12 edible indigenous South African plants - Africa Geographic (2023)

Written by Roushanna Gray& Gael Gray

Edible indigenous plants offer a great way to eat well and garden with indigenous plants. TheBotanical Society of South Africa encourages the wise use of indigenous plants in southern Africa. Good Hope Garden Nurseryshared some great tips on indigenous plants that you can easily grow and harvest in your very own garden for medicinal remedies and exciting culinary experiences.

We have a treasure trove of edible and medicinal plants within our rich 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 concoctions; some are edible only in certain seasons or after certain preparations.Below is a selection of a few of my favourite, pretty well-known wild flavours that are popular among landscapers so you may even have some growing!

Planting these indigenous edibles into your garden gives you easy access to fresh flavours that, at the same time, can handle our harsh South African climate as they are water-wise and easier to maintain than your classic herb or veg. This makes it that much simpler to connect to your food and the rhythm of nature in a fresh and wild way and enjoy playing with new recipes using these ingredients picked on your doorstep. The local birds, bees and insects will be grateful too.

1.Pelargonium culallatum (wild malva)
– The leaves of this plant diffused into a tea can be used to treat 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.

– Tickle your salads and baked goods pink with the flowers of the wild malva.

This showy pelargonium grows up to a metre, and flowers beautifully in 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.

2.Pelargonium tomentosum(peppermint-scented pelargonium)
Peppermint pelargonium is high in essential oils.

– Use the flowers in salads and to decorate cakes.

– Simmer leaves in milk, strain and use in baking or as teas.

(Video) South Africa's Indigenous Delicacies

– Makes a delicious flavouring for ice-cream.

– The leaves can be crushed and used to soothe bruises by adding the leaves to your bath or as a poultice.

A shady position, compost and a bit of water in summer will keep this fast-growing pelargonium happy. One plant can cover 0.75m².

3.Coleonema pulchellum (confetti bush)
– Traditionally used as a deodoriser, add this to potpourri

– This aromatic herb can be used in sweet or savoury dishes – strip the little leaves off the stems as one would do with thyme.

Known as false buchu, this lovely shrub grows to one metre or more in height and width. They like well-drained soil and a bit of compost, and they prefer a sunny position although they do tolerate light shade. As with all fynbos, a mulch of compost or bark is beneficial as it keeps the shallow root system cool. It responds well to pruning.

4.Oxalis pes-caprae (wild sorrel)
The whole plant is edible, and it has a nice sharp taste. It is sour due to the oxalic acid content, so don’t overeat.

– The flowers can be used in salads and the heart-shaped leaves used as a garnish in salads and dips.

– Thestalks and roots can be eaten rawor cooked in milk. Traditionally oxalis is used as an ingredient in ‘waterblommetjie stew’ and as a salt substitute.

We all take this lovely spring flower for granted. It occurs naturally in the Western Cape and doesn’t have to be planted. It regrows from little underground corms as soon as the rains start. It responds well to a bit of compost and a sunny position, although a bit of shade doesn’t stop them from flowering. They die down at the end of spring.

5.Artemesia afra (African wormwood)
– The wormwood is used medicinally to treat fever, colds, flu, sore throats, coughs, asthma, pneumonia and headaches.

– The 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 also help earache.

– The leaves have a very strong flavour, so use sparingly, but it makes a great addition to iced tea and herbal drinks.

(Video) African Medicinal and Edible Plants

– Crush for a beautiful flavour addition to cocktails.

This hardy shrub has delicate-looking foliage and can be used effectively in a 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. Excellent garden plant.

6.Carissa macrocarpa (num-num)
The beautiful berries of the num-num can be eaten as a fruit as they arevery high in vitamin C and pectin.

– Excellent for making jam and preserves.

– They impart a gorgeous ruby red hue to syrups and cordials.

This is a reasonably slow-growing summer rainfall coastal shrub that grows best in nutrient-rich soil. It is often used as a windbreak or a security hedge plant but also stands very well on its own. It is drought-resistant and grows up to two metres. The num-num has lovely white flowers in spring and summer, which are followed by the delicious fruit.

7.Tulbachia violacea (wild garlic)
The whole plant is edible.

– The flowers can be used in salads and as a garnish.

– The leaves can be used like chivesoras an insect repellent.

– The roots have a very pungent garlic flavour (so use them sparingly) and can be used like regular garlic. They are particularly great in stews and roasts.

– A tea made from the roots or leaves are good for coughs and colds, and it has similar medicinal properties to regular garlic.

This excellent border plant has bluish-green leaves. It 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.

8.Jasminum multipartitum (many-petalled jasmine)
This has a wonderful perfume scented, delicate white star flower that is used cosmetically and in potpourri.

(Video) Wild foraging in South Africa - Wild garlic

– Use the flowers in salads, in baking, in teas or as a flavouring.

– Makes a beautiful garnish but discolours quickly, so it has to be used fresh and fast.

There are two forms of this plant – a scrambling shrub or a creeper. Both have beautifully scented large white jasmine flowers with a pinkreverse from August to November. They are naturally widespread in summer rainfall areas.They will grow in sun or semi-shade and cantolerate wind.

9.Carpobrotus edulis (sour figs)
– The succulent leaves are excellent for skin problems like sunburn, bee and blue bottle stings, rashes, cold sores and insect bites.

– Chew on the leaves for sore throat relief.

– The fruits have atamarind-tasting juicy seed centreand are used to make jams, chutneys and sauces.

– The pink flowers produce a sweeter tasting fruit than the yellow flowers.

This fast-growing succulent ground cover flowers from August to October. The large flowers are yellow but turn pink with age.It is widespread in the south Western Capewhere it isused as a pioneer plant to hold banks and exposed sand.

10.Mentha longifolia (balderjan)
– Use medicinally as a tea for stomach disorders asthis plant hascalming properties similar toexotic mint.

– Suitable for flavouring in baking, jams, syrups and salads.

– Can beused as regular mint for culinary uses.

This easy-to-grow herb is found naturally from the Cape to Lesotho. It grows in damp areas in sun and light shade.

11.Salvia africana lutea (aromatic sage)

(Video) Plantain, wild foraging South Africa

– This sage can be used medicinally as a tea for coughs,colds and stomach ailments.

– A delicious herb in cookingas itworks well with veg and pasta dishes, chicken, in sauces, stews and roasts. Add a sprig and fish it out later as itimparts adelicious flavour but isbitter to eat.

– Dry the leaves and store in a glass jar in your spice cupboard or add it to a salt mix.

– Use the flowers as a garnish in salads.

It is a hardy coastal shrubandgrows in sandy coastal soils. It forms a good windbreak and is an excellent pioneer plant. It is covered in orangeblooms withdarker bracts in the early spring.

12 edible indigenous South African plants - Africa Geographic (23)

12.Agathosma apiclata (garlic buchu)
Possesses a strong garlic scent and high in essential oils.

– Adds a garlic flavour to cooking and baking.

– Good for flavouring vinegars and oils.

This metre-high, hardy shrub grows in coastal dunes andlimestone soils of the Southern Cape giving the ‘holiday’ smell to the Knysna area.It prefers a sunny position and is covered in white flowers in late winter.

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.

To find out more about indigenous gardening and the Good Hope Gardens Nursery as well as theRoushanna Gray and Gael Grey click here.

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(Video) Wild African Fruits

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How many indigenous plants are in South Africa? ›

South Africa is home to more than 22 000 indigenous seed plants from almost 230 different families. It is also the proud home of 10% of the world's flowering species, making it a major contributor to the global ecological scene.

What plants are only found in South Africa? ›

10 Great South African Indigenous Plants for Children's Gardens
  • Rhus (Searsia) lancea.
  • Plectranthus ecklonii.
  • Delosperma lydenbergense.
  • Bulbine frutescens.
  • Mentha longifolia.
  • Melinis nerviglumis.
  • Aloe aristata.
  • Halleria lucida.
27 Jul 2016

What vegetables are indigenous to South Africa? ›

Indigenous leafy vegetables such as Bambara groundnut, cowpea, cleome, jute mellow, amaranth typically grow in Mpumalanga, Northwest, Gauteng, KwaZulu Natal and Limpopo provinces in South Africa. ILVs are often eaten as boiled, dried, and as roasted vegetables [10].

What is indigenous plants and it Examples? ›

Indigenous plants are plants that are native to a particular area. South Africa has many indigenous species that which are found only in Africa. 'Fynbos' is one example.

What is an example of an indigenous plant? ›

Examples of Indigenous Plants for Eastern North America

Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum): zones 4 to 9. Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis): zones 3 to 8. Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum): zones 3 to 8. Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis): zones 2 to 7.

What is an indigenous plant in South Africa? ›

Acacia ataxacantha (=Senegalia ataxacantha) is a hardy, deciduous Acacia that can grow as a scrambling shrub or medium sized tree with many hooked prickles. It is drought resistant and fairly fast-growing. The fine leaves are either bright green or blue green and are densely hairy.

Which tree is indigenous to South Africa? ›

Baobab (Aka Bottle Tree, Upside-down Tree)

One of the most iconic trees in South Africa is the Baobab tree.

How many types of plants are in South Africa? ›

20,000. plant species are found in South Africa – an astonishing 10% of all plants found on Earth.

What is the most famous plant in South Africa? ›

King Protea

Protea cynaroides is the national flower of South Africa. The king protea flower is large when opened and can grow to about 12 inches in diameter.

What is the most popular plant in South Africa? ›

Agapanthus praecox

Agapanthus is one of the most popular plants in South Africa, and is cultivated world-wide. The beautiful blue or white blooms look stunning during the summer flowering season, and help to liven up an otherwise dull area of the garden.

How many medicinal plants are in South Africa? ›

Southern Africa boasts an enormous floral diversity with approximately 22,755 plant species with an estimated 3000 used as traditional medicines.

What are the 10 plant names? ›

Here are 10 indoor plants that will not only enhance the beauty of your house but will also improve the air quality.
10 Indoor Plants That You Can Grow in Your House Right Now!
  • Areca Palm. Photo: www.houseplantsexpert.com. ...
  • English Ivy. ...
  • Aloe Vera. ...
  • Indian Basil. ...
  • Dracaena. ...
  • Ladies' Slipper Orchid. ...
  • Spider Plant. ...
  • Azalea.
4 Jan 2016

What are 10 plants we eat? ›

PlantConsumable parts of the Plant
Spinach, cabbage, lettuce, etc.Leaves
Cauliflower, Broccoli, sunflower etc.Flower
Apple, orange, banana, etc.Fruits
Rice, maize, wheat, etcSeeds
2 more rows

What are edible plants examples? ›

Peas and wheat in seeds are edible. Onion and garlic belong to roots and are edible. Cauliflower is an example of edible fruit. Apple and mango fruits are edible.

What are some indigenous vegetables? ›

  • Baobab (Adansonia digitata) Common Names. ...
  • Blackjack (Bidens pilosa) Common Names. ...
  • Cluster bean (Cyamopsis tetragonoloba) ...
  • Japanese prickly ash (Zanthoxylum ailanthoides) ...
  • Cowpea (Vigna unguiculata) ...
  • Sweet bitterleaf (Vernonia hymenolepis) ...
  • Chinese toon (Toona sinensis) ...
  • New Zealand spinach (Tetragonia tetragonioides)

What are the main crops grown in South Africa? ›

South Africa has 40 122 commercial farms.

The country's largest outputs by volume are maize, sugarcane and potatoes.

What food is native to South Africa? ›

Chakalaka and pap are mainstays on every South African dinner table. Chakalaka is a vegetable dish made of onions, tomatoes, peppers, carrots, beans and spices, and is often served cold. Pap, meaning 'porridge', is similar to American grits and is a starchy dish made from white corn maize.

What are indigenous plants Class 9? ›

The species of plants that are native to a place are called endemic or indigenous species. And the species that are from outside are known as exotic species.

Which flowers are edible? ›

Edible flowers include citrus blossom, clover, daisies, dandelions, hibiscus, honeysuckle, lavender, lilac, mums, nasturtium, pansies, roses, sunflowers and violets, among others.

Are there any indigenous herbs? ›

Native sage

Plants occur mostly in eucalypt forests along the east coast of NSW. Both native sage and thyme can usually be found at native nurseries.

What trees are indigenous to? ›

  • Native Trees. ...
  • California Black Walnut. ...
  • The May 2002. ...
  • The brochure is intended as a general guide to identifying native trees. ...
  • The Canyon Live Oak is a variable tree adapted to the often dry, hot conditions in Southern California. ...
  • California Buckeye. ...
  • California Sycamore. ...
  • California Laurel.

What do you mean by indigenous plant? ›

Indigenous people or things belong to the country in which they are found, rather than coming there or being brought there from another country.

What is native plant food? ›

Searles Native Plant Food is a blend of organic and inorganic fertilisers plus essential trace elements, which combine to enhance root, leaf, and flower growth. Provides essential nutrients to boost ongoing healthy plant development in an easy to apply granular formulation.

What crops do indigenous people grow? ›

Crop plants cultivated or domesticated in the Americas by Indigenous peoples. Cereals & pseudo-cereals: Amaranth, chia, goosefoot, knotweed, little barley, maize (corn), maygrass, quinoa, sunflower and wild rice.

What are indigenous plants and animals? ›

In biogeography, a native species is indigenous to a given region or ecosystem if its presence in that region is the result of only local natural evolution (though often popularised as "with no human intervention") during history. The term is equivalent to the concept of indigenous or autochthonous species.

What is a local indigenous plant garden? ›

People often ask what's the difference between a native and an indigenous plant garden? Well a native plant garden uses plants from all over Australia, whereas an indigenous garden uses plants that are local to the area of that garden. That means they are especially well suited to the climate and soils.

What is the most famous plant in Africa? ›

The baobab “is famous because it is the biggest angiosperm, and it is the most iconic tree of Africa,” Patrut said.

How many types of plants are in Africa? ›

The African continent is filled with an amazingly diverse collection of plant and animal life. The continent is home to more than 50,000 known plant species, 1,000 mammal species, and 1,500 bird species.

Are cactus indigenous to South Africa? ›

South Africa has no indigenous cacti, although some of our local succulents resemble members of the Cactaceae family. Most of our cacti were introduced from South America in the early 1900s. Fortunately, most species are not invasive aliens because they need controlled conditions to germinate and survive.

What fruit is native to South Africa? ›

According to the Department: Agriculture, Forestries and Fisheries (DAFF), these are considered the most important South African indigenous fruit crops: Marula, mobola plum, red milkwood fruit, wld medlar, kei apple, monkey orange, sour fig and sour plum.

Is Mango indigenous to South Africa? ›

A mango is an edible stone fruit produced by the tropical tree Mangifera indica. It is believed to have originated in the region between northwestern Myanmar, Bangladesh, and northeastern India.

What is the oldest tree in South Africa? ›

It is one of the largest baobabs in South Africa, and at a whopping 72 feet high and 155 feet around, the widest on the entire continent. Besides its remarkable dimensions, the baobab is also one of the oldest trees on Earth. According to some estimates, Sunland Baobab is 6,000 years old.

What are the 3 main plant types? ›

What is a plant?
  • Flowering plants. Flowering plants make up the biggest group of plants. They are found in most parts of the world, though about two-thirds of flowering plants live in hot, wet tropical areas. ...
  • Trees. Trees are a type of plant. ...
  • Nonflowering plants. There are two main types of nonflowering plants.

What are the 4 main types of plants? ›

Plants can also be classified as grasses, herbaceous plants, woody shrubs, and trees.

What are the top 5 plants that sell? ›

Most profitable plants to grow and sell
  • Snake Plant. Snake Plant is one of the so-called go-to plants for people who are looking for a plant that will make their living space more enjoyable. ...
  • Different types of Bonsai trees. ...
  • Variegated Alocasia Dragon Scale. ...
  • Anthurium Clarinervium. ...
  • Herbs.

What is the rarest plant in South Africa? ›

The Kraaifontein spiderhead grows in acid, sandy soils at low altitudes between 50-310m on the Cape Flats and is nearly extinct.

What is the most poisonous plant in South Africa? ›

Gifblaar or Blaargif (Dichapetalum cymosum). -This is perhaps the most deadly of the quick-acting plant poisons. It is a tropical plant that is found in or near bush veld, and has penetrated the Union as far south as the Pretoria district.

What are the endemic plants of South Africa? ›

Other endemic plants include the Bird of Paradise Flower (SANBI), the Red Disa (iNaturalist), the Rhinoceros Bush (SANBI), the Cushion Restio (SANBI), the Clanwilliam Cedar (RBGE), the False-waterberry (SANBI), the Kammanassie Erica (SANBI), Bergeranthus multiceps (iNaturalist), the Keurboom (SANBI), the Silver Tree ( ...

What is the best food plant? ›

Top 20 Best Foods To Grow For Survival
  1. Beans. Beans, such as these adzuki beans, are a great staple crop. ...
  2. Corn. This is harder to grow in an apartment but is a yard staple. ...
  3. Squash. Both winter and summer squash are great in your end-of-the-world garden. ...
  4. Cabbage. ...
  5. Potatoes. ...
  6. Kale. ...
  7. Sweet Potatoes. ...
  8. Lentils.
4 Nov 2022

What fruits and vegetables grow in South Africa? ›

Apples, avocados, figs, granadillas, grapefruit, grapes, lemons, naartjies, oranges, pawpaws or papayas, pear, pineapples, plums, pomegranates, quinces, sweet melon, watermelon.

What are the 10 medicinal plants leaves? ›

Top 10 Medicinal Plants
  • Calendula (Calendula officinalis). ...
  • Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla). ...
  • Peppermint (Metha x piperita). ...
  • Holy Basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum). ...
  • Plantain (Plantago major). ...
  • Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis). ...
  • English Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia “Vera”). ...
  • Hops (Humulus lupulus).
10 Aug 2018

Are the 10 medicinal plants? ›

Some of the herbal plants with medicinal properties include Ashwagandha plant, Allium sativum, Vitex negundo, stinging nettle, Orange flowers, Chamomile flowers and so on. Here are 10 of our favorite medicinal plants you can grow at home.

What are the 9 medicinal plants? ›

Nature's 9 Most Powerful Medicinal Plants and the Science Behind Them
  • Gingko.
  • Turmeric.
  • Evening primrose oil.
  • Flax seed.
  • Tea tree oil.
  • Echinacea.
  • Grapeseed extract.
  • Lavender.
28 Feb 2019

What is the fastest growing plant that is edible? ›

1. Radishes. Radishes are one of the fastest vegetables, taking just three to four weeks to reach harvest time.

What is the most common edible plant? ›

1. Dandelion. Known as a ubiquitous weed worldwide, dandelion has been a staple part of many food cultures for millennia, as all parts of the plant, at every stage of its lifecycle, are edible. Dandelion is rich in vitamins A, B, and C, and it contains high levels of magnesium and iron.

What are 7 major crops? ›

Cassava, maize, plantains, potatoes, rice, sorghum, soybeans, sweet potatoes, wheat, and yams are some of the leading food crops around the world.

Which two crops is best planted in South Africa's climate region? ›

The most valued crops in South Africa are maize, which is exported, and wheat, which is not enough to provide the country's needs.

What are the top 4 crops grown? ›

Corn, soybeans, barley and oats

The largest United States crop in terms of total production is corn, the majority of which is grown in a region known as the Corn Belt. The second largest crop grown in the United States is soybeans.

Which plant will grow in 2 days? ›

Chives. Chives are a great herb to grow on your kitchen counter! They come up very quickly—it'll only take 2-3 days for chives to sprout.

What plant can grow in 2 weeks? ›

Vegetable plants that grow in two weeks
  • Garden cress. One of the easiest vegetables to grow in your garden is garden cress. ...
  • Arugula. If you love salads, you are probably well-acquainted with arugula leaves already. ...
  • Pea shoots. ...
  • Baby bok choy. ...
  • Microgreens.
27 Aug 2022

How many types of edible plants are there? ›

Edible Uses. There are over 20,000 species of edible plants in the world yet fewer than 20 species now provide 90% of our food. However, there are hundreds of less well known edible plants from all around the world which are both delicious and nutritious.


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