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African wild vegetables: The best 5

Blog graphic: Eat African wild vegetables for more than just nutritional benefits.
Wild vegetables provide you with more than just nutrition

African wild vegetables are the most underrated food staff in the world. I am surprised many Africans are quick to adopt foreign wild vegetables and grow them in their gardens. However, looking at local wild vegetables, they think it’s food for the poor! Not only that, the wild vegetables of Africa are viewed as alternative healthy food sources by researchers! How can they be alternative food sources, when they should be a regular part of the African diet. They are healthy, nutritious and medicinal, are they not! Some African wild vegetables, even have better nutritional profiles than the foreign ones. I am still wondering why we look down upon the super healthy wild vegetables of Africa!

Don’t be one of the people condemning the wild vegetables of Africa. Because I have seen that many people believe that they are too special for healthy foods of the wild. This is because wild vegetables in Africa are usually eaten by rural families for survival. Therefore they are usually viewed as poor people’s food. So, those in towns usually take them as food for the poor. The idea is to ensure that everyone can enjoy the health benefits of African wild vegetables. In this article, I will discuss 5 of the best African wild vegetables you can try.

Also read:

List of African wild vegetables/ African wild vegetable list/ Wild vegetables of Africa list

  • Pigweed/ mowa (Amaranthus hybridus) : Newer leaves and shoots edible.
  • Thorny pigweed (Amaranthus spinosus): Newer leaves and shoots edible.
  • Poor man’s spinach (Amaranthus thunbergii): Newer leaves and shoots edible.
  • Blackjack/ tsine (Bidens pilosa): Newer leaves and shoots edible.
  • Silver spinach/ Mundawara (Celosia trigyna):  Leaves edible.
  • Snow thistle/ Rurimi rwemombe (Sonchus oleraceus): Leaves edible.
  • Chickweed (Galinsonga parviflora): Young leaves and shoots edible.
  • Spider flower/ Nyevhe/ Lude (Cleome gynandra): Leaves and young shoots are edible. Can be cooked fresh or dried for later.
  • Spindle pod/ Musemwasemwa (Cleome monophylla: Leaves cooked as vegetables.
  • Fat hen/ Mubvunzandadya (Chenopodium album): Cooked leaves edible.
  • Wild gherkin/ Muhacha (Cucumis anguria): Leaves and young shoots cooked as vegetables. You can dry them for later.
  • Spiny cucumber/ mugaka weminzwa (Cucumis metuliferus Naudin): Fruits edible, yound fruits maybe used in salads and desserts. But the ripe fruits can be eaten or stored for later.
  • Wild hibiscus/ Derere/ Hambakachere (Hibiscus articulatus): Leaves edible.
  • Moringa/ Drumstick tree (Moringa olefeira): Leaves, seeds, flower and fruits edible after cooking.
  • Black Nightshade/ musungusungu (Solanum nigrum): Leaves and young shoots edible.
  • Jute/ Derere (Corchorus asplenifolins Burch): Leaves and young shoots edible.
  • Jute/ Derere (Corchorus olitorius): leaves and young shoots edible.
  • Wild jute/ Derere nyenje (Corchorus tridens): Young leaves and shoots edible. Can be sundried for later.

5. Top African wild vegetables

1. Wild okra or wild jute

Wild okra belongs to a group of species. These include:

  • Corchorusolitorius
  • Corchorus tridens
  • Corchorus asplenifolins

Also read: Use of weeds as traditional vegetables in Shurugwi District, Zimbabwe 

Wild okra or Jew’s mallow is a widely consumed mucilaginous African wild vegetable. You have to harvest the newer leaves and softer stems, which are edible. This vegetable is part of the
delicious local cuisine among most rural populations of Africa. In most countries, wild okra grows as a weed in the fields.

In West Africa, they cultivate it. And its a popular vegetable among people of all classes in Nigeria.
Wild okra is usually eaten fresh after cooking. Some people prefer to dry it so that they can eat it later when it’s out of season. Some,
species of this wild okra have broader and angular shiny leaves.

The different species go by different names in Shona, in Zimbabwe.
The one with shiny leaves is called “nyenje” (C. tridens) whilst the one with narrower and longer leaves is called “nyamwenda” (C.
olitorius). Like most people, I prefer the nyenje species. However, the nyamwenda species can grow near rivers both during the rainy and
dry seasons. This makes this species an all year round source of nutrition.

Medicinal and nutritional benefits of wild okra

Wild okra is a delicious African wild vegetable. It’s also very important, in our folkloric medicine. In Africa, wild okra has several uses in the traditional treatment of:

  • Tumours
  • Gonorrhoea
  • Chronic cystitis
  • Pain
  • Fever
  • Pain and stiffness
  • Waist pain during menstruation
  • Heartburn

You can also use wild okra to treat flatulence and improve appetite.
In addition, wild okra has important nutritional benefits. Eating it provides you with:

  • Good quantities of iron and folate. And both of these
  • nutrients are essential in preventing anaemia.
  • When compared to other African wild vegetables, wild okra has a relatively high protein
  • content.

2. Amaranth: an African wild vegetable

Amaranth species are a common wild vegetable worldwide. Common amaranth species in Africa include:

  • Pigweed (Amaranthus cruentus)
  • Thorny pigweed (Amaranthus spinosus)
  • Smooth pigweed (Amaranthus hybridus)
  • Poor man’s spinach (Amaranthus thunbergii)

Amaranth is one of the most common African wild vegetables. It has several common names which include:

  • Pigweed
  • Misbredie
  • Hell’s curse

It also has several African names these include:

  • Mohwa/mowa in Shona.
  • Omboyi in Xhosa.
  • Imbuya in isiZulu.
  • Thepe/ theepe in Pedi or Setswana.

Amaranth is a variable erect to spreading herb. And its leaves can have different colour shades. Some are green whilst others have
green surfaces, and purplish undersides and stems. Some amaranth species are more purplish than green.

Amaranth grows in the
wild near places with a lot of organic matter. A lot of the species can be found growing vibrantly near cattle pens. Amaranth can also
grow in fields left fallow or by collecting seeds and spreading them near homes. You can also use selective weeding in your field or
backyard garden to keep amaranth.

New leaves and growth areas have a softer texture and less bitter taste. Therefore, we use them as
leafy vegetables.
Like many other African wild vegetables, the survival of amaranth is threatened by the overdependence on herbicides. And several herbicides specifically target nutritious pigweed.

Medicinal uses of amaranth

Amaranth has several uses in traditional herbal medicine. In countries like Uganda amaranth is used to treat:

  • Anaemia
  • Poor child growth
  • Poor appetite
  • Malnutrition
  • Hepatitis B

3. Spider flower/ Cat’s whiskers

The different species include:

  • Cleome gynandra (spider flower or cat’s whiskers)
  • Cleome monophylla (spindle pod or Musemwasemwa)

Spider flower is a common African wild vegetable. It also goes by other African names which include spider weed or African cabbage. I
believe that African cabbage is not a fitting name for such a delicacy! I mean, it does not even look like a cabbage!

In Africa cat’s
whiskers have many local names which include:

  • Tsuna/ Nyevhe/ sunha in Shona, Zimbabwe
  • Lude/ lulube/ ulude in isiNdebele, Zimbabwe.

Cat’s whiskers or cleome is a herbaceous erect and branched plant. It has compound leaves with 3 to 7 leaflets. The plant also has
hairy leaves and stems that grow to about 1.5 meters. The leaves and stems may have different colour shades with purple, pink or
green pigmentation.

What to know about spider flower

This African wild vegetable does not grow well below 15°C. The newer leaves and growth areas have a deliciously bitter taste. These new leaves have a soft texture making them easily chewable.
This makes cat’s whiskers a good vegetable. The leaves of the flowering plant become bitter, tougher and less tasty a few days after they emerge. So, it’s not very
wise to eat the older, tougher leaves or leaves from flowering plants.

Many people in several areas prefer cat’s whiskers or cleome when compared to most other African wild vegetables. Cleome is
preferred over amaranth in many areas of Africa, however, to some people, cleome/ cat’s whiskers is too bitter.

Cat’s whiskers make an awesome and tasty goat meat stew!

Cat’s whiskers grow in the fields, near homes and fields left fallow. They are less common in areas where herbicides are commonly
used. You can collect the seeds and spread them in your garden or near your home. If too much germination, you can do selective
weeding.

Medicinal uses of cat’s whiskers or cleome

Cat’s whiskers also have several medicinal uses. These include:

  • It is used to improve appetite and prevent bloating.
  • You can also use it to treat
  • abdominal pain and constipation.
  • Some use it to treat ringworm and skin infections.

All things said cat’s whiskers is one of the healthiest
African wild vegetables. It can help you make your diet healthier.

4. Black Nightshade (Solanum nigrum and Solanum retroflexum)

This African wild vegetable is a common part of South African herbal medicine. It also has several other African names. These include:

  • Ixabaxaba in isiNdebele.
  • Musaka in Shona.
  • Umsobo in isiZulu.

Nightshade is an erect herb with several branches. The leafy wild vegetable has herbaceous stems. And it can grow annually or
biannually to a height of 75 cm. The leaves of nightshade are alternate and are bright green. Sometimes the leaves may have purple
pigmentation.

The tender shoots and newer leaves of nightshade are eaten as wild vegetables. You can also eat them raw or you can cook them
before eating. In Southern, Africa nightshade grows in the wild. However, it can be grown near homes or in garden areas.

Medicinal uses of the nightshade

Nightshade is a very common medicinal African wild vegetable.

You can use it to treat:

  • Stomach aches
  • Peptic and oral ulcers
  • Skin infections
  • Weak bones.
  • Eye infections.
  • Leaves are used to treat abdominal pain
  • In addition, nightshade can act as an immunity booster.

The juice from crushed leaves usually has medicinal uses.

5. Blackjack/ mutsine (Shona) (Biden pilosa)

Blackjack is a common African wild vegetable that grows as a weed in fields. You can use the leaves of blackjack as a wild vegetable.
The vegetable has a bitter taste. Most people avoid it because of its smell or odour that remains even after cooking. I have eaten
blackjack many times just for health reasons. In addition, you can dry the leaves of blackjack and use them to brew healthy green tea.

Medicinal uses of the African wild vegetable blackjack

Blackjack has many medicinal uses.

  • You can squeeze its leaves and get a liquid that can be applied to wounds.
  • The same liquid is also
  • used as an ear drop to relieve earaches.
  • In addition to all this, eating blackjack helps you fight inflammation, cancers and wounds.
  • This African wild vegetable is also useful as a remedy for digestive problems.

Eating vegetables is also a good way to fight oxidative stress. And wild vegetables like blackjack usually have good quantities of beneficial phytonutrients.

Making this vegetable part of your healthy diet can help you stay healthy. I have also made anti-inflammatory teas with blackjack leaves and it helped me greatly.

Conclusion on the African wild vegetables

Eating African wild vegetables will help you improve your health there is no doubt. Not only are they organic because you don’t need
any chemicals to grow them, but also they are medicinal. This is food that gives you more than nutrients. It also gives you healthy phytonutrients that help in keeping you healthy. You only have to
forage and cook to get the benefits. So, tell me, why say no to that!

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