The siri siri (Sesuvium portulacastrum) is a succulent wild plant, belonging to the Aizoaceae family. It grows along the coast, on beaches up to the point that is reached by the high tide, and on coastal saline dunes. It is highly tolerant to salt and is a pioneer plant that protects the terrain from the advance of the sea and the connected salinization. It captures and stores away sand brought by wind, and tends to form small mounds or peaks, but does not survive when completely buried by sand. It flowers and fruits all year round. Each flower only opens for a few hours every day.
This herb is picked by the women of the indigenous community of Macua, a branch of the Bantu people living in the center of the country, in the province of Nampula and on the Ilha de Moçambique.
The Macua women are renown because they apply a white paste called mussiro to their faces, made with the roots of Olax dissitflora. They are called “muthiana orera”, meaning “beautiful women”.
Macua women pick siri siri right after the high tide has left the mangroves and the leaves are at their most flavorful. Leaves with a sour taste are thrown away, and the others are kept together with the smaller stems. This is followed by a long cleaning process in freshwater, to eliminate salt.
Siri siri is the primary ingredient of one of the most important traditional dishes of the Ilha de Moçambique, the matapa. The other ones are garlic, onion, coconut milk and cashew nuts. After chopping the thin siri siri leaves, they are boiled for thirty minutes, after which, they are put in a pan together with the other ingredients, cooking everything for 30/40 minutes, adding the cashews at the end. It is served with rice or xima (a type of corn polenta, very common in Mozambican cuisine).
Siri siri is also used for medicinal purposes: it has hemostatic properties and is one of the best antidotes for stings of poisonous fish (it is applied to the stings for a long time). The leaves also have antiscorbutic properties.
This plant is very important for the ecosystem and the harvest occurring in groups is a moment of exchange, an occasion in the social lives of the women of the local communities.