For generations, native communities of the Mau forest in the Rift Valley have gathered leaves and herbs from the local area. This includes nettles, which have always been an important ingredient in Kenyan cuisine, available even in periods of drought. Since the early 1980s however, their use has been drastically reduced. This is due to increasing deforestation and the disappearance of knowledge regarding their culinary use. For this reason, in recent years a group of women has started to grow nettles in the Molo highlands at an altitude of between 2000 and 3000 meters, with the best results being obtained on very fertile land in specific areas where cattle once grazed.
The nettles are harvested manually from mid-March to June, and from September to October. They are immediately immersed in water to soften the stinging effect and then sold, either fresh or after being dried (in the shade as the sun affects their attractive bright green color) and ground to make a powder.
The leaves feature in many traditional recipes, such as mukimo, prepared using mashed potatoes, corn, beans and nettles. Together with millet flour, they are an ingredient in the local porridge. They are also used as a fresh vegetable, as a medicinal herb and as a herbal tea. In addition, they are recommended as a dietary supplement for breastfeeding mothers (the leaves contain 6% protein, 3.5% minerals and are a rich source of iron and Vitamin A). The dry powder can also be diluted in water and sprayed on soil to improve fertility.
While the leaves of young plants are mainly sold fresh at local markets, the dried nettles in powder form have a wider market and are sold all year round.
The 32 Presidium producers belong to the Utugi Self Help Group, based in Karirikania village. The Presidium also provides them with tools, equipment and protective clothing. In addition to cultivating nettles, the producer group also raises sheep for meat and wool (used to make carpets, dolls, mats and bags).
Production area: Karirikania village, Mau forest, Molo district, Rift valley
Jane Muthoni Kiarie
tel. +254 727357112
Samson Kiiru Ngugi
Tel. +254 719100913