“Eat your greens and you’ll grow big and strong!” Since childhood we’ve been taught the importance of eating leafy green veggies, but that never seemed to persuade our minds or palates. But times have changed, and as a surprise to our younger selves, it seems that greens are getting more and more popular. No longer do we run from kale, or hide our collards under the napkin. Today, greens are all the rage. In fact in Africa, restaurants are increasingly turning to ancient, indigenous species to invigorate their menus and bring back a taste of the past. One of the most popular veggies making a comeback is the African Nightshade. Today, we’re bringing you a recipe for Cream of Nightshade Spinach. Spoiler Alert: There’s no spinach involved.
African Nightshade, specifically Solanum scabrum, has long been grown and eaten in Africa. It is “one of the most important indigenous leafy vegetables in West and Central Africa.” Unlike some other nightshade varieties, the fruit of the plant isn’t ingested. Instead, the broad leaves and shoots are cooked and enjoyed, often with the addition of milk or salt to cut the bitterness.
While native Africans have enjoyed the health benefits of this green veggie for centuries, the food is now making its way into the cities where it can be enjoyed by whole new audiences. And the health benefits cannot be overstated.
According to Patrick Maundu of Bioversity International, nightshade provides good levels of protein, iron, vitamin A, iodine, zinc, and selenium at seven times the amounts derived from cabbage. The high levels of vitamins and micronutrients, he says, are especially important to people at risk of malnutrition and disease, particularly HIV/AIDS.
Like most ancient foods, African nightshade is useful for more than just a delicious lunch. The fruit and leaf extracts can treat stomach ailments, eye infections and jaundice; dye can be made from the fruit and leaves; and it is a popular feed for cattle and goats. Its importance is highlighted by the fact that there are “numerous African words for the plant including: mnavu (Swahili), managu (Kikuyu), namaska (Luhya), and osuga (Luo).”
So instead of having that side salad of romaine and iceberg lettuce, or that side dish of creamed spinach, tonight enjoy an African veggie with lots of flavor and even more nutrition.
And check our blog often to catch upcoming posts on other African super-veggies making a comeback in modern cuisine!
Cream of Nightshade Spinach
- 4 cups of African nightshade leaves
- Water (enough to cover the leaves)
- ¼ cup of cream or milk
- 1 onion (chopped)
- 1 tomato (chopped)
- 1 tablespoon of salt
- 2 tablespoons of oil
- Wash the leaves and drain.
- Boil one cup of water, add the leaves and cook for 15–25 minutes.
- Remove from heat and drain excess water if desired.
- Heat the oil in a pan, add the onions and fry until soft.
- Add the tomatoes and cooked leaves. Cook for two minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Add the cream and four cups water.
- Cover and cook for five minutes.
 Matt, S. (n.d.). African Nightshade: An Underappreciated Native Comes into the Light. Retrieved October 17, 2015.
 New Agriculturist. (n.d.). Retrieved October 17, 2015.
 Matt, S.