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African Leafy Vegetables 

African leafy vegetables refer to a group of plants that are indigenous to Africa and that have been consumed over centuries by people as a source of nutritional food. Local leafy vegetables have long been an important part of people's diet in Africa, nutritious, affordable and adapted to local growing conditions and cultural traditions. But in the latter part of the 20th century, they fell out of fashion. This was mainly the result of changing market trends. But there is a growing interest in the production of these vegetables.  

Amaranthus Amaranthus dubius or wild spinach to the left and African Spider Flower to the right grown in our backyard on an experimental basis. Both these plants are easy to cultivate and grows previously. African Spider Flower seems to be more drought resistant while Amaranthus seems to be more thirsty. The leaves of this specific Amaranthus species can be eaten raw or cooked while the leaves of the African Spider Flower need to be cooked. Seeds are easily harvested from both these plants and can be kept until the next planting season. It will be able to cultivate Spider Flower continuously under the right climate conditions while Amaranth is better suited as a seasonal crop. We are planning to introduce these plants into local communities during our 2014 planting season. 

Other species of Amaranthus includes Amaranthus spinosus or spiny pigweed andAmaranthus hybridus or cockscomb. Although easily controlled and not particularly competitive, it is recognized as a harmful weed amongst North American crops and crops in many other parts of the world. These plants easily grow in disturbed areas and therefore carries the tag of an unwanted weed. Nevertheless, these plants have the potential to supplement the diets of people in many areas of the world where there is a shortage of other vegetables and grains. The plants contain remarkably high amounts of Calcium, Phosphorus, Sodium and Magnesium and smaller amounts of Manganese, Copper, Zink and Iron.  A study that was undertaken by The Durban Institute of Technology and the University of Kwazulu-Natal was published in the Journal of Food Composition and Analysis that analyzed the nutritional content of various traditional leafy vegetables. This study has shown remarkable results. You can find a copy of the article "Preliminary assessment of nutritional value of traditional leafy vegetables in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa" here.
African Leafy Vegetables in South Africa - An Article

"In this article, the term ‘African leafy vegetables’ was adopted to refer to the collective of plant species that are used as leafy vegetables and which are referred to as morogo or imifino by African people in South Africa. The function is central to this indigenous concept, which is subject to spatial and temporal variability in terms of plant species that are included as a result of diversity in ecology, culinary repertoire, and change over time. As a result, the concept embraces indigenous, indigenized, and recently introduced leafy vegetable species but this article is concerned mainly with the indigenous and indigenized species. In South Africa, the collection of these two types of leafy vegetables from the wild, or from cultivated fields where some of them grow as weeds, has a long history that has been intimately linked to women and their traditional livelihood tasks. Among poor people in remote rural areas, the use of these types of leafy vegetables is still common but nationwide there is evidence of decline, particularly in urban areas. The cultivation of indigenous or indigenized leafy vegetables is restricted to a narrow group of primarily indigenized species in South Africa. Seven groups of indigenous or indigenized African leafy vegetables that are important in South Africa were given special attention and their local nomenclature, ecology, use and cultivation are discussed." -Research Article the University of Pretoria: W.S. Jansen van Rensburg, W. van Averbeke, R. Slabbert, M. Faber, P. van Jaarsveld, I. van Heerden, F. Wenhold and A. Oelofse. (Picture Above is a young Amaranth plant)

The list of plants discussed in the article: 
Amaranth Plant (Amaranthus cruentus)
Spider Flower (Cleome gynandra)
Chinese Cabbage (Brassica rapa subsp. chinensis)
Nightshade Plant (Solanum retroflexum)
Jew’s Mallow Plant (Corchorus olitorius)
Bitter Water Melon (Citrillus lanatus)
Cowpeas (Vigna inguiculata)

These plants hold great promise for supplementing the diets of people in Africa and warrant further study by anyone interested in finding sustainable solutions for food security.

Related Articles 
Re-Creating Awareness of Traditional Leafy Vegetables in Communities: Voster Ineke H.J.; Jansen van Rensburg Willem; Van Zijl J.J.B.; Venter Sonja .L. (African Journal of Food, Agriculture, Nutrition and Development, Vol. 7, No. 4, 2007)
Conservation of African Leafy Vegetables in South Africa: Van Rensburg Willem, Jansen; Voster, Ineke H.J.; Van Zijl, J.J.B & Venter Sonja, L. (African Journal of Food, Agriculture, Nutrition and Development, Vol. 7, No. 4, 2007)

In the early 1990s, scientists in Kenya noticed that traditional ALVs were rapidly disappearing from farmers’ fields and people’s tables. Bioversity and its partners in Kenya set out to reverse this trend. Between 1996 and 2004, work was undertaken to collect, characterise and analyse the nutritional values of ALVs before identifying priority species, enhancing genetic material, and improving horticultural practices, marketing and processing of ALVs.
Amaranthus seeds can be milled to make a nutritious flour and the leaves can be eaten too. It grows to about 5 feet tall. The white seeds are best for milling for flour.

Photo credit: wikipedia.org

Amaranthus seeds can be milled to make a nutritious flour and the leaves can be eaten too. It grows to about 5 feet tall. The white seeds are best for milling for flour. Amaranthus has been proposed as an inexpensive native crop that could be cultivated by indigenous people in rural areas for several reasons:
  1. It is easily harvested.
  2. Its seeds are a good source of protein. Compared to other grains, amaranth is unusually rich in the essential amino acid lysine. Common grains such as wheat and corn are comparatively rich in amino acids that amaranth lacks; thus, amaranth and other grains can complement each other.
  3. The seeds of Amaranthus species contain about thirty percent more protein than cereals like rice, sorghum, and rye. In cooked and edible forms, amaranth is competitive with wheat germ and oats - higher in some nutrients, lower in others.
  4. It is easy to cook. As befits its weedy life history, amaranth grains grow very rapidly and their large seedheads can weigh up to 1 kilogram and contain a half-million seeds in three species of amaranth.

    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Continue reading 

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