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…

Giant Fennel pith for transporting fire

While researching various bushcraft and survival topics, I constantly encounter inconsistencies and errors on reputable websites. Therefore, I have gotten into the habit of checking various postulates myself. One of these statements is that Prometheus brought fire to Earth with…

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…

Giant Fennel stalks for lighting fire

Various internet pages and YouTube channels describe lighting fire with stalks of giant fennel (Ferula communis) as easy. I doubted these claims, so I tested them myself. The outcome was sobering, which I will describe in the following article. Lighting…

Giant Fennel stalk wood as building material

Giant Fennel (Ferula communis) is a common weed in Mediterranean countries and Central Asia. Except for one genetic variety in Sardina, all green parts of the plant are strongly haemotoxic and lead to the poisoning of livestock and humans. This…

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….

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…

White Ginger Lily for cleaning hands

White Ginger Lily (Hedychium coronarium J. Koenig) belongs to the Zingiberaceae (Ginger) botanical family. Mentawai people use the crushed stem to clean their hands after touching arrow poison or one of its two poisonous main constituents. Plant description The Missouri…

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…

Natural shampoo from a Soap plant (Gouania leptostachya)

Natural shampoo can be extracted from a variety of plants worldwide. In Lowland evergreen forests in Northern Vietnam, we used the leaves of a so-called Soap Plant. With these leaves, we regularly washed our hands and bodies. In the following,…

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…

African milkbush causes painful blistering and inflammation

Euphorbia tirucalli (Euphorbiaceae) Common names: Ngego, ngewu, nlembonlembo (nlembo = finger) (Kongo), Euphorbe effilée, tirucalli (Fr), finger tree, finger euphorbia, African milkbush Description A leafless succulent shrub with cylindrical shoots, 2 – 8 m tall. All parts produce copious white…

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,…

Elephant diggings in dry riverbeds

African elephants (Loxodonta africana) require approximately 40 to 60 gallons (150 to 220 liters) of water daily to maintain their health. They obtain this water from various sources, including open water bodies and wells dug in sandy riverbeds. Additionally, elephants…

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…

Seekoraal plants in Southern Africa

Seekoraal is the Afrikaans term for the Salicornia natalensis plant, which used to belong to the Sacocornia taxonomic genus before being reclassified under the Salicornia genus in 2017. Salicornia plants are succulent, halophytic (salt-tolerant) flowering plants that are part of…

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…

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…

Squid bamboo soup from Vietnam

Bamboo is a popular ingredient in traditional Vietnamese cuisine, especially during the year-end meal on the 30th day of the last lunar month of the year. One of the most famous and delicious bamboo soups is the squid bamboo soup…

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…

Chewing sticks for dental care in Southern Africa

Chewing sticks, or toothbrush sticks, were widely used in former times from Ethiopia down to the southern tip of Africa. Nowadays, plastic toothbrushes are commonly used and only in very rural parts of this area, chewing sticks are still commonplace….

Purple Laver – cherished food in many cultures

Purple Laver (Porphyra capensis) belongs to a genus of cold-water seaweeds that grow in cold, shallow seawater. More specifically, it belongs to the red algae phylum of laver species (from which comes laverbread), comprising approximately 70 species. It grows 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….

‘Leopard claw’ grass for catching rats and mice

Common names Nkansu ngo (= claw of the leopard), Leopard claw grass, Nzefo za ngo, Kansingo (Kongo) Description A perennial grass with culms 30 – 150 cm high, growing from scaly rhizomes. Leaf blades are spear-shaped, 10 – 40 cm…

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…

Tetracera alnifolia – a vine for water shortages

Tetracera alnifolia (Dilleniaceae); Synonym T. alnifolia subsp. alnifolia; Common names Kiziazi, Nziazi, Nziazia (Kongo), Liane à eau (Fr.), Water tree Description A woody creeper up to 20 m long and up to 10 cm. in diameter. Leaves are 4 -…