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Bush Food

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The time may come when you have to survive in the African Bushveld by yourself.

One of the major factors is food, and sometimes animals are difficult to trap or hunt.

Bushveld survivors know exactly what is edible in the bush - and so should you.

What is edible - and how do you establish which plants are poisonous and which are not?

This is how you do it:

The Edibility Test

1. Inspect

Try to identify the plant. Make sure the plant is not slimy or is worm-eaten. Do not test plants that are wilted, withered or old.

2. Smell

Crush a small portion of the plant. If it smells of almonds, peaches or has a white latex - discard it.

3. Skin Test

Put some of the sap or juice on a tender part of the skin, like the upper arm. If there is a rash, discomfort or swelling, discard it.

4. Mouth Test

If there was no irritation in steps 1, 2 and  3 do the following, waiting 15 seconds between each stage:

  1. Place a small portion on the lips
  2. Place a small portion on the corner of the mouth
  3. Place a small portion on the tip of the tongue
  4. Place a small portion under the tongue
  5. Chew a small portion

In all cases, if any discomfort is felt like burning, sore throat, numbness or burning, discard it

5. Swallow

If all the above steps have been gone through without problems, chew and swallow a small portion and wait 5 hours. Eat or drink nothing else during this time.

6. Eat

Only if steps 1-5 have been gone through without problems, the plant may be considered safe to eat. Let one person eat after all the tests and allow the rest of the party to eat of the tested plant only the following day.

  • If the person doing the test has stomach problems, let him drink lots of hot water. Do not eat again until the pain has gone.

  • If pain is severe, induce vomiting by tickling the back of the throat.

  • Swallowing crushed charcoal will also induce vomiting and absorb some of the poison.

  • White wood ash and water paste will help for stomach pain.

Common Edible Trees and Plants

African Mangosteen - Garcenia livingstonei

SA 486 Zim 716. 2-10m, Stiff with rigid branches at an acute angle. Occurs in low altitudes, open woodland and riverine fringes. Bark is grey to black and rough, all parts exude a pale yellow sticky sap. Leaves elliptic and in whorls of 3, leathery and glossy green above, paler green below. Flowers sweetly scented, cream to greenish-yellow, borne on slender stalks in groups of 5-15. Fruit spherical, 25mm and yellow to orange-red when ripe. Delicious to eat and used for brewing beer. November to December.

Brown Ivory – Berchemia discolor



  SA 449 Zim 620. Evergreen, 7-20m, occurring at low altitudes, in riverine fringe forest or open dry woodland, often on termite mounds. Bark is dark grey, rough and fissured. Leaves are smooth, alternate and elliptic, shiny dark green above and much paler below. Flowers are small, greenish yellow and borne on slender stalks. Fruit is oval, fleshy and yellow to light orange when mature and sweet and delicious to eat. Also used to brew beer and for flavoring porridge. January to May.

Baobab Tree – Adansonia digitata

SA 467 Zim 684. A short but fat tree, 10-15m. Occurs at low altitudes in hot dry woodland. Bark is pinkish-grey or coppery, smooth and heavily folded. Leaves are alternate and have 3-9 leaflets. Flowers are white and have an unpleasant smell. Fruit is oval and woody, 120mm and longer and covered with grayish velvety hairs. Seeds are embedded in an edible white powdery pulp The seeds are roasted and eaten as nuts and young leaves can be cooked to make spinach. The fruit is eaten raw or used to make a refreshing drink. April to May.

Buffalo Thorn – Ziziphus mucronata




SA 447 Zim 618. Medium-sized tree, up to 9m, occurring in a wide variety of habitats. Bark grey to dark grey and fissured. Leaves broadly oval, shiny green and slightly paler below. Three-veined from the base. One curved and one straight spine. Flowers small, yellowish and inconspicuous, often producing much nectar. Fruit almost round, 15mm, edible but not tasty. Fruit turns shiny russet-red when ripe, often remaining on the tree until the leaves fall.

Governor’s Plum – Flacourtia indica


SA 506 Zim 739. Usually 3-5m but up to 10m. Bark pale grey and smooth becoming mottled dark grey and flaking showing pale orange patches. Leaves partly toothed, light green, elliptic to almost circular and thin and leathery. Colors to brilliant red to purple-black early in autumn. Flowers greenish-yellow with dull red flush. Fruit dark red to purplish berries, edible but sour, 25mm. January to June.

Black Monkey Orange –Strychnos madagacarensis



SA 626 Zim 886 Wide-spreading Tree up to 6m, Deciduous,. Prefers Bushveld, sand forest, coastal bush, often sandy soils.
Bark light grey and smoothLeaves Simple with single midvein and opposite with smooth
Flowers August to December, green/yellow and trumpet-shaped. 
Fruit green, Yellow when mature, borne February to November.

Horned Cucumber – Cucumis metuliferus

An annual with creeping stems radiating from the woody stock. The flesh is greenish and translucent.

Jackal Berry – Diospyros mespiliformis

SA 606, Zim 857.Medium-sized tree with buttressed trunk. Bark dark black-grey with deep longitudinal furrows. Leaves smooth margin, elliptic to oblong, dark and glossy above, paler green below, turns yellow in autumn. Flowers greyish-cream, solitary in leaf axils. Fruit almost spherical, 25mm, turns yellow or purplish when ripe. Delicious when eaten fresh, can be stored and used for brewing beer. 25mm. April to September.

Jacket Plum – Pappea capensis

SA 433 Zim 605. 7-13m, occurring in open woodland and riverine fringes, often on termite mounds or among rocks. Bark smooth and pale grey to brownish. Leaves dull green above, pale green below leathery and tough, alternate and toothed, oblong to almost circular, frequently crowded at the end of branches. Flowers small, pale yellow or greenish with 5 petals. Fruit is a furry green capsule 15mm in diameter which splits to reveal a shiny black seed which is completely enclosed by a brilliant, shiny red and jelly-like fruit. Delicious sweet flavor. Seed oil is edible and can be used to oil rifles. February to July.

Lala Palm-Hyphaene coriacea

   SA 23 Zim 16. The fibrous outer layer of the fruit sweet and the fluid in the seed looks and tastes like coconut milk. October to September.

Lowveld Milkberry – Manilkara mochisa

SA 599 Zim 843. A shrub or spreading tree 15m in height with branches arching downwards. Bark dark, almost black, and rough. Heavily marked with leaf scars. Leaves are very characteristic, tight rosettes on the tips of branches. Flowers greenish-yellow 10mm on slender stalks of 10mm.Fruit ovoid and fleshy, 10mm, yellow when ripe with red flesh. January to March.

Marula – Sclerocarya birrea


SA 360 Zim 537. Up to 15m. Occurs in open woodland and bush. Bark is grey, rough and flaking in patches. Leaves are alternate, compound, smooth and crowded near ends of branches. Flowers borne on unbranched sprays. Fruit fleshy, almost round, 35mm. Yellow when ripe, the delicious yellow fruit is high in vitamin C. In Southern Africa, Amarula liqueur is made from the fruit. The nuts are also edible. February to June.

Mobola Plum – Parinari curatelifolia

SA 146 Zim 166. Evergreen and spreading, up to 13m. Occurs in open deciduous woodland. Bark dark grey and rough, young shoots densely covered with yellowish woolly hairs. Leaves alternate, elliptic to oblong. Leathery, dark green above and velvety when young. Densely hairy and grayish below. Flowers small, white and sweetly scented. Fruit russet yellow with yellow flesh, oval to round, grayish and scaly and pitted. 35mm. October to January.

Raisin Bush – Grevia flava

SA 459 Zim 649. Shrub or small tree up to 4m. Occurs in dry deciduous woodland or bushveld. Bark dark grey-brown. Leaves elliptic and coarsely toothed. Flowers yellow. Fruit almost round and 2 lobed. Yields a thin layer of sweet flesh. 8mm, red-brown when ripe. Also used for brewing beer. Branches are straight and are used for bows and arrow shafts. December to April.

Shepherd's Tree-Boscia albitrunca

SA 122 Zim 130. Small tree up to 7m, Semi-deciduous. Found in semi-desert areas and bushveld. Bark Smooth, white/grey. Leaves Simple with single midvein and alternate, margin smooth. Coffee and porridge made from powdered roots. Leaves browsed by antelope and giraffe. Pounded roots used to brew beer or cut in thin sections and roasted with brown sugar as coffee. Flowers spiky and yellow, borne August to October. Pickled and used like capers Fruit is a berry, yellow when mature. October to December.

Stamvrug – Englerophytum megalismontanum

SA 581 Zim 838. Medium-sized tree, up to 10m. Grows on rocky outcrops. Bark grey and smooth, slightly scaly. Leaves oblong to elliptic, glossy dark green above with silky golden-brown hairs below, often crowded on near ends of branches. Flowers brownish-pink and strongly scented. Fruit is red and ovoid, 20mm and is and borne on the trunk. Makes excellent eating. 25mm. December to February

Sourplum – Ximenia americana.

SA 102 Zim 92. A shrub of up to 4m. Occurs in thorn bush, sandy open woodland and dry stony slopes. Bark is grey and smoothish to rough. Leaves are oblong and folded upwards toward the midrib. Fruit is oval, 25mm, refreshingly sour but edible. December to January.

Transvaal Red Milkwood – Mimusops zeyheri

SA 585 Zim 841.Shrub or tree up to 15m, occurring in low hot, low altitudes. Bark grey-brown to blackish, smooth in young trees becoming rough. Leaves oblong to pointed, thick and leathery. Young leaves and twigs covered by dense rusty hair which are lost with maturity. Flowers star-shaped and creamy white. Fruit ovoid and fleshy, 4-seeded, 25mm, yellow when ripe. Good tasting with high vitamin C content. April to October.

Tsama Melons – Citrillus lanatus

A creeping annual herb with hairy stems and three-lobed leaves. The edible pale greenish flesh is edible and the roasted seeds are considered a delicacy. A person can survive for 6 weeks on an exclusive diet of Tsamma.

Wild Bramble – Rubus rigidus

A widespread sprawling shrub with hooked thorns on long branches Leaves are hairy, toothed and white below. Flowers are pink. Fruit are red berries that become purple when ripe.

Wild Peach - Anclobotrys capensis

A climbing shrub with milky latex. Grows in a clump of 2m/6' in diameter. Tough skin with tasty orange fruit pulp.

Displayed on mangrove tree

Waterberry – Syzgium cordatum

SA 555 Zim 798. Medium-sized tree, 8-15m. Occurs in riverine forest and always along watercourses. Bark is dark brown, rough and fissured. Leaves borne near the ends of branches, successive pairs at right angles to each other. Flowers creamy white to pinkish, sweetly scented and produces abundant nectar. Fruit is ovoid, 15mm long, purple when ripe and bland-tasting. November to March.

Wild Date Palm – Phoenix reclinata

SA 22 Zim 14.3-10m, often multistemmed from the base. Occurs along river banks in low grassland. Leaves are palm-like, 3-4m long. The lowest leaflets reduced to sharp spines. Flowers glubose and insignificant. Fruit oval, 15mm, green becoming bright orange when ripe. Resembles the fruit a commercial date palm but are smaller. Sweet when ripe. February to April.

Wild Fig – Ficus sycamorus

SA 66 Zim 65. A spreading tree, 5-25m, often along river banks or part of a riverine thicket. Bark smooth and a distinctive yellow, trunk may develop large buttresses. Leaves large dark green and oblong to almost circular, sometimes toothed. Fruit Yellowish to reddish when ripe, up to 30mm. Eaten fresh or dried for storage. Some trees bear any time of year, normally July to December.

Wild Medlar – Vanguera infausta

SA 702 Zim 1096. A small tree, 3-7m. Occurs in wooded grassland, among rocks and on sand dunes. Bark is grey and smooth. Branchlets are covered with short hairs. Leaves are elliptic and densely covered with short tawny hairs. Flowers are greenish white to yellowish borne in small branched groups. Fruit is almost round, 30mm, yellowish when ripe, pitted and segmented. January to April.

Wild Plum – Harpephullum caffrum

SA 361. 6-10m, occurring in riverine forest. Bark dark brown and rough. Leaves dark shiny green, the midrib well to one side. Compound and alternate, crowded at the ends of branches. Flowers small, whitish to yellowish green in small branched sprays near end of branches. Fruit thinly fleshy, oblong and about 25mm. Red when ripe. August.

Weeping Boer Bean – Schotia brachypetala


SA 202 Zim 255. Up to 16m with rounded crown. Occurs in open, deciduous woodland and scrub forest. Bark is brown-grey and rough. Leaves oblong and wavy. Flowers, borne September to October, are deep red with slender, pink petals They secrete excessive copious nectar which is nutritious and excellent for quenching thirst. Seeds are roasted and eaten. February to May

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