Table of Contents

1. Overview

Indigenous food crops refer to crops that have their origin in South Africa. Added to these crops are those that were introduced into the country and are now recognised as naturalised or traditional crops. These crops are produced and found growing in the country under various weather conditions with many found in the wild. They are divided into three categories; namely grains, vegetables and fruit.

Uses of indigenous food crops

  • Leaves, corms and shoots are eaten as boiled, dried, sometimes roasted vegetables. These are also used as relish and in soups.
  • Immature pods are dried or boiled while immature seeds are ground to make flour.
  • Tubers are used as food substitutes for starch-enriched food such as rice and maize meal.
  • Fruit types are eaten in ripened or dried form or nuts and can be processed into jam, jelly and juice

Advantages of growing indigenous crops

  • Low input requirements
  • Highly nutritious
  • Resistant to drought, pests and diseases
  • Better adapted to marginal areas than exotic crop
Source: Most common indigenous food crops of South Africa brochure at (take the “Resource centre” option)


2. Indigenous grain crops

See also the “Other crops” and “Sorghum” chapters.

Indigenous grain crops can be defined as any crop yielding starch and protein-enriched seeds suitable for food. These crops are further subdivided into cereals (e.g. millet) and pulses (e.g. Bambara groundnut).


3. Indigenous fruit crops

Indigenous fruit crops are fruit types that are found diversely in the wild in South Africa. They are the seed-associated structures of certain plants that are sweet and edible in the raw state. Examples of fruit are marula, wild apricot, wild plum, raisin bush, sour plum.


4. Indigenous vegetable crops

Indigenous vegetable crops are defined as crops from which the tender leaves, stems and petioles are harvested and used in the preparation of vegetables. These crops are subdivided into roots/tubers (e.g. cassava, amadumbe, marama bean, living potato) and leafy (e.g. cleome, cowpea, amaranth, blackjack, Jews mallow). Table 1 provides the common and scientific names of a number of African vegetables found in South Africa along with the parts of the plants that can be consumed. [NOTE: Usually pumpkin is commercially produced for its fruit but because many Africans eat both the leaves, young and ripe fruit it is listed here as an African Vegetable.]

Common Name Scientific Name Edible Parts
Bambara groundnut Vigna subterranea Dried nuts/seeds
Groundnuts/Peanuts Arachis hypogaea Nuts/seeds
Cowpea Vigna unguiculata Leaves and seeds
Mung Bean Vigna radiata Seeds
Pigeon Peas  Cajanus cajan  Leaves and seeds 
Taro/cocoyam  Colocasia esculenta  Tubers and leaves 
Cassava  Manihot esculenta  Leaves and root 
Marama bean  Tylosema esculentum  Tubers and seeds 
Livingstone potato  Plectranthus esculentus  Tubers 
Zulu round potato/Hausa potato Solenostemon rotundifolius Tubers
Sweet potato Ipomoea batatas Leaves and tubers
Pigweed/Amaranth Amaranthus hybridus Leaves
Cat’s whiskers / Spiderflower Cleome gynandra Leaves
Common labsquater Chenopodium album  Leaves
Ethiopian Mustard / Ethiopian kale Brassica juncea Brassica carinata Young leaves
Black jack  Bidens pilosa  Leaves 
Ethiopian/black nightshade Solanum nigrum Leaves
Jute/Jews Mallow Corchorus tridens Leaves
Pumpkin Cucurbita maxima Young leaves, young fruit, old fruit and flowers 
Gem squash Cucurbita pepo Young leaves and ripe fruit 
Table 1: Common African vegetables found in South Africa (Tim Hart, HSRC)