Most of us don’t think of going into the flower garden for flavour, but lots of our indigenous plants are edible and can be used to impart something with a touch of difference to our cooking. When it comes to herbal flavours, our indigenous plants are certainly not lacking. Try using the wild rosemary (Eriochepalus africanus) in much the same way as you would use normal rosemary. It makes a great companion for meat dishes. Our wild sage plants (Salvia africana) are as good as exotic sage when used to flavour chicken dishes or to impart a herby flavour to savoury snacks.
Did you know that there are many varieties of Buchu? These range from garlic scented to lemon with a range of delicious aromas in between. Use Buchu in moderation because its flavour is very strong and too much could cause an upset tummy. At the same time, it’s a great way of adding some indigenous flavour to sauces and the buchus make the perfect accompaniment to game dishes.
Are you fond of garlic? You might like to try chopping a few leaves of wild garlic (Tulbaghia violacea) into your salads or try it as a flavouring for cooked food. A word of caution: wild garlic has a very, very strong flavour, so don’t overdo it! Have you ever tried eating the flowers of wild garlic? They make a great garnish for savoury biscuits with cream cheese and they’re also pretty in summer salads. If you’ want to do something really unusual, use the flowers of Gasterias in salads. The crunchy blooms have a sweet, slightly nutty flavour and they’re as pretty as can be.
The elephant’s food or ‘spekboom’ has edible leaves with a sharp, fresh flavour. That’s because they’re packed with vitamin C. Use them in summer salads. You can also use spekboom with roasted meats and they really help to make the meat tender. Feel free to experiment!
Noem Noem berries
It’s such a shame to let Noem Noem berries go to waste. If you’ve got too many to eat fresh, you can make a delicious jelly out of them that’s a winner when served up with ice cream or make a syrup that can be used as a concentrate for delicious cool drinks. Whole preserved fruits are also a great addition to desserts.
Add a dash of difference to meals with a small serving of pickled green taaibos seeds (Searsia species, previously Rhus). Although the seeds are quite difficult to grind, they also make a really unusual spice.
Waterblommetjies are a bit of an acquired taste, but once you’ve got a liking for them, they’re irresistible. They’re really easy to grow – all you need is a pond or dam with unpolluted water. If you start them in pots submerged in water, you’ll often find that they sow themselves very nicely so that there are more tasty flowers every year
Have you ever wondered what the staple source of starch was before all the exotic food plants were brought to Africa? If you’re thinking it was probably flower bulbs, you’ve hit the nail on the head.
The lovely Watsonias that flower in the late spring can be roasted and eaten. Of course, you’ll only be doing that if you’ve got too many in your garden! Dig them up when they’re dormant, roast them in the oven and serve them up with goat’s cheese.
Of course, there are lots of plants with edible leaves that can be used as spinach. The dune spinach (Tetragonia sp) is much nicer than ordinary Swiss Chard and each area has its own favourite spinach substitute.
Our folklore is full of interesting tips and tricks that you can try and of course, there are many other edible indigenous plants ranging from the delicious stamvrug to the familiar sour fig (Carpobrotis spp). Exploring the world of plants can definitely spice up your culinary repertoire!
See also: Water wise gardening in South Africa