Indigenous plants’ nutritional value and health benefits

Indigenous plants’ nutritional value and health benefits

South Africa possesses a huge diversity of indigenous food crops, which include grains, leafy vegetables and wild fruit types. These crops are produced and found growing in the country under various weather conditions.

Most of these crops are wild harvested, while a few are cultivated, mostly to sustain rural families.

The nutrients composition, especially micronutrients, are important for healthy functioning of the body. Some of the vegetation found in South Africa provide the following:

Iron: for growth and development, some hormone production and carries oxygen to the body cells.

Magnesium: strong bones, improves sleep, reduce depression, lower blood pressure and helps with exercise performance.

Calcium: bone health, functioning of muscles, heart and nerves.

Copper: immune health support, helps with making red blood cells.

Phosphorus: strong bones and teeth, helps the body use and store energy from fats and carbohydrates.

Protein: it is important for growth, is a building block of bones, muscle, skin and cartilage, used to build and repair body tissues, carries and delivers oxygen in the body, it makes antibodies that help the body fight off infections

Generally, the bitter leaves have high phytonutrients which are beneficial for gut health. They also have anti-cancer, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties

Registered dietitian and Association for Dietetics in South Africa spokesperson, Mpho Tshukudu, shares his knowledge of common indigenous plants and what nutritional value they offer.

Colocasia esculenta (Amadumbe)

They are low glycemic index – the sugars rise and fall slower, making you fee fuller for longer. This is ideal for diabetics and those who are watching their weight.

It contains plant sterols, that may be beneficial to diabetic and hypertensive patients.

They have higher protein and amino acids (9%) than any other root crop. Potatoes have 1.9% protein and sweet potatoes have 1.7% protein.

They are also high in fibre

Micronutrients: Magnesium, potassium, iron, vitamins A, B1, B2 and C

Vigna unguicalata (cowpea)

The leaves have 4.7% protein

Micronutrients: Vitamins C – A portion of 100g provides an adults with 50% of the daily requirements. Phosphorus.

Black nightshade (Solanum retroflexum)

The edible parts are tender shoots, leaves and berries

The nutritional information is on fresh leaves and tender shoots

Micronutrients: They have more Iron, calcium, magnesium and copper than commonly consumed exotic vegetables such as spinach, kale, mustard green, rapini and Swiss chards

Macronutrients: They have more protein (6%) than other African traditional vegetables such as pumpkin leaves, pigweed, Jew’s mallow, Tsamma melon leaves, spider flower and black jack.

Spider plant (cleome gynandra)


Micronutrients: Beta-carotene (precursor to vitamin A), folic acid, vitamin C, calcium, iron and magnesium.s