The ndeku is a vine grown for its gourds, which vary in size (small to large) and shape (round to bottle-shaped). These fruits are light green when fresh and brown when mature and dried. The plant is normally found growing wild in bushes, and has not been considered for domestication. The fresh gourds can be prepared steamed or fried and eaten as a vegetable when harvested young, and they can be used as bottle, utensil or pipe when mature and dried. As a utensil, it can be cut into two and form a spoon like structure for scooping.
The ndeku gourd is believed to have originated in tropical Africa, in the countries of Uganda, Tanzania, Mozambique, Namibia and South Africa. It is normally used by nomads who move along with their animals in search of pastures and water. In Uganda, the plant is common in the northeastern Uganda where one can find the Karamajongs, who are nomadic pastrolists. These people use the ndeku to carry water on their way along with the animals or as containers for the milk from their animals. In central Uganda, home to the Baganda and Basoga tribes, the gourd is used as a traditional utensil and a container for traditional ceremonies. In western Uganda, it is used when processing animal products, for making traditional ghee (clarified butter) and preserving milk for an extended period of time.
Because it is harvested from the wild all around the country, there are no estimates on how many of the gourds are harvested annually, though its use seems to be declining overall. The gourds can still be purchased in local markets, but its use as a vegetable is being substituted by plants such as amaranth, and its usage in the form of a utensil is being replaced by plastic and metal utensils. The plant is also considered “old fashioned” compared to improved, domesticated vegetable varieties.