Ark of taste
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The region of South Africa receiving winter rainfall (‘the Cape’) is an area with exceptional plant biodiversity and a high degree of endemism. It contains many edible species, which were historically foraged rather than cultivated, and were part of the food cultures of nomadic people, for example the Bushmen like the San people who were mainly hunter-gatherers.

However, from 1650 onward, settlers introduced fruit and vegetable cultivars, which over time have come to form the basis of modern agriculture and cuisine throughout the country. The culture of foraging for and use of Cape wild foods has now almost completely been displaced, resulting in significant loss of knowledge.

Sandkool (Trachyandra divaricata) is a common seasonal upright and sprawling herbaceous perennial that grows in sandy soil along the West, South and East coasts. Its linear leaves are dark green, succulent and often slightly rolled over along their length. The raceme (flower bud) needs to be harvested for eating before it branches and produces white flowers that last a day and if cut the plant readily produces more racemes. The leaves remain evergreen throughout the year, and the racemes appear over a longer season that the other Trachyandra species.

Though this plant is not at risk of extinction, it is a greatly under-utilized vegetable that shows great promise as an undemanding resilient winter rainfall perennial crop. It has never been farmed, but is being piloted for possible commercial cultivation at a community garden in Khayelitsha, Cape Town, along with several other potential winter rainfall crops.

It is recorded as having been foraged historically, though there is little evidence of it still being eaten as a leafy green vegetable in a traditional way.
There is however a growing group of chefs, food innovators, foragers, gardeners, community farmers and local knowledge holders who are re-kindling an interest in the culinary use of Cape wild food plants. Though current access to ingredients is mostly limited to foraging – plants growing in the wild or in urban environments – there is interest in developing a culture of cultivation.

The buds are the most highly prized part of the plant for culinary use, but the leaves should not be eaten. The buds appear most abundantly in the rainy season, and the buds should be picked before the racemes begin to branch and flower. The buds can be steamed or roasted for use in salads or as a vegetable, and they can be pickled, fermented, stir-fried or cooked as tempura. It is used cooked, in salads, stir-fries, pie fillings, stews or soups as well as in tempura. The leaves preserve well in oil or vinegar pickles and ferments.

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StateSouth Africa

Western Cape

Other info


Vegetables and vegetable preserves

Indigenous community:Bushmen
Nominated by:Catherine Sylvia Rusch