Local African Leafy Vegetables

African Greens

Amaranth Leaves
Amaranth: Mowa (Zimbabwe), mchicha (Tanzania), alefu (Ghana). F. Muyambo

Green leafy vegetables are ubiquitous 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 road side stalls, these vegetables have often been dismissed as a "low class" or peasant food. However these climate hardy crops grow in abundance and are slowly being recognised as the king of greens and a source of food security.

If you look even closer, you will find some of them are 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 for them, but the vegetables are easily recognisable in local languages. Greens such as rugare, covo, rape, choumoellier or chomolia and Ethiopian mustard greens are recognisable names 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 and may be referred to as "African spinach" in some countries. An example is those of the amaranth family which 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. I remember from my years growing up in Botswana, as we took our evening walks, my mother would often get excited at the sight of green "weeds" or alefu that she would collect and cook in the same way that she would prepare spinach.

She was very specific that it was only the green ones which were to be consumed as there were purple varieties with bigger leaves which were not consumed. 


Spider flower leaves are known as nyevhe or runi in Zimbabwe, mgagani in Tanzania and musambe in Portuguese speaking Angola. I first came across the name as I explored the medicinal herb or "whole food" section of a supermarket in Zimbabwe. I found a packet of dried spider flower leaves. Later during that week, my mother-in-law showed me the variety of greens that grew right in her back yard, and referred to the 5 to 7 leaf spider flower plant as nyevhe or runi. It is cooked and eaten as a vegetable relish, but is also known to have medicinal uses and ayurvedic properties.


Bush okra or jute mallows are a thick and succulent leaf that yields 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. 


Other 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 used are pumpkin leaves, cowpea leaves and those of the African eggplant. 

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