African Horned Cucumber

Ark of taste
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African Horned Cucumber


The African Horned cucumber is oval shaped, about 6 cm in diameter and 10c m long with sharp prominent spines or horns. The immature fruit is dark green with grey specks, ripening to bright orange. The flesh of the mature fruit is bright lime green and jelly like in consistency, with lots of seeds suspended in jelly capsules. The fruit grows on climbing vines with spiny, hairy leaves and produces prolifically with up to 100 fruits per vine. It is an annual plant that grows during the summer. The flavor is mild – with a sweet citrus cucumber flavor when green, and a combination of banana, kiwi and citrus when ripe.

The Khoisan people of the Kalahari traditionally roast the fruit and strain the flesh and cook the leaves. The fruit are 80% water, which means they are a good source of fluids in dry areas. The green, immature fruit can be eaten in the same way as commercially available cucumbers in salads, or pickled in vinegar like gherkins. The flesh can be scooped out of the mature fruit with a spoon and eaten as is, or strained free of the pips for making fresh juice.

Following traditional folklore, elderly people in the Okavango believe that that one can prevent ghosts from entering ones home by pounding the roots of this cucumber, mixing them with fat, smearing them onto one’s body. Shona people use it to make a decoction for the relief of pain after childbirth. This species is native to a large area of Southern Africa, including Botswana, Namibia, Swaziland and South Africa, and it is well adapted to dry climates including the Kalahari Desert. However, it is not grown commercially, but in home kitchen gardens and by subsistence farmers. Due to the easy availability of commercial cucumber varieties found in large supermarket chains, and increasing growth of the South African middle class and urbanization of populations, popularization of Western food products, indigenous, rural species are being abandoned.

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Other info


Vegetables and vegetable preserves

Indigenous community:Tswana, Shona, Khoisan
Nominated by:Melissa de Billot