Which are the best traditional vegetables in Kenya

Managu kienyeji vegetables

Are you looking for the most consumed Kienyeji vegetables in Kenya? In this post we will give you the very best indigenous or the African leafy vegetables for various communities in Kenya. The Kienyeji vegetables have the highest demand in Kenya’s domestic and export markets. You can market them as packaged food in all the leading supermarkets across the country. Besides they are a common stock in all “mama mboga” street kiosks or vegetable vendors.

In this post, we focus on the benefits of major indigenous vegetable you can grow in Kenya. They are some of the most profitable and healthy that you can grow or sell.

  1. Amaranth (Terere/mchicha)
  2. Cowpeas (Kunde)
  3. Nightshade (Managu)
  4. Spider Plant (Sagaa)
  5. Crotalaria (Mitoo)
  6. Jute Mallow (Mlenda)
  7. Pumpkin leaves (Malenge)
  8. Comfrey (Mabaki)
  9. Others

Traditional (kienyeji) vegetables in Kenya and Uganda.

Kenya has around 210 species of nutritious kienyeji vegetables. About 20 of them are popular across the entire country. others are unique in a given community. This is because of the country’s great diversity in agroecology and culture.

English NameSwahili Luganda KambaLuhya
Amaranth Mchicha Doodo W’oa Lidodo
Cowpeas Kunde Kiyindiru Nthooko Likhuvi
Nightshade Mnavu Nsugga Kitulu Namaska
Spider Plant Sagaa Jjobyu Mwianzo Tsisaka
Crotalaria Aubi Kausuusuu miroo
Jute Mallow Mlenda Chikosho Murere
Pumpkin Malenge Ulenge lisebebe
A table of traditional leafy vegetable names in Kenya and Uganda in English, Swahili and Luganda

Each of Kenya’s 55 tribal community have a favorite set set of traditional vegetables they enjoy. While this is a constraint for a commercial vegetable farmer, it gives you a ready market for a variety of vegetable you can grow and sell. For instance, The kikuyu traditional vegetables are Terere, managu, Mathoroko, Thageti, Kanyuria, Thabai among many others. The Luo traditional vegetables on the other hand are Ododo, Mitoo, Osuga and Alot’bo as well as the Alot Dek. The table below has the local vegetables names for the Kisii, Luhya, Kamba, Luganda and Swahili communities

English Botanical NameKikuyu Luo Kisii Kipsigis
AmaranthAmaranthus DubiusTerereOdodoEmbogaKelichot
CowpeasVigna UnguiculataMathorokoAlot’boEgesarekunde
NightshadeSolamon Nigrum ComplexManaguOsugaIsoiyot
Spider PlantCleome GyandraThageti AlotDekChinsaggaSaget
CrotalariaCrotaralia OchroleucaMitooKipkururiet
Jute MallowCorchorus Olitoriusomotere
PumpkinCurcubita Maxima MarengeRisosa
Local Vegetables names in Kikuyu, Luo and Luhya communities

The list has the African traditional vegetables for major communities in Kenya. We have given you the English common name, the botanical scientific name and the local names used by the communities

Amaranth (Terere/mchicha) vegetables

Amaranath/Terere/Mchicha traditional vegetables in Kenya
Managu vegetables are farmed for their leaves and seed.

Amaranth plant is considered a weed by most farmers. There are 70 species of terere vegetables that grow in the Kenya. It can have purple, red and or gold leaves.

 There are many recipes to cook amaranth leaves. Separate the tender leaves from larger stems. Fry the leaves separately or mixed with other vegetables, meat, fish or groundnuts. Mchicha vegetables contain proteins, carbohydrates, calcium, iron and vitamins B and C.

Besides using it for human food, it is a good livestock fodder

Cowpeas (Kunde) leaves

 cowpeas/kunde traditional vegetables
Kunde vegetables

Kunde or cowpeas is an indigenous legume herb in Kenya.

The vegetable if best in dry areas or the dry season. Most of its varieties are drought tolerant.  Being a bean family plant, it has soil fertility improvement benefits through the nitrogen fixation process.

Nightshade (Managu) Vegetables

managu/nightshade/Mnavu traditional Vegetable
Managu vegetables

There are many varieties of managu vegetables, in English is known as nightshade, that is grown and marketed in Kenya and Uganda.

The plant leaves and fresh fruits are their edible parts.  You will start harvesting around four weeks from transplanting and you can pick leaves at a weekly interval thereafter. prepare it with other vegetables like Sukuma wiki. if You prepare it alone, boil and discard the bitter water first.  Ripe berries are children delicacies. The raw leaves and seeds provide vitamins A and C, calcium, iron, protein, carbohydrates and lipids.

Spider Plant (saga)

Growing Saga/spider plant traditional vegetables
sagaa vegetable

The leaves are bitter and it’s mostly cooked together with cowpeas and amaranth. In western Kenya, we cook it in milk to dilute the bitter taste. Sagaa vegetable is a key traditional medicinal plant. The herb remedies include treating chest pain, constipation and diarrheic.

Crotalaria (mitoo)

This leguminous perennial herb is most popular in western Kenya. You will plant “mitoo” from seeds. Does well in raised seedbeds that are well fertilised. Grown for its edible leaves that are bitter and hence well cooked in combination with other indigenous vegetables.

The plant is good in nitrogen fixation and widely promoted in crop rotation practice for sustainable climate-smart farming.

Jute Mallow (mlenda)

Best for you if you are an urban farmer in Kenyan towns below an altitude of 1500 metres above sea level. You will grow this from seeds planted in rows. To harvest, uproot the entire plant or prune branches and combine to sellable bunches. This latter method promotes Jute to produce more branches.

The vegetable is rich in protein and carbohydrates as well as vitamins B and C. when prepared on its own it is very slimy and is best cooked by combining it with the slightly hard cowpeas leaves or crotalaria.

Pumpkin leaves (malenge)

Cultivate pumpkin and the other vine vegetable types like melon, cucumbers for their nutritious leaves and fruits and seeds. The pumpkin varieties are “vine” plants whose running and bristled stems with big deep lobed leaves. It flowers yellow or orange.

Its young tender leaves are the most utilised. Remove the tough skin and leaf veins. They are then washed, chopped, and either boiled, steamed or/and fried. Other vegetables in the pumpkin leaves category are cucumbers, watermelons and “kahurura” vegetables

Comfrey (Mabaki) Vegetables

comfrey leaves/Mabaki kikuyu traditional vegetables

Mabaki vegetables or Comfrey leaves in English is one of the most important Kikuyu traditional vegetables. It’s use date back more than 2,000 years where it was used as a healing herb. You can use its leaves and roots to treat burns, sprains, swellings and bruises. But observe caution not to apply it to open wounds and broken leaves. Other claimed benefits of using Comfrey or mabaki leaves are that it can heal gastric ulcers and haemorrhoids, suppress bronchial congestion and inflammation. 

In the region, people mostly mix it with other leafy vegetables to make “mukimo” a local recipe of mashed potatoes, green maize, and beans.

Apart from the above-listed vegetables, small scale farmers also use leaves from other crops like cassava, sweet potato, Irish potatoes, bean leaves and melon. Other types are more localized in specific communities and consumption has not spread in another area. These include the stinging nettle or thabai (Urtica massaica), Ethiopian mustard (Kanzira), moringa, mchunga in English known as Launaea cornuta, blackjack and African eggplant.

What are the benefits of growing kienyeji vegetables?

Farming “Mboga kienyeji” as they are commonly referred to has many benefits. It contributes to nutrition safety, environmental benefits, income generation and African traditional medicine among other benefits. We briefly explore these benefits.

Food security; Traditional vegetables have higher nutritional value than most exotic vegetables. The table below compares the nutritional value of 100gm of edible cabbage with the 3 most common traditional vegetables; amaranth, spider plant and African nightshade.

Nutrient Amaranth Spider plant African Nightshade Cabbage
Moisture (gram) 84 86.6 87.2 91.4
Iron (milligram) 8.9 6.0 1.0 0.7
Protein(gram) 4.6 4.8 4.3 1.7
Calories 42 34 38 26
Carbohydrates 8.2 5.2 5.7 6.0
Fibre (gram) 1.8 1.4 1.3 1.2
Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C) (milligram) 64 13 20 54
Calcium (milligram) 410 288 442 47
Phosphorous (milligram) 103 111 75 40
*B- Carotene (microgram) 5716 10452 3660 100
Thiamine (vitamin B1) (milligram) 0.05   –   – 0.04
Riboflavin (Vitamin B2) (milligram) 0.42   – 0.59 0.1

You should not only grow these vegetables for the market but also as nutritious food for your family.

Food safety; Indigenous vegetable farming is majorly organic, unlike exotic vegetable farming.  The majority of them are considered wild or weeds in other high-value crop farms like Sukuma wiki farms. You do not have to spray toxic farm chemicals and fertilizers to get high yields. By using kienyeji vegetables you will cut down the intake of harmful toxins that can make you sick.

Ready market; Over 30 % of Kenya’s population lives in urban centres. This opens a unique domestic market for people in those towns. The majority prefer kienyeji vegetables for they are health-conscious and hence prefer organically grown and medicinal vegetables and herbs. It is most common among people suffering from stomach ulcers and cannot eat acidic Sukuma wiki, diabetes and hypertension.

Income generation; As neglected crops, growing, picking and marketing of the local vegetables is a preserve for women. This makes it a good entrepreneurial venture for ladies and youth. Traditional vegetables can be grown under irrigation during the dry season and be sundried in solar dryers, packaged and marketed as ground powder or dried vegetables

Growing demand; There is intense sensitization on production, processing, marketing and consumption of African leafy vegetables by national and county governments, donors, NGOs and other stakeholders. We see these speciality crops as a tool for nutritional, health and economic improvement for vulnerable people such as PLWHAs, women and young people. 

Environmental benefits; Some indigenous vegetables like cowpeas are legume plants. They help in your soil nitrogen fixation, soil health and the environment management.

Short term to maturity; Most traditional vegetables are mature in 3 weeks to 3 months after planting. This allows you to enjoy nutritious food and make easy money in dry periods.

Medicinal value; Indigenous African leafy vegetables possess anti-oxidative properties and thus have the potential as natural sources for reducing cellular oxidative damage, and suppression of various cancers and cardiovascular diseases.

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