Green leafy vegetables are commonly served with any Sub-Saharan African meal. They are known as muriwo in Zimbabwe, morogo in Botswana, and sukuma wiki in Kenya.
Often referred to as "African vegetables" at local open-air markets or roadside stalls, these vegetables have often been dismissed as peasant food. However, these climate-hardy crops grow in abundance and are finally being recognized as the king of greens and a source of food security. Some are also used for their medicinal properties.
African greens are vast in variety and come from different orders of the plant kingdom. Many people will refer to them as kale or collard greens, but some of them are far from these.
Perhaps it is for the lack of English names, but the vegetables are easily recognizable in local languages. Rugare, covo, rape, choumoellier or chomolia, and Ethiopian mustard greens are the names commonly used for greens in Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Tanzania.
The little research which has been carried out relates these greens to the cabbage family. However, they yield leaves which are much greener than the standard cabbage.
Other greens come from naturally occurring foliage or shrubs. These may be referred to as "African spinach" in some countries.
An example of these come from the amaranth family and the plants are often mistaken as weeds. They are known as mchicha in Tanzania, mowa in Zimbabwe, umfino in South Africa, bonongwe in Zambia and Malawi, efo tete in Nigeria, and alefu in Ghana.
Many of these green "weeds" can be foraged and cooked in a similar way to how one would prepare spinach. It's important to remember that only the green leaves are edible. The purple varieties with bigger leaves should not be consumed.
Spider Flower Leaves
Spider flower leaves are known as nyevhe or runi in Zimbabwe, mgagani in Tanzania, and musambe in Portuguese-speaking Angola. They are commonly found as a medicinal herb or in the "whole food" sections of African supermarkets.
The spider flower plant, with its five to seven leaves, are also often found growing in many backyards in Africa. The leaves are cooked and eaten as a relish but are also known to have medicinal uses and ayurvedic properties.
Bush okra or jute mallows are thick and succulent leaves that yield a slimy sauce very similar to that of okra pods. These are better known as delele in Zambia and Botswana, murere in Kenya, derere in Zimbabwe, and molokhia in Egypt and other North African countries.
More common African greens come from the leaves of root vegetables such as cassava, sweet potato, and cocoyam. In fact, cocoyam or taro leaves are widely used in West Africa. In Ghana, they are used to make palaver sauce. In Francophone Africa, cocoyam leaf stew is referred to as sauce feuilles.
Other popular leaves include pumpkin leaves, cowpea leaves, and those of the African eggplant.