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.
Veldkool 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 succulent and often hairy along their margins. The asparagus-like looking raceme (flower bud) produces white flowers that last a day and if cut the plant readily produces more racemes. The plant dies back and is dormant over the dry summer season, and re-shoots as soon as the winter rains begin to fall.
There are several other species of Trachyandra that occur both coastally as well as inland on in the mountains of the Cape. Some are creeping in nature and others more upright, occurring in diverse soil types. Most of the Trachyandra sp are dormant in the dry summer months (T falcate, T hirsuta, T hispidata, T revoluta). In some the raceme branches as it flowers, in others it grows straight. Unlike the others, Sandkool, T decumbens remains evergreen and has dark green smooth upright sprawling leaves that roll over along their length and a multi branched raceme. It is also a product on the Ark of Taste.
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 are also used as a spinach type green. The leaves and buds appear in the rainy season, and the buds should be picked before the racemes begin to flower. The buds can be steamed for use in salads or as a vegetable, they are traditionally stewed with lamb and potato to make an excellent Veldkool Bredie, and they can be pickled, fermented, stir-fried or cooked as tempura. It is used both raw as well as 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.Back to the archive >