8 Indigenous Edible Plants
We have a serious wealth of edible and medicinal plants within our rich biodiverse plant kingdom in South Africa. It is important to know what part of the plant to use and how it can be used for culinary use. Some are edible only in certain seasons, or after certain preparations. Below are a selection of a few of our favourite indigenous edible plants and wild flavours, most of which are pretty well known and favoured in landscaping, so you might even have some of these indigenous edible plants already growing!
Planting these indigenous edible plants in your garden or growing them on your balcony gives you easy access to fresh flavours that can handle our harsh South African climate, and that are more waterwise and easier to maintain than regular herbs and veg. This makes it that much simpler to connect to your food and the rhythm of nature in a new, fresh and wild way, and to enjoy playing with new recipes using these indigenous edible plants picked on your doorstep. The local birds, bees and insects will be grateful to you too.
Carissa macrocarpa (Big num-num, amatungulu)
This indigenous edible plant has ripe berries which are very high in vitamin C and pectin, are eaten fresh or are excellent for making jam and preserves. The berries impart a gorgeous ruby red hue to syrups and cordials. This is a fairly slow-growing, summer rainfall coastal shrub that grows best in a nutrient-rich soil with summer water, but is drought resistant. It is usually used as a windbreak or a security hedge plant, although it stands very well on its own and can grow to 2m high. It has beautiful white flowers in spring and summer followed by delicious fruit.
Pelargonium cucullatum (Hooded-leaf pelargonium)
The leaves are used medicinally as a tea for stomach disorders. Bruised leaves can be used as a poultice for sores and wounds, and a rolled-up fresh leaf inserted in the ear (not too deep!) can help earache. Add the leaves to your bath for a fragrant relaxing soak to relieve tired muscles. Use the bright fuchsia-pink flowers in salads and baking. This showy pelargonium grows up to 1m high, and flowers beautifully in the post-fire years. It grows best in a sunny position, in well-drained soil and looks best if pruned after flowering to prevent it from getting leggy
Coleonema pulchellum (Confetti bush)
Used in pot-pourri and traditionally used as a deodoriser, this aromatic herb can also be used in sweet or savoury dishes – strip the little leaves off the stems as you would with thyme. This lovely shrub grows to 1m or more in height and width. It likes well-drained soil and a bit of compost, and prefers a sunny position although it will tolerate light shade. Plants should not dry out when young, but once established they can handle a bit of drought. As with all fynbos, a mulch of compost or bark is beneficial as it keeps the shallow root system cool. Plants respond well to pruning.
Tulbaghia violacea (Wild garlic)
This whole plant has culinary uses. The flowers can be used in salads and as a garnish, and the leaves used like chives. The roots have a very pungent garlic flavour (use sparingly) and can be used like normal garlic – they are great in stews and roasts. The leaves can also be used as an insect repellent, and a soup made from the roots or leaves is good for coughs and colds. In fact, the plant has similar medicinal properties to normal garlic. This excellent border plant has bluish green leaves up to 25cm in length, and flowers profusely if watered through the summer months with attractive mauve flowers. It is easy to grow and is reported to keep moles away. It occurs naturally along the south coast.
Carpobrotus edulis (Sour figs)
The succulent leaves of the sour fig are excellent for any skin problems like sunburn, bee and blue bottle stings, spider bites, rashes, cold sores and insect bites. Chew on the leaves for relief from a sore throat. The ripe fruits and dried fruits are used for the delicious, sweet and salty, tamarind-like tasting juicy seed centre. Use them to make jams, chutneys and sauces. The pink flowers produce a sweeter-tasting fruit than the yellow flowers. This fast-growing succulent groundcover flowers from August to October, the large flowers starting yellow and turning pink with age. It is widespread in the south western Cape. It is used as a pioneer plant to hold banks and exposed sand, and is a good fire retardant.
Jasminum multipartitum (Starry wild jasmine)
The amazing, perfume-scented, delicate, white star-shaped flowers are used cosmetically and in potpourri. Use the flowers in salads, in baking, in tea and as flavouring. They also make a beautiful garnish but discolour quickly, so they have to be used fresh and fast. There are two forms of this plant, one a scrambling shrub and the other a creeper. Both have beautifully scented, large white jasmine flowers with a pink reverse from August to November. They are naturally widespread in summer-rainfall areas and will grow in sun or semishade. They grow best in a good soil with a bit of summer watering.
Salvia africana-lutea (Golden sage)
This indigenous sage is used medicinally as a tea for coughs, colds and stomach ailments. A delicious herb in cooking, it works well with veg and pasta dishes, and in chicken, sauces, stews and roasts. Add a Salvia africana-lutea sprig and fish it out later for it to impart its delicious flavour, and don’t leave it in for too long or it will render the food bitter. Dry the leaves and store them in a glass jar for your spice cupboard and add to a salt mix or rub. Use the flowers as a garnish in salads. This hardy coastal shrub grows 1m high, in sandy coastal soils. It forms a good windbreak and is an excellent pioneer plant. It is covered in orange blooms with darker bracts in the early spring.
Artemesia afra (African wormwood)
Used medicinally to treat fevers, colds, flu, sore throats, coughs, asthma, pneumonia and headaches. Bruised leaves can be used as a poultice for sores and wounds, and a rolled up fresh leaf can be inserted in the ear (again, not too deep!) to ease earache. The leaves have a very strong and bitter flavour, so use sparingly. It makes a great addition to iced tea and a herbal drink or crush for a beautiful addition to cocktails. This hardy shrub has delicate foliage and can be used effectively in an herbaceous border. It is easy to grow, drought resistant and responds well to being composted. It should be pruned hard after flowering to keep it looking good. It is an excellent garden plant.
Written by Roushanna Gray – Founder of Veld and Sea
Roushanna Gray is a wild food innovator and avid forager. She runs classes and workshops on wild food and foraging. Gael Gray is the co-founder and owner of Good Hope Gardens Nursery.
For more information visit www.veldandsea.com
PLEASE NOTE Good Hope Gardens Nursery and Veld and Sea cannot take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.