Mukombero (or White’s ginger, Mondia whitei, in the family Apocynaceae) is a perennial, woody, rather vigorous climber with aromatic roots. It occurs in moist forests, such as the Kakamega tropical rainforest of Western Kenya, and in swamp forest, riverine forest, wooded savannah, and forest margins, at elevations up to 1,800 meters. It is easily cultivated from seed. The seeds are collected as the fruit starts to split open. They are sown at the onset of the rainy season, and harvest takes place between April and September. A sharp knife, panga (machete), and hoe are the tools used to harvest the roots. The leaves are 10-30 centimeters wide and ovate with a cordate base. The petioles and veins are often reddish. The roots are pale yellow or brown on the outside and white or pale yellow inside. They have a bitter flavor that recalls ginger and licorice, and a vanilla-like aroma. The flowers, which have an unpleasant odor, have five pale yellow to reddish-purple petals. The fruit (which is almost woody and contains many seeds) is a pair of large, pale green, cucumber-shaped follicles. The leaves and flowers mainly appear in the canopy of the supporting vegetation and are thus rarely noticed.
Among the Luhya people, the fresh or dried leaves are cooked and eaten as vegetables. Dried and powdered, the leaves are used as condiment. The roots, which have a pasty consistency, are used either dried or fresh to flavor food (such as meat stews) and tea. The root bark is eaten raw as a snack or to freshen the mouth. The flavor is initially bitter and spicy but becomes sweet after chewing. For many years, communities living adjacent to Kakamega Forest have been using the root bark of mukombero in different ways, ranging from chewing the raw roots to mixing root powder with porridge to increase appetite. This plant is connected to the identity of Luhya people in Kakamenga County. They used to chew the roots for good luck before performing a difficult task. Mukombero is still consumed by both young and old people. It is a symbol of peace and a sign of power. It is also appreciated for its healing properties: The leaves are used to treat hypertension, stroke, anemia, asth- ma, hangover, mastitis, and allergies, and are also taken to improve sleep, enhance urination, and ease birth pains. Men who are impotent or infertile are given mukombero as a remedy. In addition, the leaves serve as animal fodder.
Because of its wide use in African traditional medicine, mukombero has become endangered. In some areas, especially around cities and towns, it is rare in the wild due to overexploitation by the local communities for commercial purposes. Because the root is the most popular part, harvesting destroys the plant. Habitat destruction is also a threat. Efforts are underway in some places to increase the cultivation of this species in order to relieve pressure from wild populations and create a sustainable market for it.