Traditional vegetables of northern KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa: has indigenous knowledge expanded the menu?

15 October 2013

A survey was conducted on traditional vegetables in three districts of northern KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. The objective was to determine which alien and native plant species were collected from the wild or cultivated for use as leafy vegetables. The survey documented 72 vegetable species of which nearly half were alien species. The majority of the vegetables were collected from the wild (56 species) and only 16 were cultivated. Alien species were preferred more extensively than native species (2.5 times more), despite the larger variety (larger choice) of the latter (38 native versus 34 alien species). Nearly 53% of traditional vegetables of alien origin belong to well-known vegetable families that are indigenous to the study area, suggesting that there is a classification system that allows people to explore new plant sources. This makes a case that Indigenous Knowledge Systems can expand the menu by incorporating newly introduced species. However, this also suggests that alien species, which are weedy and easily obtained around the home, is displacing native species as a major food source. Our findings also suggest that wild vegetables might have been predisposed for use due to their medicinal value.