Food from Plants

Wild Sweetpea tubers as food for Hadza people

Wild Sweetpea (Vigna frutescens) tubers are a staple source of starchy food for the Hadza people in Tanzania. The plant’s common name in the Hadza language is //ekwa. To collect them, groups of Hadza women regularly head out into the…

Tu-Lip trees in Papua New Guinea

Tok Pisin: Tu lip; Scientific name: Gnetum gnemon What does a tu-lip tree look like? It is a small tree often only 8-10 metres high. It is a fairly straight tree with one trunk that has branches spread out along…

Hog plums for food

Spondias mombin (Anacardiaceae); Common names: Mungyenge (Kongo), Hog plums Description A tree which grows to 25 m. Flowering occurs during the dry season. Fruiting of hog plums starts after about 5 years though cuttings may produce earlier. The tree has…

Ambarella fruit in the Mekong Delta

Ambarella fruit (Spondias dulcis Parkinson; syn.: Spondias cytherea) is native to Melanesia and Polynesia and was introduced worldwide throughout the tropics. Its other common English names are Jew plum and Golden apple. In the Mekong Delta, it is omnipresent in…

Wild asparagus in Sicily

Wild asparagus, a unique culinary delight, is prominent in Sicily’s springtime cuisine. The region boasts two distinct species: Asparagus albus, White asparagus, and Asparagus acutifolius, affectionately dubbed ‘Wild asparagus’ in English. Another edible part of these plants is its ‘crown’…

Ginger flowers add zest to food

Ginger flowers are eaten in many Southeast-Asian cultures. In Indonesia, most ginger varieties are known from Siberut Island. The native population of this island has utilized the flowers of Torch Ginger (Etlingera elatior (Jack) R.M. Sm.) since ancient times for…

Young Cassava Leaves provide protein and micronutrients

Young cassava leaves are a regularly eaten side dish for Mentawai people. Cassava (Manihot esculenta, Crantz) is endemic to the southern rim of Amazonia in South America. There, it was domesticated at around 5000 BC. In the 16th century AC,…

Vegetable ferns are a source of nutrients in Siberut

Vegetable ferns (Diplazium esculentum (Retz.)) are among the few wild vegetables Mentawai people in the forests eat regularly on Siberut Island. By Mentawais, they are called ‘Laipat.’ Other wild vegetables are cassava leaves, ginger flowers, taro stalks, and wild eggplants….

Rattan fruits in Siberut jungles

Rattan fruits are available throughout the year in all Southeast Asian rainforests. There are about 600 different species of rattans, and many of them bear edible fruits. However, rattan prickles are a common nuisance when walking in the jungle. Nevertheless,…

Taro – another staple food of the Mentawai people

Taro (Colocasia esculenta (L.) Schott) is one of the three staple food items of the Mentawai people on Siberut Island in Indonesia. The other two are sago and bananas. In many other countries, taro leaves and corms are eaten. Mentawais…

Roasted Sago sticks on Siberut Island

Roasted sago starch is the staple food for Mentawai people living in the moist, tropical forests of Siberut Island, off the coast of Western Sumatra in Indonesia. On the other hand, sago boiled to porridge, is eaten as a staple…

Mangrove apples at the Mekong Delta

Mangrove apples are the fruits of Sonneratia sp. trees, one of the important genera of trees in the Mangrove forests of Southeast Asia. All species of Sonneratia will develop edible Mangrove apples. These fruits are slightly different in shape, orientation…

Fongaar – not a yam, but kind of sweet potato

Tok ples: Fongaar Scientific name: Ipomoea macrantha Roemer & Schultes Synonyms: Ipomoea tuba (Schlechtend.) G. Don Plant family: Convolvulaceae What is the plant like? The plant has a long angular vine 5 to 6 metres long and it climbs up…

Raphia sese – a very special Raphia palm

Raphia sese (Arecaceae) Common names: Nsaku (Kongo = knife with a long blade), ba di magangu (Kongo). Description A palm which grows in dense clumps up to 10 m tall. Female flowers are produced at the base and male flowers…

Pitpit – Edible grasses in Papua New Guinea

Three types of pitpit grow in Papua New Guinea: Coastal pitpit The pitpit plant looks like sugarcane to which it is related. Normally the stalk is thinner than sugarcane. It can grow up to 3 metres high and produces suckers…

Some varieties of edible wild mushrooms in DR Congo

Bubwaka bwaka is found on oil palm trunks and other trees in dense shade. These mushrooms can be pink or white. Bufwa ngudi growing on the end of a dead oil palm trunk in the shade. Bulongo (Lentinus squarrosulus) appears…

Wild Karuka and another pandanus fruit species

The Pandanaceae botanical family comprises the following six species in Papua New Guinea: ‘Karuka’ and ‘Marita’ were already discussed on this website in two former articles. ‘Karuka’, see here, and ‘Marita’ see there. In the following, ‘Wild Karuka’ and Pandanus…

Karuka – cultivated pandanus fruits and nuts

Tok Pisin: Karuka Scientific name: Pandanus jiulianettii Two species of pandanus are commonly used for the nuts that are eaten. They are Karuka (Pandanus jiulianettii Martelli) and wild Karuka (Pandanus brosimos Merr & Perry). At least 3 other species of…

Giant Taro – a plant with a giant root

English: Giant taro; Scientific name: Alocasia macrorrhiza (L.) Schott; Synonyms: Alocasia indica (Lour.) Spach; Plant family: Araceae Description of Giant Taro plants A very large herb of the taro family. It has a stout erect trunk up to 4 m…

Swiss pine cones and their uses

The Swiss pine (Pinus cembra), goes by different names in German-speaking countries, such as ‘Zirbe,’ ‘Arve,’ ‘Arolla pine,’ or ‘Austrian stone pine.’ For generations, people have used the nuts of this particular pine species as food during the winter months,…

Use of Tsamma melons in Namibia

Tsamma melons are the original progenitors of watermelons. Historical records indicate that these melons were already under cultivation in the Nile valley as far back as 2000 BC. In contemporary times, Tsamma melons continue to be utilized for their oil…

Marita – a lesser known pandanus fruit

English names: Marita or ‘Red Fruit’ Tok pisin name: Marita Bahasa Indonesia name: Buah Merah Scientific name: Pandanus conoideus Lamarck The marita pandanus plant A short much branched screw pine with many prop roots. The prop roots have prickles. Trees…

Yam varieties in Papua New Guinea

Four species of yam are commonly grown and used for food in Papua New Guinea – but often naming in villages and naming by scientists do not agree. Many village people regard potato yam and 5-leaflet yam as varieties of…

Solomon’s Sago – another Sago palm species

How is this sago different? The Solomon’s sago palm that occurs in the North Solomon province and the Solomon Islands is quite different from the sago that grows in other areas of Papua New Guinea. It has a different scientific…

Sago – staple food in parts of Papua New Guinea

There are two Sago palm species in Papua New Guinea. Metroxylon sagu Rottb. and the other one occurs in North Solomons Province and the Solomon Islands. Its scientific name is Metroxylon salomonense. The sago palm plant The sago palm grows…

Sweet ‘White Berry Bush’ fruits

Synonyms White Berry bush, Snowball bush (Eng.); Witbessiesbos (Afrikaans); Chinese waterberry (China), Goowal (Yawuru Australia); Flueggea virosa (Lat.) – Flügge was a German botanist, and virosa means poisonous or having a bad odor. Distribution Figure on the right: © National…

Sourplum fruits for food and oil

Sourplums, which belong to the Olacacea family, comprise two species: the Blue Sourplum (Ximenia americana) and the Great Sourplum (Ximenia caffra). Blue Sourplum The Blue Sourplum is naturally distributed in semi-tropical and tropical countries around the world, as shown on…

Using Honey Locust Pods as Food

The Honey locust tree, also known as Thorny locust, derives its genus name (Gleditsia) from a former director of the Botanical Garden in Berlin. Its species name (G. triacanthos) means ‘Three thorns’, which refers to the typical arrangement of its…

Nara melons: Bread of the Namib desert

Nara melons were in former times the only food Topnaar people had available for 4 months (Jan – April) a year. The rest of the year they used conserved fruit pulp and seeds for supplementing other food sources. They were…

Milkplum (Stamvrug) fruits grow directly out of the tree trunk

Milkplum (Englerophytum magalismontanum (Sond.) T.D.Penn). Common names: (Afr) Stamvrug. (Eng) Milkplum, Wild plum. (isiZulu) Amanumbela. (Northern Sotho) Mohlatswa. (siSwati) UmNumbela. (Tshivenda) Munombelo. (Xitsonga) Nombhela. Old name: Bequaertiodendron magalismontanum Distribution Milkplum is widely distributed from Central Africa to Botswana and Eastern…

Monkey orange, an eagerly sought-after fruit

Monkey orange is the collective common name for the fruit of at least five different Strychnos tree species, which occur from Durban/South Africa up to Western Tigray in Ethiopia. These fruits are highly delicious, and all parts of the trees…

‘Bush potatoes’ from Cow pea plants in Namibia

Cow peas (Vigna lobatifolia) are strong climbers that resemble Mung beans. The stem of this vine is up to 6 m long and develops trifoliate leaves. Its flowers resemble purplish pea-flowers, and the pods are about. 7 – 9 cm…

Manketti (or: Mongongo) nuts

Manketti nuts are a staple food for a variety of people within its distribution range. And there is a strict division of naming them. Khoi-san people (Bushmen) call them ‘Manketti’, whereas Kavango people (Bantus) call them ‘Mongongo’. Both names denominate…

Wild Syringa (Burkea africana) edible tree resin

Many African trees extrude edible gums and resin. Notable Vachellia ssp. and Senegalia ssp. (old name: Acacias) are known for their edible gums. Ju/’hoansi people are collecting and eating whatever edible gums and resins they find on the go. In…

Bamboo shoot harvesting at the Red River

With more than 70 species of bamboo over the country, we can easily find bamboo thickets anywhere in Vietnam. Many of them could nurture one of the most popular and favored vegetarian foods for Vietnamese people, which is bamboo shoot…

Breadfruits (Artocarpus altilis) in Central Africa

Synonyms A. communis, A. incises; Common names Kikwa ki santu Petelo (Kongo), arbre à pain (Fr.), breadfruit Description A tree up to 35m tall produces a wide crown. All parts of the tree produce a white, bitter latex. Fruits are…

Bush Yams in Western- and Central Africa

Synonym: D. cayenensis var. praehensilis; Common names: Kisadi, sadi, Bisadi (Kongo), Igname de brousse (Fr.), bush yams, forest yam Description A sturdy climbing plant, up to 15 m long, growing from a large tuber that often protrudes from the ground….

Indochina Dragon Plums from Hanoi streets

The Indochina Dragon Plum (Dracontomelon duperreanum) is a genus of flowering plants in the family Anacardiaceae. In Vietnamese it is called: chi sấu). Dragon Plums are one of the most popular kinds of trees on the side of Hanoi streets….

Traditional processing of cassava in Congo

Image sequence of cassava’s long way from root to market and shows the processing of cassava in its various steps Source This article is an excerpt of Paul Latham’s and Augustin Konda ku Mbuta’s books ‘Useful plants of Kongo Central…

Cassava, a staple food in Central Africa

Synonym: M. utilissima; Common names: Dyoko, Saka Saka (Kongo), Manioc (Fr.), Cassava roots Description A perennial shrub, up to 3 m high, with enlarged tuberous roots and a well-developed root system. There are many varieties, some of which are bitter…

African mammee apple in West- and Central Africa

Common names are Mafambu, Dimbu dingi (dingi = gum, resin, incense) (Kongo), Bokodji (Lingala), African mammee apple, Oboto or Djimbo (commerce). Scientific name: Mammea africana. Description A large forest tree up to 45 m tall with a straight, cylindrical trunk…

Okra plants in D.R. Congo

Okra plants (Abelmoschus esculentus): Synonym: Hibiscus esculentus Common names Dongo, Lonto (Kongo), Dongo dongo, Molenda (Lingala), Gombo (Fr.) Description An erect annual herb usually 1 – 2 m. high. Leaves are 3 to 5 lobed, spirally arranged and may be…

Marang fruits in Southeast-Asian Rainforests

There are several local names for the tree and fruits of Artocarpus odoratissimus. In English, it is simply called ‘Marang’, which is based on the Philippines’ common name for the fruit. Originally endemic to the region around Mindanao, Sarawak, Kalimantan,…

Cashew apples and -nuts in Goa, India

Cashew trees (Anacardium occidentale) are native to areas around Northeastern Brazil. Portuguese colonists brought them around 1560 to Goa, India, from where they spread to Southeast Asia and finally Africa. Therefore, cashew products already have a long history in Goa…

Jujube trees at Ayutthaya in Thailand

The Ayutthaya Historical Park covers the ruins of the old city of Ayutthaya, which was founded already in 850 AD by the Khmer and named after the Hindu holy city of Ajodhya. It was destroyed by the Burmese in 1767…

Chanterelle mushrooms in Thailand

Thai chanterelles, or more specifically Cantharellus minor live in symbiosis with Gurjun trees (Diopterocarpus tuberculatus) in semi-deciduous Southeast-Asian forests. These trees are easy to identify due to their double-winged (dio-ptero) fruits with big seeds. Besides Cantharellus minor, other species of…

Trunk it – it’s Marula beer!

Marula season in Southern Africa is normally in February each year. When Marulas (Sclerocarya birrea) are getting ripe, they turn from green to yellow and fall from the female Marula trees. On the ground, they are ripening up fully and…

Natal Mahogany seed milk and its preparation

Natal Mahogany (Trichilia emetica) trees have got a dense canopy of dark green, glossy leaves, and a round outer shape of the tree silhouette. They preferably grow in moist places and riparian forests along drainage lines. Natal Mahogany is easy…

Buffalo thorn tree – an icon in Southern Africa

The Buffalo thorn tree (Ziziphus mucronata) is called in Afrikaans “Blinkblaar-wag-‘n-bietjie” for its shiny leaves and two thorns, which hold people back when getting caught by them. The shrub or tree has got distinctive zigzag branchlets with pairs of two…

Harvesting and opening Nipa Palm fruits

Nipa palms (Nypa fruticans) are a species of palms especially adapted to muddy environments of slow-moving tidal waters and mangrove forests and occur in Asia-Pacific tropical climates. And Nipa palm fruits are delicious to eat. Both, fruits, and wooden parts…

Morning glory – a valuable wild vegetable in Asia

Swamp morning glory or Water spinach (Ipomoea aquatica) has a variety of common names, like ‘Kangkong’ in Southeast Asia or ‘Kung Shin Tsai’ in China. It is a staple vegetable food throughout Asia-Pacific. And it is very low in calories…

Heavenly Durian

The fruit Durian (Durio zibethinus) is named after the Malay word ‘Duri’ for ‘Thorn’, referring to the thorny skin, and ‘zibethinus’ obviously refers to its smell. And the most sought-after variety in Malaysia is ‘Musang King’, where ‘Musang’ means ‘Palm…

Purslane leaves as a vegetable in South Africa

Purslane (Portulacaria Afra), or ‘spekboom’ in the Afrikaans language, is a succulent plant, endemic to South Africa’s Eastern Cape province. It has light-green soft leaves and red-colored stems. The leaves can be eaten raw, as pickles, chutney, or jam, or…