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Phyton (Buenos Aires)

versión On-line ISSN 1851-5657

Phyton (B. Aires) vol.79 no.2 Vicente López jul./dic. 2010



Wild vegetable use by Vhavenda in the Venda region of Limpopo Province, South Africa

Uso de vegetales silvestres por los Vhavenda en la región de Venda en la Provincia Limpopo, Sudáfrica

Maanda MQ & RB Bhat

Department of Botany, University of Venda, Thohoyandou 0950, Limpopo Province, South Africa.
Address Correspondence to: Prof. Dr. R.B. Bhat, Department of Botany, University of Venda, Private Bag X5050,Thohoyandou 0950, Limpopo Province, South Africa. Phone.+27-15-962-8144, e-mail:,

Recibido - Received 29.VII.2010.
Aceptado - Accepted 21.IX.2010.

Abstract. We studied the marginal utilization of 40 wild vegetable species in the Venda area of Limpopo Province (South Africa). Use of these vegetables with various purposes by humans is indicated.

Keywords: Traditional use; Venda; Wild vegetables; South Africa.

Resumen. Se estudiaron 40 especies de plantas silvestres en el área de Venda de la Provincia de Limpopo (Sudáfrica). Se indica el uso deéstas especies vegetales con varios propósitos para los humanos.

Palabras clave: Uso tradicional; Venda; Vegetales silvestres; Sudáfrica.


The Vhavenda people are inhabitants of southern Africa, living mostly near the South African-Zimbabwean border. Wild vegetables have been used since ancient times by native people all over the world. Before domestication of agriculture, humans depended on wild plants and animals for their daily needs. They lived a nomadic life without permanent housezholds, .i.e. they moved from one place to another depending on availability of natural resources (Fox & Norwood Young, 1982).
After the arrival of white men, who colonized South Africa, there was a drastic change in the way of living in many human communities (Simon & Lamla, 1991): South African people started to depend more and more on exotic medicines, food, etc. For example, food trading stores were introduced. They started to sell exotic vegetables, fruits, salt, sugar, castor oil and 'luxurious items'. Men went to work on gold and coal mines in Johannesburg to support their families (Simon & Lamla, 1991). In the mines, native people used exotic food items, leading to deterioration of the use of indigenous plants (Alberti, 1968).
In addition to the economic aspect of the reduction in the use of native wild vegetables, there was a social problem associated with it. Grivetti (1975) noted the decline in the use of native fruits, attributing it to modern education. However, this decline might also be caused by the deterioration of veld and forests (Lubbe & Maree, 1973). Veld fires, grazing and/or erosion are major causes of the decline and local extinction of many species in some environments. Only a few workers attempted to record potential uses of wild vegetables in South Africa (Rose, 1972; Lubbe & Maree, 1973; Rose & Jacot Guillarmod, 1974; Fox & Norwood Young, 1982; Wehmeyer & Rose, 1983; Mabogo, 1990; Bhat & Rubuluza, 2002; Megrino, 2004). This study recorded wild vegetable richness and its potential economic importance in the Venda region of Limpopo Province, South Africa. One of our major objectives was to promote an even utilization among people of useful, edible wild plants.


The project was conducted in the Venda region of Limpopo Province. Information was collected from a series of interviews with villagers, rural and urban people. Field notes were recorded for the wild herbs and their uses, following Bhat et al. (1990) and Martin (1995). The collected plant specimens were identified and stored at the University of Venda Herbarium, in the Department of Botany.


We recorded the use of 40 wild vegetables belonging to 20 angiosperm families in the predominantly Vhavenda occupied region of South Africa. Plants of all species were partitioned into leafy vegetables, flowers, fruits and tubers (Tables 1 and 2). Consumption level of these wild vegetables varied with the study area. The interviews were conducted with interest on wild fruits and vegetables.

Table 1. Use and preparation of wild vegetables by Vhavenda, and vegetables that retain their color when cooked. *V = Venda; E = English.
Tabla 1. Uso y preparación de vegetales silvestres por los Vhavenda, y vegetales que retienen su color cuando son cocidos. *V = Venda; E = Inglés.

Table 2. Use and preparation of wild vegetables by Vhavenda, and vegetables that change color when cooked. *V = Venda; E = English.
Tabla 2. Uso y preparación de vegetales silvestres por los Vhavenda, y vegetales que cambian su color cuando son cocidos. *V = Venda; E = inglés.


During field work, we faced the problem of naming these food plants. This was because the same plant was known by different names and uses in different regions. It was important to collect names of plants in a certain area, and then collect the specimens in that area. This made it easier because people of the community are aware of the names and description details as a result of the similarities in language. Long talks in the field are time consuming, but resulted in sampling the correct plants and fewer misunderstandings and misinterpretations. The most difficult aspect while conducting the research was the language. In many cases, researchers were unable to communicate directly with communities as they did not speak the same language. This not only hampered the research work but also constrained communities from discussing some issues openly with the researchers.
There were variations in the consumption level of wild vegetables according to the study area. The high percentage of wild vegetables (leafy vegetables) in our study came from adult women, because they prepare food at home for the family members, and they are the major collectors of wild vegetables.
Since the study plants were underutilized, they have to be popularized so that their use can be fully beneficial. Vitamin A, Iron, Calcium and protein have been found in all species of wild vegetables in Africa (Weber & Van Staden, 1997). Motivation for the use of wild vegetables will not only help the poor, unemployed people, but will also increase the selection opportunities for the rich. Increased use of these wild vegetables will encourage farmers to produce them on a large scale, which will also create new job opportunities.
The high levels of unemployment and lack of resources have led to poverty and malnutrition of Limpopo Province people. Plants in this location are underutilized because they are not fully used even in areas where these plants are freely available. In some areas, however, several of these plants are popular, while in other areas they are not.
Species such as Cucurbita pepo, Capsicum annuum, Colocasia esculenta, Ipomoea batatas and Vigna unguiculata, used as vegetables, fruits, underground stems, root tubers and young fruits, need to be popularized. Many of these species were found in all study areas; this makes it easier to educate the communities who live in those areas for the maximum utilization of the wild vegetables. Wild plant species were found to have a higher nutritional value than cultivated genotypes (Wehmeyer, 1966). Vitamin A, Iron, Calcium and protein have been found in all species of wild vegetables in Africa (Weber & Van Staden, 1997). A specific example of high amounts of nutrients in all vegetables is for Vitamin A. Amaranthus sp. provides more Vitamin C than spinach.
Some of the study plant species can be toxic. The toxic characteristics are pronounced at certain plant phenological stages and then disappear. This is the case with the fruit of S. nigrum. In some vegetables, these toxic features are destroyed after cooking. However, this is not the case in other plant species. Solving these problems should be addressed by biotechnologists as more food is required for the increasing world population.
Leaves of most wild vegetable species are consumed basically in the same way. For example, the leaves of Sonchus asper are chopped or crushed before they are cooked or mixed with other vegetables. The leaves are also used as side dishes. Other wild vegetables are used to flavor, while some provide a bitter taste to meals. These wild vegetables can be dried and stored for use when plants are not physiologically active. This helps when there are shortages in food resource supplies. There are three ways of drying the leaves: (1) hanging the leaves in the shade, or the entire plant on rafters until dry; (2) alternatively placing the leaves under light and shade conditions; (3) combining of methods (1) and (2): leaves are dried in a similar way to the first process for a few minutes, and then they are exposed to alternating drying in shade and sunlight. After drying, the wild vegetables must be still green in color to preserve their nutrients. Dried vegetables are stored in air-tight color containers to preserve their quality.
There is a need to encourage use of the study wild vegetables due to economic, social and other constraints facing Limpopo Province and the world overall. An important factor for legitimizing these plants even to the elite is by determining their nutritional value. Some educated people are doubtful in using these plants because they do not know their active components. The nutritional information will help utilization of these plants. Poor communities, who do not take advantage of these plants, will easily use them if they see people of higher classes consuming them.
Wild vegetables need to be popularized via multimedia to all sectors of the community, the rich and the poor. There are various ways of introducing these plants to the communities, such as demonstrative sessions of cooking and processing, publishing in scientific journals, magazines, news media, and the Farmers Weekly, which is read by a wide range of people.


We thank Mr. M.P. Tshisikhawe for the correction of Venda names.


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