Indigenous Vegetables of South Africa

© Anna JB
A traditional African lunch of taro, sweet potato, plantains, pumpkin, amaranth and beans.

Indigenous vegetables have sustained rural families over the centuries, adding to nutrients to traditional diets. Unfortunately, over the years, cultivation of traditional vegetables, often also associated with poverty, have been replaced with Western vegetables and store-bought produce. The lack of research and development to commercialise these vegetables added to the decline in use.
However, there is a renewed interest in the benefits of indigenous vegetables - rich in nutrients, easy to grow and adaptable to local growing conditions.
With this expanding series of articles on indigenous vegetables available in all 11 official South African languages, aims to promote indigenous knowledge of traditional crops to improve nutrition and cultural pride in our traditional food heritage.


The Amadumbe or "potato of the tropics" (Colocasia esculenta) is also known as mufhongwe, madumbis, taro or dasheen but is not related to the ‘real’ potato....more

Black Nightshade for Leaves and Jam

Black nightshade (Solanum retroflexum) is an annual herb-like plant that originated in South Africa. It is also known as sunberry, nastergal, Umsobo, muxe, umsobo wesinja,...more

Carob as Animal Feed

The evergreen carob tree produces large green pods, which turn brown when ripe. The pods contain a sweet pulp and even-sized brown seeds. When ground up, the seeds produce a gum...more

Carob Production in South Africa

Despite the huge potential of carob to be utilised as a protein-rich food crop for both human and animal use, carob is not cultivated on a commercial scale in South Africa....more

Carob: Underutilised Food Tree

The carob tree (Ceratonia siliqua) also known as St John’s Bread is a small to medium evergreen leguminous tree with glossy leathery leaves. It produces 13 - 30 cm long flat leathery...more

Corchorus is Jew's Mallow

Jew's mallow (Corchorus olitorius) is a nutritious leafy vegetable eaten in South Africa and falls under the collection of leafy vegetables know as morogo or imifino....more


Cowpeas (Vigna unguiculata) is indigenous to Africa and is planted for human consumption and animal fodder. Its seeds, pods and leaves are commonly used as human food....more

How to Grow Cowpeas

Cowpeas are indigenous to Africa and can be cultivated on various soil types, even producing a crop on poor soils, but adding some compost and manure 3 to 4 weeks before planting can...more

How to Plant Indigenous Vegetables

Quality seeds are a fundamental requirement for good production. Home processed seed can also be of good quality if it is well processed, clean and stored dry....more

Salty Ice Plant for Salads

A simple plant with a complicated name; the crystalline ice plant (Mesembryanthemum crystallinum) has many colloquial names such as Rosa De Jericho or brakslaai, noeta and...more

Spider Plant: Food and Plant Protector

The wild-growing spider plant is a versatile indigenous vegetable. Not only does it provide nourishment for humans, but can be used as animal feed and interplanted with vegetable crops...more

The Uses of Carob

Carob trees (Ceratonia siliqua) produce leathery seed pods that turn brown as they ripen. The pods have a sweet-tasting pulp and small seeds....more

What are South African Indigenous Vegetables?

Although neglected and underutilised in South Africa, indigenous vegetables can diversify farming systems, ensure food security and help to alleviate poverty, whilst increasing income...more

What is Dune Spinach?

Dune spinach (Tetragonia decumbens or ‘kinkelbos’ in Afrikaans) is a low-growing (0.1 - 0.3 m high) creeping shrub that is found in coastal areas such as on dunes near the sea....more

What is the Spider Plant?

Also known as cat’s whiskers and African cabbage, the spider plant (Cleome gynandra) leaves, tender stems and flowers are used for human consumption and is considered one of the many...more