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Bengal indigo (Indigofera arrecta)


Click on the "Nutritional aspects" tab for recommendations for ruminants, pigs, poultry, rabbits, horses, fish and crustaceans
Common names 

Bengal indigo, Java indigo, Natal indigo [English], añil de Java [Spanish], indigotier, indigotier chessé [French]

Taxonomic information 

Indigofera arrecta, Indigofera suffruticosa and Indigofera tinctoria are closely related, and intermediate specimens (possibly of hybrid origin) have been found (Orwa et al., 2009).

Feed categories 

Bengal indigo (Indigofera arrecta Hochst. ex A. Rich.) is a multipurpose, stout shrub from tropical Africa that is often cultivated as an annual. With Indigofera tinctoria and other Indigofera species, it used to be a major source of natural indigo dye before the introduction of synthetic dyes. Bengal indigo leaves have a limited use as forage.


Indigofera arrecta is an erect, many-branched, woody, large shrub up to 3 m tall, perennial but often cultivated as an annual. The leaves are alternate, pinnately compound. Each rachilla bears 12-17 leaflets that are obovate or elliptical and about 1-1.5 cm long x 0.7 cm broad. The inflorescence is an axillary raceme bearing. The pods are straight, 2-2.5 cm long. They contain 6-8 seeds (Orwa et al., 2009; Lemmens et al., 2006).


Like those of Indigofera tinctoria and other Indigofera species, the leaves and twigs of Indigofera arrecta contain a precursor of the indigo dye compound. After being soaked in water added with lime, they undergo fermentation and enzymatic hydrolysis, yielding a blue slurry which is then dried and cut into cubes. The cubes are put in water to dye textiles (Fern, 2021). The residues of indigo extraction were used as manure (Lemmens et al., 2006). Young leaves can be cooked and eaten (Fern, 2021; Lemmens et al., 2006). There are many ethnomedicinal uses of Bengal indigo (Orwa et al., 2009). The plant is useful as a cover crop in contour hedge plantations, and as green manure in plantation crops such as rice, cotton, hevea, tea or coffee. Bengal indigo has been used as a browse shrub and its foliage has been reported to be as palatable as leucaena to sheep (Kaitho et al., 1996; Göhl, 1982).


Bengal indigo is native to Eastern and Southern Africa. It is found throughout tropical Africa, and Northern and Eastern South Africa, in Swaziland and Southern Arabia. It has been introduced for indigo production in many other areas where it became naturalized. It is widely planted in India and Southeast Asia (Lemmens et al., 2006). It was introduced to Laos, Vietnam, the Philippines (Luzon) and Indonesia (Sumatra, Java, Sumba, Flores) (Orwa et al., 2009).

Indigofera arrecta occurs in open deciduous forest, evergreen bushland, often in forest margins and in secondary regrowth. It is found from 200 to 2700 m altitude, where annual rainfall is 400-1800 mm. Bengal indigo is deeply rooted and is tolerant to droughts. Once well established, Bengal indigo withstands waterlogging/flooding conditions for up to 2 months. It is tolerant of salinity (Hassen et al., 2007). Bengal indigo is a full sunlight species. When intended for use as a cover crop, Bengal indigo should only be grown in gardens or plantations with little or no shade (Lemmens et al., 2006).

Forage management 


Bengal indigo is a relatively high yielding browse shrub. In South Africa, it yielded 3 and 16 t DM/ha (1.2 and 3.2 t DM/ha for the leaves) during 2 consecutive years (Hassen, 2006).


Propagation of Indigofera arrecta is done by seed. Because of their hardcoat, the seeds should be scarified by soaking in water or with sulphuric acid before being broadcasted directly in the field (3 seeds/hole) or on a well-prepared, humid seedbed. After sowing, the shrub normally requires little attention. Weeding is done when needed. When it is managed as a cover crop, Bengal indigo is slashed at regular intervals (Lemmens et al., 2006). It is generally browsed at the end of the dry season, when young subsidiary shoots are more palatable (Orwa et al., 2009).

Environmental impact 

Cover crop, soil improver, erosion control

Indigofera arrecta is a N-fixing legume and a soil improver. It is used as a cover crop and for green manure (Orwa et al., 2009). It has been used on slopes to prevent erosion (Akbarillah et al., 2010).

Nutritional aspects
Nutritional attributes 

Leaves and stems

Indigofera arrecta forage, like other legumes including indigo species, has a high protein concentration (15-33% DM) (Hassen et al., 2008; Hassen et al., 2007; Agishi, 1983). In Ethiopia, its fibre content was found to be relatively low compared to that of other local forage trees (Kaitho et al., 1998). The protein and fibre content depends on the proportion of leaves in the forage: protein can be lower than 20% and NDF is up to > 50% when stems are included (Tjelele, 2006; Hassen, 2006). In South Africa, protein and in vitro OM digestibility were found to be higher in Spring than in Autumn, while NDF was lower (Hassen et al., 2007). Ash, Ca , P, Mg concentrations, as well as Cu, Zn and Mn concentrations, are similar to that of other Indigofera species (Hassen et al., 2008; Hassen et al., 2007; Agishi, 1983).

Potential constraints 

Antinutritional factors

Bengal indigo leaves contain indospicine, an antinutritional compound which may cause hepato-toxicity in grazing cattle and sheep, at a concentration ranging from 26 to 289 mg/kg DM (Fletcher et al., 2015; Hassen et al., 2008). The toxicity level of indospicine is unclear, but its concentration may rise to 2000 mg/kg DM in some Indigofera sp. accessions (Fletcher et al., 2015).

Bengal indigo leaves contain low condensed tannins (3 g/kg DM) and medium total phenols (30 g/kg DM) compared to others tree foliages (Kaitho et al., 1998).


Thanks to their high protein content, bengal indigo leaves could be considered as potential protein supplements in low quality diets for cattle and sheep rations (Hassen et al., 2008; Hassen et al., 2007; Agishi, 1983).


Indigofera arrecta is not very palatable during the rainy season, but well browsed toward the end of the dry season, when the young subsidiary shoots are also readily eaten (Göhl, 1982).

Degradability and digestibility

The effective DM degradability of DM in leaves was about 69% (Kaitho et al., 1998). The in vitro OM digestibility of the leaves was close to 70% while that of a mixture of leaves and edible fine stems was lower (53%) (Hassen et al., 2008; Hassen, 2006).


No information could be found (as of 2021).


In Ethiopia, fresh foliage of Indigofera arrecta offered to 1-year old wethers (19 kg) as a supplement to 0.4 kg of straw was fed with an intake of about 105 g DM/d, less than Leucaena spp. (120-140 g DM/d), but close to the that of Sesbania sesban, known for its high feeding value. Indigofera arrecta was been classified in the most palatable species (cluster 1) when compared to 40 other tree species in Ethiopia (Kaitho et al., 1996).

In South Africa, mixture of leaves and fine stem (< 3 mm) given to adult Merino wethers (62 kg) resulted in values for voluntary intake (52 g/kg LW 0.75 /d), DM digestibility (63%), and NDF digestibility (52%) that were similar to thoses obtained with Leucanea leucocephala, and lower that those recorded with alfalfa (Hassen, 2006).


In North Sumatra, the voluntary intake of Bengal indigo fed to growing goats as the sole forage and supplemented with concentrate was greater when fed as fresh than ensiled. It was recommended to include Indigofera arrecta in complete diets at a maximum of 65% of the diet to avoid a too low average daily gain (Ginting et al., 2012).


Information on the potential use of Indigofera arrecta in rabbit feeding is very scarce in the international literature (March 2021). However, Bengal indigo leaves were proposed in Mozambique as the basis of rabbit diets in the late 1970s in a rabbit development program (Gaspari, 1979).

Nutritional tables
Tables of chemical composition and nutritional value 

Avg: average or predicted value; SD: standard deviation; Min: minimum value; Max: maximum value; Nb: number of values (samples) used

Main analysis Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Dry matter % as fed 35       1  
Crude protein % DM 24.7 4.2 14.9 32.8 27  
Crude fibre % DM 19.9 4.4 13.7 25.5 5  
Neutral detergent fibre % DM 44.8 10 24.2 57.7 13  
Acid detergent fibre % DM 31.7 6.9 19.6 45.3 10  
Lignin % DM 6       1  
Ether extract % DM 2.2       1  
Ash % DM 9.8 2.4 4.2 12.2 18  
Gross energy MJ/kg DM 18.5         *
Minerals Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Calcium g/kg DM 15.8 8.1 9.7 37.9 10  
Phosphorus g/kg DM 2.8 0.5 1.9 4 22  
Potassium g/kg DM 6.3 4.3 4.5 16.2 7  
Sodium g/kg DM 0.03       1  
Magnesium g/kg DM 10.1 5.1 1.9 14.2 9  
Manganese mg/kg DM 207   186 227 2  
Zinc mg/kg DM 36   27 45 2  
Copper mg/kg DM 11   9 14 2  
Secondary metabolites Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Tannins (eq. tannic acid) g/kg DM 4 2 0.8 6 6  
Tanins, condensed (eq. catechin) g/kg DM 3       1  
In vitro digestibility and solubility Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
In vitro DM digestibility (pepsin) % 73 6 67 86 9  
In vitro OM digestibility (pepsin) % 70 6 53 83 24  
Ruminants nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
OM digestibility, ruminants % 72.8       1 *
Energy digestibility, ruminants % 69.6         *
DE ruminants MJ/kg DM 12.9         *
ME ruminants MJ/kg DM 10.1         *
Nitrogen digestibility, ruminants % 67.9       1  
Dry matter degradability (effective, k=6%) % 68       1 *
Dry matter degradability (effective, k=4%) % 73         *
a (DM) % 45       1  
b (DM) % 51       1  
c (DM) h-1 0.048       1  
Rabbit nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
DE rabbit MJ/kg DM 9.4         *
MEn rabbit MJ/kg DM 8.5         *
Energy digestibility, rabbit % 50.9         *
Nitrogen digestibility, rabbit % 73.5         *

The asterisk * indicates that the average value was obtained by an equation.


Abdullah et al., 2010; Abdullah et al., 2010; Dougall et al., 1966; Hassen, 2006; Kaitho et al., 1997; Pozy et al., 1996

Last updated on 29/10/2021 14:19:17

Datasheet citation 

Heuzé V., Tran G., Delagarde R., Lebas F., 2021. Bengal indigo (Indigofera arrecta). Feedipedia, a programme by INRAE, CIRAD, AFZ and FAO. https://www.feedipedia.org/node/291 Last updated on October 29, 2021, 15:21