Nylandtia spinosa is a small spiny shrub up to 1 meter usually found in coastal areas, from sand dunes to rocky mountain slopes. The rigid, spine-tipped branchlets bear small oblong leaves and produce a profusion of small pink flowers in winter. The flowers develop into orange – red edible fruits, about 1cm diameter, which are eaten by birds and tortoises, and snacked by children.
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. However, from 1650 onward, settlers introduced fruit and vegetable culitvars, 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.
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.
Historically the Khoi-khoi ate the juicy fruits of the Tortoiseberry which have fresh, slightly astringent sweet taste. The plant – known as ‘cargoe’ by the locals – was illustrated in Simon van der Stel’s expedition to Namaqualand in 1685, and the fruit was reported to be thirst quenching. The fruit is still a popular snack. (B van Wyk and N.Gerricke, People’s Plants, Briza Publications, 2000). The ripe fruit has been used to infuse vinegar. Both the fruit and the blossoms can be infused in alcohol to make a bitters for flavouring vermouth.
Chewing on small amounts of fermented leaves can help with sleeplessness.Tea or infusions brewed from stems and leaves are used to assist with abdominal pain and tuberculosis, as well as a general tonic or bitter digestive. It is a remedy for treating colds, flu and bronchitis when brewed with Lebeckia multiflora . The Tswana people use the root in a preparation for the treatment of malaria. The fruits are rich in Vitamin C and are quite thirst-quenching.