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Five little-known vegetables that could help end hunger

Native vegetables such as guar, Dogon shallot, and celosia could play an important role in feeding Africa.

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3. Spider Plant: Spider plant (Cleome gynandra) – also known as African cabbage, spider wisp, and cat’s whiskers – is a wild green leafy vegetable that grows all over tropical Africa, Asia, and the Americas. It is not formally cultivated, but among poor rural communities – especially in the Kalahari and Namib regions of southern Africa – young leaves are collected, cooked, and eaten like spinach. Spider plant is generally considered a weed, plaguing maize and bean fields in Kenya and other countries. But called mwangani in Swahili, spider plant is highly nutritious and is well adapted to many African ecosystems.

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Best Way to Eat It: The leaves, stems, pods, and flowers taste best when boiled in water or milk or fried in a pan with oil. The addition of milk reduces the natural bitterness of the leaves.

The Spider Plant in Action: In southern and eastern Africa, spider plant is sold in both rural and urban markets when the plant is in abundance, proving that the crop can be a profitable product. Further economic benefit could come from the development of medicinal products and insecticides, and seed oils could be used in soaps, biofuels, or other commercial products.

4. Celosia: Because of its flavor and nutritional value, Celosia is widely consumed in several parts of Africa. It is an especially important food in Nigeria, Benin, and Congo because of its affinity for hot and humid climates. It is also commonly eaten in Indonesia and India. Celosias grow easily, require little care, and often reseed themselves making them high yielding, cheap, and simple to grow. Having proven widely tolerant to both tropical and dry conditions and usually unaffected by pests, diseases, or soil type, this crop is among the most flexible greens for harsh growing conditions.

Best Way to Eat It: The leaves, young stems, and flowers a can be made into soups and stews, served as a nutty-flavored side dish with meat or fish or with a cereal-based main course such as maize porridge.

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