South Africa is home to a wide variety of edible indigenous plants. The Botanical Society of South Africa is responsible for encouraging indigenous gardening, conservation awareness, and the proper use of indigenous plants in Southern Africa.
Planting some of these edible delights in your garden will give you easy access to fresh ingredients. If you want to use these ingredients in the kitchen, it is important to know what part of the plant can be used for cooking and how it can be prepared because some of them are only edible after certain preparation and in certain seasons.
Spice up your recipes with these these garden-fresh ingredients. Here is a list of 12 Edible Indigenous South African Plants for you to experiment with.
Wild Garlic (Tulbaghia Violacea)
This edible plant is great if you love making a lot of stews and roasts. It will also add a burst of colour to your garden. The plant shoots out striking purple flowers on top. In addition, the plant can be used in various ways:
- The leaves can be used as a substitute for spinach.
- It can help with fighting esophageal cancer and sinus headaches.
- The bulbs on the plant can be used as a substitute for regular garlic.
- The plant can be used to ward off fleas, ticks, snakes and mosquitoes.
Confetti Bush (Coleonema Pulchellum)
This herb can be used to add more than just flavour to your cooking, it also adds a sweet aroma. Traditionally used as a deodorizer, the Confetti Bush can be used in any savoury or sweet dishes — strip the little leaves from the stems as you would with thyme.
Also known as False Buchu, this pretty little shrub grows up to one meter or even more in width and height. They also grow faster and healthier when placed in a little bit of compost, drained soil, and when under a lot of sunlight. Take note that a bark or a mulch of compost will keep the shallow root system cool, which is very beneficial to the growth of the plant.
Garlic Buchu (Agathosma Apiculata)
This edible plant is superb for those home chefs who love experimenting with infused oils and making vinegar. The Garlic Buchu is a densely leafy shrub, which forms a single stem from the base and grows into an upright and bushy shrub.
The branchlets are covered with many finer hairs. The younger stems are usually light brown but eventually turn into a darker colour as they start to mature with white flowers that sprout from the tip of the stems.
When any part of this plant is touched, it releases a powerful garlic scent, which is how it got its name. Since the plant is jam-packed with natural essential oils, the oils in the leaves are used to manufacture various cosmetics, medicines, and food colourants. You can also munch on the leaves to get a quick fix of its organic healing remedies.
African Wormwood (Artemesia Afra)
The African Wormwood is known for its strong flavour, which is why it’s widely used in a lot of cocktails, iced teas, and herbal drinks. This plant grows in clumps, with woody and ridged stems reaching up to 0.5 meters to 2 meters in height. The leaves are soft in texture with dark coloured green leaves, similar to the shape of a fern.
This plant blooms late in the summer, and produces butter coloured flowers. The African Wormwood releases a sweet, pungent smell when crushed or bruised. Aside from it being used for cocktails, it can also treat colds, flu, fever, asthma, coughs, sore throats, headaches, and pneumonia.
Crushed leaves can be used as a poultice for wounds and sores, while rolled up fresh leaves can be inserted in the ear for a quick earache remedy.
Wild Sorrel (Oxalis Pes-Caprae)
Also known as the Bermuda Buttercup, Cape Sorrel, English Weed, Goat’s Foot, Sourgrass, Soursob, and Buttercup Oxalis. This effervescent yellow plant can also be found all over California. The good news is, the entire plant is edible and tastes a little bit like lemon, which makes it a great addition to fresh salad ingredients.
Technically, this plant is considered a weed so it will spread like wild fire in your garden if not maintained properly. It has a reputation for being hard to eliminate once it has taken over an area of land. Although it is difficult to maintain, it will still make a wonderful edition to your garden.
Take note that the plant is sour because of the oxalic acid present in the petals, so it’s best not to eat too much of it as it can be hazardous to your health when taken in large quantities.
Num-Num (Carissa Macrocarpa)
The Carissa Macrocarpa is a shrub commonly known in South Africa as the Natal Plum or the Num-Num. The berries are what makes this plant unique, and why it was given the interesting nickname. It’s full of delightful flavours, which is why it is used for making jams. The berries can be eaten raw and taste a little like cranberries.
For better growth, the plant should be exposed to salty wind or planted in a coastal area. Other than the fruit that grows from the plant, some have claimed that the plant itself is actually poisonous to humans and dogs. The berries can also be used to improve nutrition, and is very rich in Vitamin C.
Balderjan (Mentha Longifolia)
Otherwise known as Horsemint, the Balderjan is known for its peppermint aroma. You can use this plant as an alternative to mint leaves. You can add it to raw or fruity salads for an interesting blend of flavours, or mix up a batch of homemade syrups with it. Like all other mint leaves, the Balderjan has a creeping rhizome, with creeping erect stems 40 to 120 cm tall. The flowers are 3 to 5 mm long, purplish in color or white on tall-branched spikes.
This plant will grow well and thrive in damp areas like marshes. It has been known to help alleviate a number of health issues like asthma, respiratory ailments, and colic stomachs. It can also help with stinky breath, teeth whitening, a stuffy nose, and dandruff.
Sour Figs (Carpobrotus Edulis)
Also known as the Hottentot-fig, Highway Ice Plant, or the Pig Face. The Sour Fig is a creeping, succulent, mat-forming species. Although it is loved in South Africa, other parts of the world consider this plant as invasive especially in Australia, California and the Mediterranean, which all have very similar climates as the Cape.
At the top of it’s moist leaves sprout bright flowers which make it a pretty sight to enjoy in your garden. There are approximately 30 species of this plant and it grows delicious fruits that are excellent for homemade jams. The leaves are also used to cure a number of health related issues like sores. The juice from the leaves can be used as an antiseptic, or can be consumed for treating a sore throat and stomach issues.
Many-Petalled Jasmine (Jasminum Multipartritum)
Also known as the Starry Wild Jasmine or the Imfohlafohlane. It is a crawler and can grow in areas where there is a lot of sunlight or semi-shade. The plant produces a lot of white, star shaped flowers that are scented like a perfume.
The flower that grows from this plant is used for different teas as a flavouring, salad ingredients, and it can also be used for baking and potpourri. If you are looking to impress your dinner guests, the flowers make a nice garnish on top of a mouth watering dish. But it can discolour easily, so it has to be used quickly and fresh.
Aromatic Sage (Salvia Africana)
The Aromatic Sage is a aromatic heavy-branched shrub that is native to the Cape provinces, along the coast of South Africa. This plant can be found on rock hills and coastal dunes. It can grow up to 60 to 90 cm, with grayish round stems covered with hairs. When touched, the plant releases a strong scent.
A delectable herb to use in the kitchen. It works well with pasta, vegetable dishes, sauces, roasts, stews, and chicken. When eaten alone it is quite bitter, so only add a little bit of this herb into your dishes to add a dash of interesting flavour. To get rid of some of the bitterness, you can dry the leaves and store it inside a glass jar or you can add a little salt to the mix. If you are feeling creative, you can use the flowers as a garnish on your salads.
Wild Malva (Pelargonium Culullatum)
Otherwise known as Hooded Leaf Pelargonium, but more commonly called the Wild Malva. It is a species of plant from the Geraniaceae family. In the summer, this attractive plant produces masses of purple and pink flowers, which has been used to create a number of Pelargonium hybrids.
The Wild Malva is a fast growing shrub, which can reach up to heights of over a meter. The leaves grow in an upward direction and forms circular bowls with red tipped edges. The flower gives off a natural sweet scent.
When diffused, the leaves of this plant turn into a tea which can be used to treat stomach issues, while the crushed leaves turn into a poultice to treat sores and wounds. The leaves can also be used to treat earache when inserted into the ear. But be careful to not insert it too deep.
Aside from being a remedy for internal health related issues, the leaves can also be used to create a relaxing and fragrant bath to relieve tired muscles. Or add joy to your taste buds when making a salad or baked goods.
Tassel Berry (Antidesma Venosum)
The Tassel Berry is a shrub-like tree that grows up to 4 m tall with a roundish crown. The old stems are buffy grey in colour, while the smaller branches are scattered with brown pale grey lenticels with hairy twigs. The fruits are edible but not easily digested and taste slightly acidic and sweet, similar to mulberries. This plant is very decorative and is a great addition to your garden.
The Tassel Berry also has a number of other uses:
- The wood of the plant can be used for building huts and fuel.
- The fruits, bark, and leaves can help cure stomach issues
- The roots have been said to be toxic to humans, but if you include the roots of the Tassel Berry plant into your bath it will help cure bodily aches and pains.