Many wild plant species are used as food all over the world. This is because these edible plants have unique nutritional and medicinal properties. The medicinal properties of these foods help us build a strong relationship between our food and medicine. Therefore we cannot separate food from medicine. In other words, food should be your medicine. The medicinal properties of the food allows it to act as a medicine. So, you must think of food as your medicine and eat it as such. In Africa, we have many medicinal plants that we eat and use. These medicinal vegetables from Africa can help you make your diet healthy.
Medicinal vegetables from Africa
List of the best African vegetables:
1. Okra (Abelmoschusesculentis)
This vegetable is a mucilaginous herb found in several African countries. Some of these countries include Zimbabwe, South Africa and Botswana. The vegetable produces fruits that you can eat. These fruits have the best taste when fresh and soft. The older fruits are to tough and less tasty. The leaves also make a can relish.
Also read: Traditional foods in Zimbabwe
Okra has several medicinal uses. You can eat the cooked leaves and fruits as a potherb to relieve constipation. Okra also has special medicinal uses in Ayurvedic medicine. Therefore eating this vegetable can be beneficial to your health.
Okra fruits are rich in healthful monomeric compounds. These compounds can help protect you from fungal infections. Several studies also show that okra help in lowering blood sugar levels. And also helps you in reducing diabetes risks. This vegetable may also have anticancer activities.
I love okra and I have tried several recipes including boiling, roasting on charcoal and frying. I have also tried some indigenous vegetables like wild jute and baobab leaves that are almost similar to okra in terms of relish. There will be an article on wild vegetables which include these indigenous vegetables.
2. Baobab leaves (Adansonia digitata)
The baobab tree goes by many African names depending on the country and tribe. These trees are a common sight in Zimbabwe, Botswana and South Africa as well as other African countries. In Zimbabwe, its known as muuyu in Shona dialects or umkhomo in the Ndebele dialect. In South Africa, the Venda people called it muvhuyu.
The new leaves of the baobab tree are used as a mucilaginous vegetable. These leaves produce a relish that resembles okra when cooked. Only the fresh new leaves are the best. You can harvest the new leaves by hooking them from the branches.
Women can eat the cooked baobab tree leave as a potherb. Women can also eat this vegetable to reduce period pains. The baobab leaves also act as a remedy for fever and diarrhoea. In addition, this leafy vegetable can protect you from bacterial infections.
As you can see this is one unusual medicinal vegetable from Africa.
3. Blackjack/ mutsine (Shona) (Biden pilosa)
Blackjack is an African vegetable that grows as a weed in fields. The leaves of blackjack and a bit of the new stem are edible. The vegetable has a bitter taste. Most people avoid it because of a kind of smell/ odour that remains even after cooking. I have eaten blackjack many times just for health reasons.
Blackjack has many medicinal uses. You can squeeze its leaves and get a liquid that you can apply to wounds. You can use the same liquid as an ear drop to relieve earaches. In addition to all this, eating blackjack helps you fight inflammation, cancers and wounds. This medicinal vegetable from Africa is also useful as a remedy for digestive problems. Eating vegetables is also a good way to fight oxidative stress.
Make this vegetable part of your diet and stay healthy. I have also made anti-inflammatory teas with blackjack leaves and it helped me a lot.
4. Spider wisp/ spider flower / munyevhe (Cleome gynandra)
This medicinal vegetable from Africa is one of my all-time favourite wild vegetables. The newer fresh leaves of this plant are eaten as a relish in African meals. The leaves have a bitter taste.
Spider wisp also known as cat’s whiskers has many medicinal uses in Africa. A decoction of the leaves (boiled in water for more than 5 minutes) helps in reducing blood pressure. This vegetable is also one of the bitter vegetables recommended for lactating mothers. This is because it can help stimulate milk production in lactating mothers.
The vegetable also helps in fighting inflammation and inflammatory problems. You can crash the leaves of Cleome gynandra to make a concoction that treats scurvy.
You can also boil and marinate the leaves in sour milk for 2-3 days before eating them. This helps in treating your eyes. It also helps in curing marasmus.
5. Cowpea leaves (Vigna unguiculata) as a medicinal vegetable from Africa
In Africa we use cowpeas leaves as vegetables. Usually, we boil the leaves, roll them between hands and then dry them. You can then boil and soften the dried leaves with oil to make a relish. Some people prefer to eat cowpea leaves fresh. You must only harvest and cook the newest and softest leaves for use as vegetables. The older ones are too tough for human consumption and they do not taste as good.
Cooked cowpeas leaves are one of the most important medicinal vegetables from Africa. You can eat cooked cowpeas leaves to treat stomach problems. Cowpea leaves also help reduce the risks of several cancers. Also, eating cowpea leaves helps you control your blood lipid levels. You can use cowpea roots to treat epilepsy, chest pains and dysmenorrhea.
6. Nightshade (Solanum retroflexum)
Nightshade is used as a leafy vegetable in Southern Africa. Newer leaves and growth areas are either cooked or eaten raw.
The leaves of have several medicinal properties.
The liquid squeezed from nightshade leaves can treat earache in children. Nightshade also helps as a herbal treatment of stomach aches, peptic ulcers, visual problems, skin infections, weak bones and eye infections. You can also use the vegetable as a herbal immune booster.
7. Bitter melon (Mormodica charantia) another medicinal vegetable from Africa
The leaves of the bitter melon plant have a bitter taste.
You can take a decoction of bitter melon leaves orally to stabilise your blood sugar levels. Bitter melon has activities that help improve health in HIV patients. It also helps fight ulcers risk, inflammation, leukaemia and several tumours.
8. Amaranth (Amaranthus spinosus)
Amaranth leaves are a common medicinal vegetable from Africa. In several regions, amaranth grows a weed in the wild. It usually occurs near cattle pens or in soils with high organic matter. The vegetable is an excellent iron source and it is used as a treatment for malaria.
It is also good for blood health and volume.
Conclusion on medicinal vegetables from Africa
Most wild plant species are rich in biologically active compounds that are necessary for good health. Eating these vegetables regularly is a good way to stay healthy. These medicinal vegetables from Africa provide you with a wide choice to choose from. The choice is yours to make. If you do choose to make wild vegetables part of your diet, you are a step closer to good health.