Guinea use the leaves and seeds of cotton as a balm as well as a medication to promote menstrual discharge. They boiled approximately 100 gm of cotton root in about 500 ml of water till the liquid was concentrated to half its quantity. They administered 50 g of this medication at half an hour intervals to the patient. Traditional herbal medicine practitioners used the decoction prepared with cotton plant root to treat diarrhea, dysentery and asthma. The bark of the cotton plant root too possesses several medicinal properties. It does not enclose any tannin, is astringent as well as anti-hemorrhoidal and is used to promote menstrual discharge (emmenagogue), to treat bleeding vessels or stop bleeding (hemostat), to stimulate breast milk secretion (lactagogue), ease child birth (oxytocic), facilitate the delivery among pregnant women (parturient) and to constrict the blood vessels as an action of the nerves (vasoconstrictor). Gossypol derived from the cotton plant is known to reduce sperm count, and is used by Chinese herbalists as a male contraceptive.
Habitat and cultivation
The cotton plant is indigenous to the tropical region of America. This species grows naturally in the southern regions of Florida and it is grown commercially across the southern regions of the United States.
It is important to note that a latency period of two to three months is essential for the seeds of a number of varieties of the cultivable cotton species. When stored in damp conditions, cotton seeds lose their capability very fast. The variety of cotton that is used for commercial production of textiles is all the time propagated from seeds and they are sown at a time when the soil temperature is at a minimum of 18°C. The cotton seeds are sown in bores or in slopes. Possibly, sowing the seeds by the hill-drop process is most excellent provided it is done manually with hand-hoes. Under typical circumstances, the seeds are sown quite deep into the soil - approximately at a depth of 4 to 6 cm. The growth rate of the cotton seeds is normally quite high. However, some loses of plants are permissible. For mechanical growth and harvesting of the plants, the width of the rows needs to be around 100 cm. To prepare the seedbed, it is essential to get rid of any residue from the previous crops, proper preservation of the drainage system, excellent tillage of the soil, getting rid of the hard layer below the soil surface and controlling the growth of weeds as well as preventing pest attacks. It is also important to undertake nurturing and weeding of the seedbeds at regular intervals for robust growth of the plants. In many countries, cotton growers usually use chemical substances to kill undesirable plants. On the other hand, controlling pests is a very expensive proposition for cotton cultivators. Pesticides are used both before and after planting cotton. In addition, the soil needs to be irrigated when it contains insufficient moisture or when the moisture retaining capacity of the soil is poor.
Presently, more and more cotton growers are using irrigation to cultivate the plant throughout the year. In addition, fertilizers too play an important role in the growth of robust cotton plants and they need to be replaced regularly to provide sufficient nourishments to plants to obtain huge harvests. The amount of fertilizers that needs to be used entirely depends on the soil conditions and in order to get the best results cultivators should seek advice on this matter from the neighbourhood agents. Crop rotation is an important aspect in cotton cultivation and is followed by the farmers across the globe. It is only possible to grow a single crop during the brief rainy season. Hence, where ever it is feasible, cultivators should rotate crops during this season by leaving the land unseeded of growing crops like fallow, wheat, peas, cotton. This method has proved to be effective not only in optimum utilization of the soil, but also in retaining the fertility of the soil.
Usually, it takes anything between 80 days to 110 days from the sowing of the cotton seeds to the plants coming into bloom and an additional 55 days to 80 days for the fruit capsules or bolls to mature and open. Although harvesting of cotton has been mechanized in many parts of the world now, manual harvesting actually provides the greater portion of cotton yields every year. In fact, cotton harvested manually is also found to be of a superior quality and also enables the cultivators to obtain greater amounts of the fiber from their fields. Normally, one labourer is capable of picking as much as 50 kg to 110 kg of cotton in a day! On the other hand, the average harvesting of cotton seeds by a two-row mechanical picker is around 1,400 kg every hour. Appropriate ginning of the seeds is crucial in establishing the superiority as well as the price of the fiber obtained from bolls. The removal of the seeds from the bolls is only done through the ginning process and presently there are numerous ginning processes available on the market. Once the linters as well as the fuzz are removed from the cotton seeds, they are used to extract the semi concentrated edible oil by an express method.
A number of researches have found the cotton seeds and the oil extracted from the cotton seeds to result in infertility among men. This medicinal property of the cotton seeds and oils has prompted the Chinese scientists to experiment with them as a potential organic contraceptive for men. Cotton seed oil not only reduces the sperm count, but also results in the deterioration of the cells that produce sperm.
Cotton root bark contains gossypol (a sesquiterpene) and flavonoids. Cotton seed contains a fixed oil, which is about 2% gossypol, and flavonoids. Gossypol causes infertility in men.