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TH cover.p65

Regional Land Management Unit (RELMA)

TECHNICAL HANDBOOK No. 27

Edible Wild

Plants of

Tanzania

Christopher K. Ruffo

Ann Birnie

Bo Tengnäs

RELMA Technical Handbook (TH) series

Tree nursery manual for Eritrea

Chris Palzer. 2002. TH No. 26.  ISBN 9966-896-60-0



ULAMP extension approach: a guide for field extension agents

Anthony Nyakuni, Gedion Shone and Arne Eriksson. 2001. TH No. 25.  ISBN 9966-896-57-0



Drip Irrigation: options for smallholder farmers in eastern and southern Africa

Isaya V. Sijali. 2001. TH No. 24. ISBN 9966-896-77-5



Water from sand rivers: a manual on site survey, design, construction, and maintenance of seven

types of water structures in riverbeds

Erik Nissen-Petersen. 2000. TH No. 23. ISBN 9966-896-53-8



Rainwater harvesting for natural resources management: a planning guide for Tanzania

Nuhu Hatibu and Henry F. Mahoo (eds.). 2000. TH No. 22. ISBN 9966-896-52-X



Agroforestry handbook for the banana-coffee zone of Uganda: farmers’ practices and experiences

I. Oluka-Akileng,  J. Francis Esegu, Alice Kaudia and Alex Lwakuba. 2000. TH No. 21. ISBN 9966-896-51-1



Land resources management: a guide for extension workers in Uganda

Charles Rusoke, Anthony Nyakuni, Sandra Mwebaze, John Okorio, Frank Akena and Gathiru Kimaru. 2000.

TH No. 20. ISBN 9966-896-44-9

Wild food plants and mushrooms of Uganda

Anthony B. Katende, Paul Ssegawa, Ann Birnie, Christine Holding and Bo Tengnäs. 1999. TH No. 19.

ISBN 9966-896-40-6

Banana production in Uganda: an essential food and cash crop

Aloysius Karugaba and Gathiru Kimaru. 1999. TH No. 18. ISBN 9966-896-39-2



Agroforestry extension manual for eastern Zambia

Samuel Simute, C.L. Phiri and Bo Tengnäs. 1998. TH No. 17. ISBN 9966-896-36-8



Water harvesting: an illustrative manual for development of microcatchment techniques for crop

production in dry areas

Mwangi T. Hai. 1998. TH No. 16. ISBN 9966-896-33-3



Integrated soil fertility management on small-scale farms in Eastern Province of Zambia

Thomas Raussen (ed.). 1997. TH No. 15. ISBN 9966-896-32-5



Agroforestry manual for extension workers in Central and Lusaka provinces, Zambia

Joseph A. Banda, Penias Banda and Bo Tengnäs. 1997. TH No. 14. ISBN 9966-896-31-7



Facilitators’ manual for communication skills workshops

Pamela Baxter. 1996. TH No. 13. ISBN 9966-896-25-2



Useful trees and shrubs in Eritrea: identification, propagation and management for agricultural and

pastoral communities

Estifanos Bein, B. Habte, A. Jaber, Ann Birnie and Bo Tengnäs. 1996. TH No. 12. ISBN 9966-896-24-4



Agroforestry extension manual for northern Zambia

Henry Chilufya and Bo Tengnäs. 1996. TH No. 11. ISBN 9966-896-23-6



Useful trees and shrubs for Uganda: identification, propagation and management for agricultural

and pastoral communities

A.B. Katende, Ann Birnie and Bo Tengnäs. 1995. TH No. 10. ISBN 9966-896-22-8



i

Edible Wild Plants of Tanzania

ii

iii

C

HRISTOPHER



 K. R

UFFO


A

NN

 B



IRNIE

 

AND



 B

O

T



ENGNÄS

Regional Land Management Unit/Sida

2002

Edible Wild Plants of Tanzania


iv

Published by the Regional Land Management Unit, RELMA/Sida

ICRAF House, Gigiri

P.O. Box 63403

Nairobi, Kenya

© 2002 Regional Land Management Unit (RELMA), Swedish

International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida)

Editor of RELMA series of publications: Anna K. Lindqvist

Editing, layout, typesetting and production: Caroline Agola, P.O. Box

21582, Nairobi, Kenya



Cover design: RELMA

Photos: All photos by Christopher K. Ruffo except where indicated.

Cover photos:

Top: Selling fruit, including Strychnos cocculoides and Parinari curatellifolia,

Tabora market

Middle: Borassus aethiopum

Bottom: Nymphaea lotus

Cataloguing-in-Publication Data

Ruffo CK, Birnie A, Tengnäs B. Edible wild plants of Tanzania. 2002. RELMA

Technical Handbook Series 27. Nairobi, Kenya: Regional Land Management Unit

(RELMA), Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida). 766 p.

+ x; colour section; includes bibliography.

ISBN 9966-896-62-7

The content of this book is based on information gathered from a wide range of informants in the

field at locations throughout Tanzania and is presented in good faith. If you have any doubts,

before putting into practice any of its recommendations we advise you to verify information on

uses and preparation with knowledgeable people in your own situation and community. Neither

RELMA nor the individual authors will accept any liability for misidentification of the plants

described or any ill effects that may result from their consumption or any other form of use.

The contents of this manual may be reproduced without special permission.

However, acknowledgement of the source is requested. The photographers

and artists concerned must be contacted for reproduction of illustrations.

The views expressed in the RELMA series of publications are those of the

authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of RELMA.

Printed by English Press, P.O. Box 30127, Nairobi, Kenya


v

Contents

Foreword ................................................................................................................... vii

Acknowledgements.................................................................................................. viii

Introduction ................................................................................................................ 1

Illustrated glossary of botanical terms ................................................................... 11

P

ART



 I

Local names .............................................................................................................. 17

P

ART


 II

The species ................................................................................................................ 67

A

PPENDICES



I. Summary table of parts of the plant used for food ........................................ 732

II. Workshop participants ...................................................................................... 740

Bibliography ........................................................................................................... 743

List of families and species .................................................................................... 749

Index of species ...................................................................................................... 759

Feedback form ........................................................................................................ 765

Colour plates between pages 6 and 7

Maps


1. The main physical features of Tanzania ........................................................... vi

2. The main phytogeographical regions of Tanzania ............................................ x

3. Administrative regions and main towns of Tanzania ....................................... 8

4. The main ethnic groups of Tanzania ................................................................ 18



vi

Map 1The main physical features of Tanzania

vii

Foreword

This book can be regarded as the third in a series begun in 1999 when the Na-

tional Museums of Kenya published Traditional Food Plants of Kenya with spon-

sorship and technical assistance from RELMA, among others. Later the same year

RELMA’s  Wild Food Plants and Mushrooms of Uganda was launched, and now

we are very pleased to publish this volume, Edible Wild Plants of Tanzania.

In all three, it proved difficult to select the species to be included. The flora of

this region is so rich that any complete catalogue of all the wild plants that have

current or potential uses as food would result in enormously cumbersome books.

RELMA sees four good reasons for documenting this kind of information on the

edible wild plants of east and southern Africa in an easily accessible format:

• As a general principal, we should attempt to record all traditional knowledge

and wisdom that is at risk of dying out. There are still many people—often the

old people—who know how to utilize the resources of the “wild”, but this is

knowledge that nowadays is seldom passed on to the younger generation;

• During periods of crop failure and famine, wild foods are often available pro-

vided people know where to look for them, recognize them and can cook them

appropriately;

• Eating habits are changing very rapidly, both in the South and the North.

Unfortunately, however, not all these changes are nutritionally sound. Some-

times the modern staple foods relied upon in Africa are monotonous and lack

nutrients essential for a balanced diet. The addition of some wild plant foods to

such poor staple-based diets can mean the difference between a healthy child

and one whose future may be blighted by the consequences of malnutrition;

• Probably the most important edible plant species in the world have already

been identified, domesticated, propagated, developed and put to economic use.

Modern gene-modification techniques have the potential for developing new

plants in the laboratory, but I am convinced that there will always be uses for

existing but not-so-well-known “new” plants in food production. The promotion

of “functional foods”—those that are “extra healthy”, or half way to being medi-

cines—is growing rapidly. It is more than likely that among all the edible wild

plants of eastern Africa there are substances with the potential for being devel-

oped into products that could play an important economic role in the region.

Lastly, I would like to commend the main author, Christopher K. Ruffo, whose

extensive knowledge of the ethnobotany of Tanzania, resulting from decades of

botanical work in his country, forms the basis of this book. This initial information

was supplemented by further data gathered by him in the course of extensive

travels to five regions of Tanzania mainland, i.e. Kilimanjaro, Tanga, Iringa, Tabora

and Kigoma, and also Zanzibar, and interactions with local people in all those

areas. The rest of the team behind this book relied heavily on Mr Ruffo’s expertise.



Åke Barklund

Director, RELMA



viii

Acknowledgements

This book is the result of the combined efforts of a team of people facilitated by a

Sida grant through the Regional Land Management Unit, RELMA. Christine Hold-

ing and Bo Tengnäs initiated the project through RELMA, and Bo Tengnäs and

Gatheru Kimaru facilitated the field work and production throughout.

An initial text was supplemented by a great amount of data gathered in the

course of extensive travels to five Regions of Tanzania mainland, i.e. Kilimanjaro,

Tanga, Iringa, Tabora and Kigoma, and also to Zanzibar, and interaction with

local people in the areas visited.

Many organizations and individuals contributed to the successful completion of

that part of the work, and in particular the following deserve mention:

• The Commissioner of Natural Resources, Zanzibar, and his staff who guided us

to various important places and facilitated data collection on the use of wild food

plants in Zanzibar;

• The Regional Natural Resources Officer and Regional Agricultural Officer of

Tanga whose competent extension staff arranged for us to interview local farm-

ers in Tanga, Muheza, Korogwe and Lushoto Districts;

• The Project Manager of East Usambara Catchment Project, Tanga, and his staff

for their co-operation and allowing us access to their library;

• The District Agricultural Officer, Moshi, and his staff for arranging meetings

and interviews with local people. Mama Moshi, in particular, drove us tirelessly

and courageously on muddy roads to collect data in Kilimanjaro Region;

• The District Agricultural Officer and District Forest Officer, Same District, who

arranged for us to meet and interview Maasai and Pare tribesmen in Ruvu

Mferejini and Mbagga villages, respectively;

• The District Natural Resources Officer and District Agricultural Officer of Iringa,

Mafinga and Njombe Districts and their staff who arranged meetings with groups

of women, men and young people in various villages;

• The Regional Natural Resources Officer, Tabora Region, and District Agricul-

tural Officers of Tabora, Nzega and Igunga Districts who arranged for us to

meet Nyamwezi tribesmen and herbalists;

• The Director of the Agricultural Training Centre, Tumbi, Tabora, and his staff

for taking us on a field visit through the intact Tumbi Forest Reserve accompa-

nied by local people to identify and discuss their use of wild food plants;

• The Co-ordinator of Lake Tanganyika Catchment Forest and Education


ix

A

CKNOWLEDGEMENTS



(TACARE) and the Warden in charge of the Gombe Stream National Park,

Kigoma District for their kind co-operation in the field;

• The District Natural Resources Officers of Kasulu and Kibondo Districts for ar-

ranging interviews with Ha tribesmen;

• The Co-ordinator of the Soil Erosion Control and Agroforestry Project (SECAP)

at Lushoto who arranged for us to visit local markets at Lushoto, Soni and Lukozi.

 My sincere gratitude to the Director of the Tanzania Forestry Research Insti-

tute (TAFORI) at Morogoro and the Head, Botany Department, University of Dar

es Salaam and their staff who allowed us to use their herbaria for the identifica-

tion of plants collected in the field.

 I owe a particular debt of gratitude to Professors Inga and Olov Hedberg, both

of the University of Uppsala, for their useful comments on the plants which have

been included in this book. I also thank Ingvar Backeus of the University of Uppsala

for arranging a study visit to that institution for Agnes Nyambo and myself in

February 2000.

 I also acknowledge the important contributions made by all the participants at

the review workshop held in Iringa in November 2000 (Appendix II) and thank

them for their input. I also thank Agnes Nyambo for her good company and co-

operation during our field work.

 An initial manuscript was then put together by all three authors with the help

of Yasmin Kalyan’s usual speedy and efficient data entry. Further details were

reviewed at the University of Uppsala in Sweden.

 Ann Birnie, botanical consultant and artist, prepared the botanical descrip-

tions and supplemented information on the ecology and distribution of the se-

lected species. She also organized and coordinated production of the many

illustrations required, including making a few original drawings. Nicholas Muema

drew some illustrations in the field, but most drawings were made from dried speci-

mens in the East African Herbarium, National Museums of Kenya, Nairobi. The

authors remain indebted to the staff of the Herbarium for their assistance in this.

Other illustrations were taken from previous RELMA/Sida publications (those in

the volumes of the Useful Trees and Shrubs series and Wild Food Plants and

Mushrooms of Uganda), and a few were original work by Mr H. P. Msanga of the

National Tree Seed Centre, Morogoro.

I am grateful to the National Museums of Kenya and the East Africa Natural

History Society for permission to use the illustrations taken from Kenya Trees,



Shrubs and Lianas by H.J. Beentje and Upland Kenya Wild Flowers by A.D.Q.

Agnew and S. Agnew, respectively. Illustrations from the published family vol-

umes of the Flora of Tropical East Africa (FTEA) 

are reproduced courtesy the Li-

brary, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. 

The copyright to all the above illustrations

remains with the original publishers.

 Finally, I wish to thank all the other people who contributed in one way or

another during data collection and final production of the book but are not specifi-

cally mentioned here.



Christopher K. Ruffo

x

Map 2The main phytogeographical regions of Tanzania

1

I

NTRODUCTION



Introduction

Biodiversity and the vegetation of Tanzania

Tanzania, with an area of 945,000 km

2

, has the greatest diversity of plant species



of all African countries with the exception of the Democratic Republic of Congo

(DRC) and South Africa. There are over 9,000 species of higher plants in Tanza-

nia, many of which are so-called endemic species, meaning that they are only

found in Tanzania. The vegetation of an area is generally classified into regions

based on the species and plant associations found there. These regions are called

phytogeographical regions, and those regions found in Tanzania are indicated

below and shown in Map 2:

• Afro-montane region

• Lake Victoria region

• Somali–Maasai region

• Zambezian region

• Zanzibar–Inhambane region.

The  Afro-montane region covers the high mountain areas of Tanzania, in-

cluding Kilimanjaro, Meru, Ngorongoro, Hanang, Rungwe, Mbizi and Makale.

Afro-montane vegetation is also found in the eastern arc mountains, which in-

clude Pare, Usambara, Nguu, Nguru, Ukaguru, Malundwe, Rubeho and Mahenge.

The eastern arc mountains are known to be extremely rich in species diversity and

endemism. Over 25% of the eastern arc species are endemic, including several

species of wild coffee, e.g. Coffea mongensis and Coffea mufindiensis. This region

receives high rainfall (1,000–3,000 mm per year) and is densely populated be-

cause of the favourable conditions for agriculture.

 The Lake Victoria region covers the areas around Lake Victoria and the

northern part of Lake Tanganyika. The rainfall is relatively high (1,500–2,000

mm per year) in this region too. Most of the luxuriant forests around these lakes

have been cleared for agriculture, with the exception of the forest at Minziro,

which is rich in species, including some Afro-montane species such as Podocarpus



falcatus.

  The  Somali–Maasai region is in the central and northern parts of Tanza-

nia. Thickets, woodlands and grasslands dominate in this region. Acacia  and



Commiphora  are common. There are also many  endemic species of plants, e.g.

2

I

NTRODUCTION



Acacia tanganyikensis and Cordyla densiflora. The rainfall is low (300–700 mm

per year) and these areas are economically important for wildlife and livestock

rearing.

 The Zambezian region covers much of western and southern Tanzania

and occupies about 40% of the country’s total land area. A large proportion

of this zone is covered with miombo or Brachystegia woodland with many

species of Brachystegia,  Julbernardia and Isoberlinia. Many edible plants and

timber species are found in the miombo woodlands.

 The Zanzibar–Inhambane region covers mainly the eastern parts of Tan-

zania. The vegetation in this region consists mostly of coastal forests, woodlands,

bushlands and thickets. About 40% of the species found are endemic, e.g. Milletia

puguensis and Philippia mafiensis. However, most of the coastal forests, wood-

lands and thickets have been cleared, mainly for agricultural purposes. The indig-

enous forest remains in only a few areas such as Pugu, Zeraninge, Ngezi and

Jozani.


 All these areas, but especially the Zambezian and Zanzibar–Inhambane

regions, are sources of wild foods, medicine and other products such as tim-

ber, poles and firewood. All these are essential for the livelihood of local peo-

ple.


Wild plants as sources of food

Wild food plants are those plants with edible parts which are found growing natu-

rally on farms, fallow or on uncultivated land. For example, many of the leafy

vegetables described in this book are found as weeds on farmland, fallow or aban-

doned farmlands, while other food plants are only found in natural forests. Most

of the 326 plants described in this book are indigenous, though a few were exotic

in origin.

 Several types of food can be obtained from wild plants. Leaves, either fresh or

dried, frequently accompany staple grain dishes. Seeds and nuts are also used in

various side dishes and sauces. Fruit  are a seasonal food supply and are often

eaten as snacks or made into juices. In some cases, fruit may form a very substan-

tial part of the diet, e.g. bananas. Roots and tubers provide carbohydrates and

minerals and are especially valuable dry-season and famine-period foods. Some

may be eaten raw as snacks, while others require complicated processing and thus

are only used in times of food scarcity. Some Acacia species such as Acacia senegal

yield edible gum, and the sap from other trees is used in various ways. The bark

of some trees can be eaten or used as a spice. All these types of food provide essen-

tial elements in the human diet. Some of these uses of the plants covered in this

book are summarized in Table 1.


3

I

NTRODUCTION





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