South Africa has a diverse range of indigenous food crops, which are a not only a rich source of nutrition but also good for preventing chronic illnesses. Because they are mostly found growing in the wild in your back yard or at a local small-scale farmer, they are often overlooked, which of course makes no sense! If they are indigenous or naturalised, they’re easy to grow and get hold of, and if they contain loads of wonderful nutrition then we should be eating more of them, right? It’s a no brainer. So, let’s get back to eating some traditional crops…
Indigenous grain crops can be divided into cereals and pulses.
Pearl Millet is consumed as cracked or ground flour, dough or grain-like rice. These are made into fermented breads, foods and thick porridges, steam-cooked dishes, non-alcoholic beverages and snacks.
Benefits: Besides being gluten-free, it’s an excellent source of magnesium, making it good for reducing blood pressure and the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Grain sorghum can be used for making porridge, unleavened bread, couscous and malted beverages.
Benefits: Great for people with wheat intolerances and Celiac disease, and one of the best sources of fibre you can find. Also, sorghum can actually help regulate sugar levels in the body, thus making it a good dietary option for people who have diabetes.
Cowpeas are versatile as you are able to eat the actual pea or pod, as well as the leaves – either fresh or dried.
Benefits: Rich in fibre and Vitamin B1, which is excellent for healthy heart functioning. They also contain tryptophan which can help with insomnia.
Bambara groundnuts are another versatile crop as the immature seeds can be eaten boiled or grilled, while mature ones can be roasted in oil or ground to make flour. They can also be boiled and mixed with maize kernels, and the roasted ground meal can be used as a substitute for coffee!
Benefits: They pack a huge punch when it comes to amino acids, which are essential for repairing our bodies and reducing inflammation.
Mung beans are predominantly used in the production of bean sprouts, but can also used in their bean form in dhal and soup, or as a bean flour which is used for making noodles.
Benefits: Great source of protein, and their high density of nutrients like potassium and magnesium makes them another power food to consider for heart health and diabetes.
Vegetable crops are defined as “crops from which tender leaves, stems and petioles are harvested and used in the preparation of vegetables.” They can be further subdivided into leafy and roots/ tubers.
Cleome is also known as African cabbage. The tender leaves or young shoots, and often the flowers, are boiled in stews or as a side dish. The leaves are bitter, and for this reason are cooked with other leafy vegetables or combined with other ingredients in stews.
Benefits: Excellent source of Vitamins A and C, which are both great for maintaining a healthy immune system to fight of any illnesses.
Amaranth or Umfino is a grain, but the leaves can be consumed as well. It is the largest source of nutrients of all the vegetables that can be grown in Africa, making it the most important one to eat! It can be cooked in stews or made into soups or a sauce.
Benefits: Reduces inflammation, which means it can help arthritis and digestive disorders like leaky gut syndrome and irritable bowel disease. It also has been shown to lower cholesterol, which impacts heart health.
The Black Jack plant is more than just the annoying seeds that stick to your socks. The leaves and shoots are an excellent source of nutrition and can be eaten raw or cooked. Sun-dried, powdered leaves can also be preserved to use during winter or made into a tea.
Benefits: This is an all-round power veg that has been known to fight inflammation associated with heart disease, diabetes and cancer. It is also a natural antiseptic and antibiotic and is used traditionally as a salve for sores, cuts, mouth ulcers and other external flare ups.
Roots/ Tuber Vegetables
Cassava is well-known across the continent as a rich source of starch, often as a substitute for rice or maize meal. It can be ground to create flour, and the leaves and tender shoots can be consumed in stews, soups and sauces.
Benefits: Brewing cassava leaves has been said to reduce a fever, but the main benefits are its rich source of fibre, calcium and iron, which can help with arthritis and hair loss. It is another gluten-free carbohydrate, so suitable for gluten intolerant people.
Amadumbe is a root vegetable that can be boiled, roasted, baked or fried. They can also be processed into flour, which is used to prepare ‘fufu’ that is commonly eaten in Nigeria with stew. The leaves can be consumed like spinach and used in stews, curries and sauces.
Benefits: Known to regulate insulin and glucose, amadumbe are a good food for diabetics. They are also contain a high amount of potassium, which relieves blood pressure and strain on the heart.
Indigenous fruit crops are ones that grow wild in South Africa and include Marula, Red Milkwood, Mobola Plum, Wild Medlar, Num-num or noemnoem, Kei Apple and Monkey orange. All of these can be eaten as any other fruit when ripe, but many are processed into beverages, jams, jellies and pickles or fermented for alcoholic beverages.
Benefits: Most are naturally sweet, so should be eaten in moderation, but they all contain specific nutritional values. For more info check out the links below!
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