Edible Plants and Flowers in Africa

Overview

The sheer variety of plants and flowers on the African continent is immense. The number of these that are capable of being eaten, however, represents a more manageable list. From the flowers of the abal shrub to the fruit of the baobab tree, it is possible to survive in most African environments merely on the plants around you.

Abal

Abal (Calligonum comosum) is a shrub that grows in the North Africa desert. It can reach 1.2 meters in height and has stiff, green branches that resemble the sticks of a broom. These branches bloom with flowers in March and April that can be eaten. The flowers have high contents of sugar and nitrogen.

Acacia

Acacia (Acacia farnesiana) is a short tree with compound leaves and spines, small leaflets and ball-shaped, yellow flowers that burst with fragrance. This tree is whitish-gray on its trunk and produces dark brown, pod-like fruit. With 500 species to boast, acacia is found throughout the tropics, though it is specifically prominent in Africa. Its leaves, flowers and pods can be eaten, either raw or cooked.

Beech

The beech (Fagus species) is a tree found in North Africa, among other places in the global Temperate Zone, that can grow anywhere from nine to 24 meters in height. Beech trees have smooth bark of light-gray color with foliage of dark green. It bears clusters of seedpods that are prickly to the touch. These pods produce beechnuts that are edible once you break off the shell and remove the white kernel within. The beechnut is sweet to the taste with a high oil content. It can be roasted and used as a coffee substitute.

Chicory

Chicory (Cichorium intybus) is a 1.8 meter tall plant with clusters of leaves on the stem and its base that look like dandelion leaves. Similar to the dandelion, it grows as a weed in Africa. Chicory bears sky blue flowers that open in the sun. Every part of the chicory plant can be eaten. Many African use the leaves in salads; the roots, as well as the leaves, are eaten as vegetables. Some use the roots as a coffee substitute as well.

Common Jujube

Common jujube (Ziziphus jujuba) is both a 12 meter high deciduous tree or a large shrub found in Africa by the Mediterranean; the form it takes depends on the availability of water in its environment. Common jujube has spiny branches with green flowers and red-brown to yellow-green fruit that is sweet to the taste and high in vitamins A and C. The fruit can be crushed in water for a drink, or dried in the sun for a snack akin to dates.

Goa Bean

The goa bean (Psophocarpus tetragonolobus) is a plant that climbs over shrubs and trees. It has 15 centimeter-long leaves, 22 centimeter-long bean pods with have jagged wings, and blue flowers. This bean is found in the tropical regions of Africa. The bean pods are frequently eaten like string beans, while its seeds--high in protein--can be roasted and consumed. Germinating the seeds in moss will result in sprouts that can also be eaten. The goa bean's roots can be eaten raw, as can its leaves.

Baobab

Baobab (Adansonia digitata) is a tall tree that has the potential to grow to a height of 18 meters with a nine meter-wide trunk in Africa's savannas. The tree has a thick, gray bark and short, stubby branches that sprout compound leaves. Its white flowers bloom on the higher branches of the baobab and produce football-shaped, hairy fruit that can grow to 45 centimeters in length. The tree root and fruit pulp are edible, as well as the leaves, which are used as a soup vegetable, and the seeds, which can be ground for flour.

Keywords: African plants, African flowers, edible plants

About this Author

Alison J. Walkley graduated from Dickinson College in 2007 with a BA in English and went to the Peace Corps in Malawi. Since, she has reported for the Fairfield Citizen-News in Connecticut for a year and a half, and MediaGlobal at the United Nations for six months to date.