Edible plants on the farm

Please don’t use this blog to identify edible plants!

The intend of this article is not to give a full description of each plant and all its uses, I just want to share those plants that we, as occupants of the property, are nibbling on. I have provided links below where you can find more information.

Scelerocarya birrea – Marula (Afrikaans – Maroela)

Marula trees are well-known for their edible fruit. A wide variety of animals rely on marulas as a food source. Apart form us, we have observed the following mammals eating the fruit (Vervet monkeys, Impala, Zebra, Giraffe, Bush pig) and saw evidence of mice or other small rodents eating the nutty kernels.

The fruit of the Marula tree is commercially used in the making of liquor (liqueurs and beer) and marula jelly, a delicacy enjoyed like jam. The fruit pulp is rich in vitamin C and is sold as an ingredient of fruit blends. I have made Marula jelly, but it is labour intensive for only a small amount of finished product. The nutty kernels have a rich nice taste. It is used in the production of Marula oil, an ingredient of skin cosmetics.

Not all trees bear fruit though. They are dioecious, which means they have a specific gender on a tree.

(somehow my photo of the marula fruit was lost, I will post one next year Feb/Mar when they are in season)


Although the outside is weathered and discoloured, two of the three holes still contain the nutty material

Berchemia zeyheri – Red ivory, Purple Ivory, Pink Ivory (Afrikaans – Rooi-ivoor)

The trees are too high to reach the fruit, I eat the ones on the ground that are still fresh. The fruit is sweet and refreshing.

I have tried to cook a syrup from these. It was nice and sweet but the amount was not the effort worth.

I have tried to cook a syrup from these. It was nice and sweet but the amount was not worth the effort.

I have to compete with our dogs for a handful of the sweet lovely fruit

I have to compete with our dogs for a handful of the sweet lovely fruit

Ximenia caffra – Sour plum, Wild plum, Monkey plum (Afrikaans – Suurpruim)

The ripe fruit of the Sour plum is very rich in vitamin C, it is not called sour without a reason! It is said to be high in potassium and also to contain protein. We have a ritual in summer to introduce unwise visitors to our lovely ‘Bushveld cherries’ and only a few brave ones will keep eating for more than a few seconds. It can be used to make jam, but I try to leave the wild fruit for the wild animals, it is after all their source of food.

The nuts are edible and have a very high oil content. It is used as an essential oil in the industry.

Ximenia caffra P1080341

Some years the tree bears these beautiful fruit in abundance and sometimes almost none

Cyphostemma cirrhosum (Afrikaans – Droog-my-keel, Wildedruif)

Since I have read that the berries of this plant is edible, I have tried it. I didn’t like it though, it is not sweet and has a strange tart taste. I will have to be hungry and without other nutrition before I will eat it again…

It is much more appealing to the eye than to the taste buds...

It is much more appealing to the eye than to the taste buds…

Annona senegalensis – Custard apple (Afrikaans – Wildesuikerappel, Vla-appel)

The Custard apple is a lovely sweet tasting fruit. The trees on our farm bear only a few fruit at a time and the monkeys love it, as do I when I am lucky to find a ripe one.

The ripe fruit is rare to find - the monkeys are quicker than me

The ripe fruit is rare to find – the monkeys are quicker than me

The green fruit

The green fruit

Vangueria infausta – Wild medlar (Afrikaans – Wildemispel)

The wild medlar is one of my favourites. It has a sweet-sour taste when ripe and is also favoured by bushbabies, monkeys and a variety of birds.

I prefer the plump fresh fruit while my husband prefer it dried out

I prefer the plump fresh fruit while my husband prefer it dried out

Lannea edulis – Wild grape (Afrikaans – Wildedruif)

This is an extremely nice wild fruit, and although not related to real grapes, the taste and colour of the ripe fruit is very similar to Catawba grapes, which is called ‘Glippertjies’ in Afrikaans. They grow on a dwarf shrub and sometimes there are no leaves yet when the fruit develops, like in the first picture below.

It is favoured by Vervet monkeys and Bushbabies and sometimes more than one season pass before I am lucky to find a few ripe treasures, and never when I have my camera close!

Lannea edulis P9270886

The ripe fruit is much more plump and purple.

Lannea edulis P9270888

Hard to find, but worthy the search…

Psidium guajava – Guava (Afrikaans – Koejawel)

The guava is regarded as an alien invader in the Lowveld and we try to eradicate it. Our farm is dry and luckily the guava trees are not successful here. The few fruits that may form is eaten green by the monkeys and I have never encountered a ripe fruit to photograph.

It has a lovely flower :)

It has a lovely flower 🙂

Opuntia sp – Prickly pear (Afrikaans – Turksvy)

In the almost twelve years that we have been on the farm, I have only found ripe fruit twice. Opuntia is also regarded as invader plants, but they are not successful here.

This one was eaten... by me!

This one was eaten… by me!

Englerophytum magalismontanum – Transvaal milkplum (Afrikaans – Stamvrug)

I know about only one small tree on the farm and it is struggling. It does not bear fruit every year, but even the few times it did so far in the last twelve years, I was lucky only twice to get a few.

I don’t have any pictures of the fruit.

Englerophytum magalismontanum P7100576

Solanum retroflexum – Nightshade (Afrikaans – Nastergal)

The green berries are poisonous and should be avoided. The dark purple-black berries are edible but I don’t like the taste. It cooks into the most incredible jam though! It is labour intensive to harvest the small berries and then clean it, but the syrupy jam is worth the effort.


Lovely shiny purple-black berries

Corchorus tridens

Although I haven’t tasted this plant yet, my workers harvest is as a spinach type vegetable and they use bicarbonate of soda in stead of table salt in the cooking process. Emelinah Mathebula says I won’t like it, because it cooks like a snail (meaning that it turns out slimy)

Corchorus tridens IMG_7330

I have seen it offered by the street vendors in town

Corchorus tridens IMG_7331

The flower of Corchorus tridens


Corchorus confusus is a similar species. Emelinah says it is also edible, but they prefer C. tridens

Athrixia phylicoides – Bushman’s Tea (Afrikaans –  Boesmanstee, Bostee)

These lovely herbs are harvested by Emelinah as brooms to swipe their yards. However, the general name is also descriptive and I have made an infusion and it does indeed make a very sweet smelling tea. So nice that a friend of mine wants me to sell it…

Athrixia phylicoides2

Dainty pink flowers


Easily identifiable by the leaves that has a shiny upper part and a white velvety bottom part.

More information about the uses and medicinal value of the above-mentioned plants:







Order:   Plantae

Family: Acanthaceae


  1. Barleria ovata
  2. Blepharis subvolubilis subvolubilis
  3. Crabbea angustifolia
  4. Crabbea hirsuta
  5. Crossandra greenstockii
  6. Dyschoriste burchellii
  7. Hypoestes forskaolii
  8. Justicia anagalloides
  9. Ruellia cordata
  10. Ruellia stenophylla
  11. Thunbergia atriplicifolia
  12. Thunbergia neglecta

The plants can be shrubs, climbers or herbs. No stipules present on the opposite leaves. Inflorescence may often have large leavy bracts.

This is  an important familyfor me for various reasons. Firstly, two of my favourite plants occurs on this list, namely Crossandra greenstockii and Blepharis subvolubilis subvolubilis. They were some of the first plants that caught my eye when we moved here. Secondly, two of my favourite caterpillars (Rhanidophora phedonia and Rhanidophora ridens) feed on Thungergia atriplicifolia. Thirdly, they are just so neat and pretty!

 Barleria ovata

Often called Grassland Barleria or Bush Viola (Bosviooltjie in Afrikaans).  The bright purple flowers adorns the veld late summer to early autumn (Dec-Mar).

Barleria ovata

Barleria ovata

Blepharis subvolubilis subvolubilis

The  toothed leaves are leathery and glossy.

Crabbea angustifolia

Lanceolate leaves.

Crabbea hirsuta

Perennial herb. General name Prickle Head. Inflorescences densely clustered, sessile. Flowers white with a yellow centre, borne amongst large leaf-like bracts with spiny margins

Crossandra greenstockii

The photos don’t do justice to the brilliant orange-red colour of this exquisite veld flower. Bushveld Crossandra or Rooiblom in Afrikaans. 

Dyschoriste burchellii

(was Chaetacanthus burchellii). Many green to reddish stems, slightly hairy throughout.  

Hypoestes forskaolii

White Ribbon bush.

Justicia anagalloides

Abundant on the property. Small plant, small lovely white flowers with pinkish nectar guides. 

Ruellia cordata


Ruellia stenophylla


Thunbergia atriplicifolia

Natal Primrose. Abundant on the property. Apparently it is utilized in traditional medicines as a love potion, although I could not get a reference which plant part are used. Green fruits are used for a hair wash. Host plant for Rhanidophora phedonia and R. ridens (Dice Moths). We had a huge veld fire last year and I found no Dice Moth larvae after that. May they return soon… Rhanidophora ridens is rare on our property, while R. phedonia is abundant. I also found and raised two caterpillars of Owlet Moths (Noctuidae). The moths are very much alike, but the caterpillars were not exactly the same.


Thunbergia neglecta

Creeper. I have found it in only two places on the farm.


Thunbergia neglecta

Cyphostemma cirrhosum

Family: Vitaceae

Species: Cyphostemma cirrhosum (Droog-my-keel, Wildedruif)

Every now and then I find something that tickles me… and today I have discovered one… a lovely name for one of the plants on my farm.

Do you know a plant with the name ‘Droog-my-keel’ (Afrikaans, directly translated it mean dry-my-throat)? What a lovely Afrikaans name!

According to Elsa Pooley in A Field Guide to Wild Flowers of Kwazulu-Natal and the Eastern Region the berries of this plant is edible and is also named ‘Wildedruif’ (Wild grape). No English name is mentioned in the book.

I’m sure you will agree that it looks very tempting, and for sure I am going to try one soon! According to Pooley the roots are poisonous so I will rather stay away from that…

Ledebouria and Drimiopsis

Family: Hyacinthaceae


Drimiopsis atropurpurea 

Drimiopsis maculata (Injobo)

Ledebouria luteola (Jessop)

Ledebouria ovatifolia

Ledebouria revoluta (Jessop)

Ledebouria zebrina

Drimiopsis atropurpurea

Drimiopsis maculata

The Ledebourias gave me more than one headache in the identification process. One must have the inflorescence for exact identification as the leaves look very similar. Unfortunately it doesn’t stop there! Even then you have to investigate the leaves for characteristics of some species. Pictures and information on the internet were very confusing and I had a lot of help for the team at iSpot.Apparently the flowers of L. revoluta and L. asperifolia are very similar and the way to tell would be to feel the under surface towards the base of the leaves and see if there are longitudinal rows of papillae. If so, then it is L. asperifolia, if not then it is L. revoluta.

The zebra and wildebeest on our farm love the Ledebouria zebrina and eat both the inflorescence and the leaves. L. luteola has also been observed being grazed upon. I have seen bulbs of L. revoluta, L. luteola and L. ovatifolia being excavated by porcupines.

L. luteola have copious amounts of fine silk like threads in the leaf if you tear the leaf. However, L. revoluta also has this but just not as much.

Ledebouria luteola

Ledebouria ovatifolia can easily be distinguished by the leaves that are flat against the soil.

Ledebouria ovatifolia

I have very successfully grown L. revoluta from seeds. I just pressed the seeds in damp soil and it germinated very soon after that. It already flowered the next season.

At first I thought L. zebrina was L. floribunda. I got the following information from iSpot to correctly identify my specimen:

L. zebrina; Diagnostic Features; Leaves large (300-500 X 90-120mm); inflorescences many (4-10), scape base winged to angled, (Venter 2008)

Resembles large plants of L. floribunda but the leaves are far larger, more than double the number of inflorescences and the flowers are green. (Venter 2008)

L. floribunda leaves 4-6 (200-300 X 40-50mm) inflorescences 1-3, perianth green to pink with a green keel (Venter 2003)

Ledebouria zebrina

Lesser Balloon Vine

Family: Sapindaceae

Species: Cardiospermum halicacabum var halicacabum

(Lesser Balloon Vine, Heart pea, Winter Cherry, Love-in-a-puff, Blaasklimop (Afrikaans))

It is just amazing how much can be learnt from the internet. You just have to insert the correct search words to open up a wealth of information. In this case, just the species name of this beautiful plant opened up wonderful facts about such a humble little vine.

This alien from tropical Asia supposedly has medicinal properties and has been tested in a study for antidiarrheal and homoeopathic properties.

Apparently various forms of gel, cream and shampoo products are available in the market for use on the skin for itching, itching, eczema, inflammation, rashes, swelling, scaling, blisters, burning and pain. It is also marketed as a natural relief for hay fever, allergies, sneezing, watery eyes and allergic reactions.

The roots are considered as diaphoretic, diuretic and aperient and are apparently administered for fever. Furthermore it is claimed to be used by tribes in Asia and Africa for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis.

Please refer to the link below for more information, it is a scientific report about these claims, but understandable for non-scientists.

For Further Reading:

Passiflora vines

Family: Passifloraceae

Species:     Basananthe triloba

Passiflora subpeltata (Granadina, White passion flower)

Basananthe triloba is a low growing perennial vine with exquisite creamy green flowers. The ellipsoid fruit capsules are about 15mm long. I found the plant on a small granite kopje. I have never found the green-grey leafs opened up, it is always closed up.

The Passiflora subpeltata (native from Brazil) is an alien invader plant in our area and I’m trying my best to eradicate it. This I do manually by pulling it from the moist soil after a good rain shower. The leafs are water repellent and leaf spraying with herbicide are thus not very effective. Those that I can’t pull out are cut and then effective sprayed with an herbicide containing Picloram. The fruit capsules are collected in a bag and burnt.

Although the fruit has a very pungent smell, Vervet monkeys love it and spread the seeds in their droppings. It is however not for human consumption, not that I think anyone in their right mind would eat the foul smelling thing! The plant contains cyanic acid and is toxic to livestock if eaten in large quantities.

Interesting find – Lindernia nana


Family: Linderniaceae

Species: Lindernia nana

It is said that I don’t have patience. But I do. Just not with people, I have patience in other ways… Late April 2011 I found a small little plant with a single white flower just off a huge granite outcrop. When I say small, I mean I had to lie on my tummy to photograph it. With small things it is difficult to see on the camera view finder if the photograph was successful, and I marked the place properly in case I had to come back. I don’t have fancy filters for my camera, and I found the photo to be over exposed. It is HARD to photograph white flowers! I went back late afternoon and took several pictures before I had a single usable photograph. Since then I have found another plant, a few metres away on the granite within a hole filled with soil and humus. My books didn’t contain anything like my little flower, and without a family not even the internet could be used as a source of information. But… I found a wonderful biodiversity website where one can share your findings and someone on iSpot suggested that my little flower might be a Craterostigma species. Searches about the genus came up with several similar looking species, but so far I haven’t been successful with mine. Someone else (in a private email) suggests that it is a Lindernia species The most interesting fact about Crateristigma plants is that they can survive desiccation (severe water loss to the point of drying out) and are called ‘resurrection plants’. Desiccation‐tolerant plants have the ability to tolerate severe water loss and resume normal physiological functioning on rehydration. Most ‘higher’ plants (unlike seeds) do not survive desiccation to an air-dried state. It is said that they are able to stay in this desiccated state until water becomes available and then immediately resurrect, grow and reproduce before other species can do so. It has been identified since as Lindernia nana. Similar looking species include Craterostigma plantagineum and Craterostigma wilmsii For further reading about desiccation:

Luckybean Creeper

Family: Fabaceae

Species: Abrus precatorius africanus

The Luckybean creeper has always been one of my favourite plants with the bright red and black seeds. I used to collect them on the farm where my mother-in-law’s stayed in the Barberton area and put the seeds in various shapes and sizes of small glass bottles. Back then I was not interested in the flowers, my only concern was the seeds.

You can keep a pod ‘bundle’ like this for a long time if you can protect it against handling. It makes a magnificent display with other seeds. BUT BEWARE!!! the seeds are poisonous when consumed. KEEP AWAY from small children!! If you want to keep it, then keep it in a safe place.

From my research I knew it was from the family Fabaceae and that the flower was pink, but it took almost eight years on the farm to eventually find a plant with flowers in bloom.

Please take care – The seeds are EXTREMELY poisonous, and there is no antidote available. It contains abrin, a chemical that penetrates the cells of the body and inhibits cell protein synthesis. Symptoms and the severity of the effects depend on the way of exposure and the dosage.  Death could take place within 36-72 hours of exposure and the dose received.

If the intact seed is ingested, it might pass through the gastrointestinal tract without any harm, due to the hard shell of the seed. Rather be safe than sorry and when ingested accidently, find help at your nearest hospital or toxicology desk as soon as possible.

For more information:

Doll’s Sugarbush

Order:   Asterales

Family: Asteraceae

Species:           Dicoma anomala subsp. anomala (Spiky Doll’s bush, )

                        Macledium zeyheri subsp. zeyheri (Was Dicoma zeyheri)  (Doll’s protea)

The first time I saw these flowers I immediately thought they are from the sugarbush (protea) family. However, they are not remotely related and fall within the Asteraceae family. The resemblance to proteas is used in the general names.

Dicoma anomala subsp. anomala

The leaves are lanceolate with serrated, spiky edges. It is dark green on the upper side and the lower side lighter and velvety.

Found only once in a rocky area.

According to one of my sources it is also called:

fever bush, stomach bush (English); maagbitterwortel, kalwerbossie, koorsbossie, gryshout, maagbossie (Afrikaans); hloenya, mohasetse (South Sotho); inyongana (Swazi, Xhosa); isihlabamakhondlwane, umuna (Zulu)

The plant is utilized in traditional medicine, as can be deducted also from the general names used.

Another subspecies is being researched scientifically for its medicinal properties. Mosquitos are becoming resistant to anti-malaria drugs, and one of the plants selected for investigation is Dicoma anomala subsp. gerrardii, based on its ethnomedicinal profile.


Macledium zeyheri subsp. zeyheri

This plant is very prickly as you can see from the photos. Flowering takes place in late summer to autumn. I find it mostly in rocky areas.

According to one of my sources it is also called:

skaapdissel, maagbitterwortel, maagbossie (Afrikaans); toy sugar bush, doll’s protea (English); mahlabane, somanheva (Swazi); umlunge, umqele (Xhosa); isihlabamakhondlwane, ububendle (Zulu)

This is how I often observe the species.


And this was a once off sighting, and it was long ago and I can’t remember the exact spot to look for it again.


For further reading:


Medicinal value of Dicoma anomala


Order:   Asterales

Family: Asteraceae

Species:           Launaea nana

                   Launaea rarifolia var. rarifolia

This is a very low-growing plant and often overlook. Leaves are absent at the time of flowering and it is usually only a small spatter of colour that catch my eye. The plant has milky latex.

I have found both species in the same area, with the Launaea nana the dominant species.

They flower during early spring, in grassy areas fully exposed.

Launaea nana


Launaea rarifolia var. rarifolia