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:






News clip

I have registered a project on the iSpot Biodiversity website for Aylestone 8. What a nice new feature this is! Before I post anything here, I usually post a node there to verify my identification, or to get an identification if I can’t find the name of a specimen. If you visit the project you will see how much species I have already submitted, and will appear in the next few months here.

I am currently working on the following families: Acanthaceae, Iridaceae, Verbenaceae and all alien invader species (which we are trying our best to eradicate)

See you soon!



Achatinid snails

Order: Mollusca

  • Eupulmonata
    • Stylommatophora
      • Achatinoidea

Family:             Achatinidae


Achatina immaculata

Achatina transvaalensis


The Achatinidae have medium to very large shells, acuminate ovate in shape and often decorated with coloured vertical streaks or flames. About 200 species of Achatinidae occur in Sub-Saharan Africa. The genera include Achatina, Metachatina, Archachatina, Lissachatina and Cochlitoma. More than 30 species are found in South Africa.

The reproductive opening is on the head of Achatinid snails. They are hermaphrodites. Most people then ask if they can fertilize themselves. No. But they do contain male and female reproductive organs and when they mate they can fertilize each other. The sperms develops first in the hermaphroditic gland (the gonad) and a sperm package will be transferred to the other snail where the sperm will be kept in a special sperm pouch in the other snails genital organ. It can be kept for a very long time before fertilization takes place when circumstances are favorable. The egg cells will develop from the same hermaphroditic gland and will then be laid.

The spot behind the eye on the right hand side is the reproductive opening

The spot behind the eye on the right hand side is the reproductive opening. When you see something white protruding here, it is the ‘penis’


We have two Achatinid species on our farm and both is a rarity to find.

Achatina immaculata – Lamarck, 1822 (Syn. Achatina panthera – Ferussac, 1822)

This variable species has a large, solid shell with a colouration that depends on age. Younger shells (< 80 mm) and most specimens have the typical achatinid flammate patterning of light and dark brown. However, this is lost in most mature specimens. In some specimens the flames become so closely spaced that the shell seems uniformly brown. In addition, many mature specimens have shells that have lost the periostracum due to weathering, and have become a uniform white or cream.

Achatina immaculata

Achatina immaculata

Sun bleached shell

Sun bleached shell


It always has a pink columella which is truncated at the base. The shell varies from obese to slender. The only other local Achatinid with a pink or purple columella is Burtoa nilotica, found in Zimbabwe and Zambia. This species does not have a basal truncation to the columella, is very obese and has a white exterior. The colouration on the columella quickly fades when the animal dies, especially when it is exposed to sunlight.

Pink columella beautifully exposed

Pink columella beautifully exposed

The animal has a brownish foot. A darker brown longitudinal stripe runs from between the tentacles back into the shell. On either side of the stripe are two light yellow or brown bands.

The dark longitudinal line is clearly visible in this photo

The dark longitudinal line is clearly visible in this photo

Many, many yellow pea sized eggs are laid in loose soil and can remain fertile for years until conditions are favourable for the baby snails to survive.

From the front

From the front

The part just out of the shell is called the mantle of the shell. The mantle is responible to secrete the shell. This snail just didn't want to retract fully to expose the pink columella.

The part just protruding out of the shell is called the mantle. The mantle is responsible to secrete the shell. This snail just didn’t want to retract fully to expose the pink columella.

The animal will hibernate in winter and aestivate in summer if it is too hot. It will crawl into the soil, retract completely into the shell and excess mucous will be secreted by the mantle. It will harden to form the epiphragm with only a small slither left for oxygen to enter into the respiratory opening called the pneumostome or breathing pore. Yes, these snails have ‘lungs’. A highly vascularized area of tissue inside the mantle cavity functions as a single lung.

Pulmonary opening in the mantle.

Respiratory opening in the mantle.

Pulmonary opening closed

Respiratory opening closed

Achatina immaculata is a very special and cultural important shell in Africa.

The people who lived in the Iron Age already used A. Immaculata for various purposes.

  • Achatina species have been utilized as food, as it still is in certain African communities.
  • The shells also deserved a place as tool. The women used the shells to dig clay for their clay pots. A freshwater bivalve species (Spathopsis wahlbergi) was used to burnish the clay pots.
  • Beads were made from the shell.
  • On the farm Greenswald in the Northern Province at the Mapungubwe archaeological site, A. immaculata, other cultural objects and animal remains have been found buried with human remains. The shells, animals and other objects were probably used as offerings, and that mean that the shells were of big importance to the people. The Mapungubwe people lived about 1100 a.d.
  • Later uses that have been recorded are utilization as containers for example snuff, with the aperture (opening) sealed with moss or something similar.
  • The big shells also served as a cup, and when the apex was removed; even an infant could drink from it when the mother was unable to nurse the baby. With the open apex the shell is also used to administer medication to the ear.
  • Even whole shells were strung, but with a complete different purpose. The rope was fitted to a tree or something similar and rattled to chase away hippos from cultivated fields.

Achatina transvaalensis – Smith, 1878 (Synonym A. subcylindrica, Preston, 1909)

Achatina transvaalensis with periostracum

Achatina transvaalensis with periostracum

Achatina transvaalensis without periostracum

Achatina transvaalensis without periostracum

This is a medium sized snail and although I often find empty shells, it is a rarity to find a live specimen. And they are camera shy too! Once retracted into the shell, it takes hours before they emerge again. I have kept one in a container for a while, but it didn’t want to eat the ‘artificial’ food like cucumbers that the A. immaculata like so much, and I let it go free to where it belongs. Unfortunately my computer hard disk with those pictures was damaged and I lost my photos of the live specimens. I will update this page when I find a live one again.

It is a fairly small cylindrical Achatina, unicoulored pale buff with 7-8 whorls and sculptured with fine granulation above the periphery.

The foot is very pale, almost yellowish in colour, and it also has a darker longitudinal stripe that runs from between the tentacles back into the shell like most Achatinids.


In Europe Achatinid snails are very often kept as pets. I have very successfully kept Achatina immaculata, Achatina smithii, Metachatina kraussii and Achatina vestita as pets. Although they were kept in the same container, they never interbred. I fed them cucumbers, watermelon peels, lettuce and papaja. To supply calcium for optimum shell formation I added cuttlefish bones to their diet. I was very sad when they all died simultaneously after being kept for almost five years. My assumption was that something in their food  had traces of pesticides, although I can’t prove that.

It is a very big responsibility to keep snails as pets, as escapees can be introduced in areas where they are not supposed to be and then proliferate. Do a search for Achatina fulica to see how much havoc has been caused in America where they are now classified as alien invader species.


If you consider snails as yucky organisms, think twice.  The skin cream you are using just might contain snail slime! Products with up to 80% snail slime from the Helix aspersa snail are sold worldwide. In Japan snail slime is taken to the ultimate – you can visit a beauty salon and get an ‘escargot facial’ where live snails will crawl all over your face to benefit directly from their mucous secretions.


  1. http://molluscs.at/gastropoda/terrestrial.html?/gastropoda/terrestrial/achatinidae.html
  2. http://newsfeed.time.com/2013/07/17/snail-slime-facial-coats-skin-in-mollusk-mucus/
  3. http://www.elicina.co.za/benefits.html
  4. http://www.worldwidewounds.com/2013/July/Thomas/slug-steve-thomas.html
  5.  Mapungubwe An Archeozoological Interpretation of an Iron Age Community (Voigt, Elizabeth A. 1983) Transvaal Museum
  6. The Achatinid landsnails of South Africa (M.B Cortie & D. Aiken) – Special Publication no. 7 of the Conchological Society of Southern Africa.
  7. The Achatinidae of Southern Africa. Mike Cortie. The Strandloper. Issue 247, Sep 1996. Bulletin of the Conchological Society of Southern Africa.
  8. Update on the Achatinidae of Southern Africa. Mike Cortie. The Strandloper. Issue 250, Sep 1996. Bulletin of the Conchological Society of Southern Africa.