Why do we shun indigenous foods and herbs?

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A PRICE tag of US$2,40 is patched onto an 80 gramme pack of dried black jack (tsine) in one of the supermarkets in town.
On the same shelf with the dried black jack is another 80 gramme pack of spider flower leaves (nyevhe), going for US$3,15.
In this era, when people in the city are clamouring for organic foods for health reasons, companies are making a killing from herbs and ‘wild’ vegetables.
These products are not a novelty or a recent discovery.
Our forebears lived on them; probably why they had a long lifespan.
Way before colonisation, they were appreciated for their nutritional value and medicinal properties.
However, with colonisation, the indigenous population slowly became westernised and along the way, Africans began to lose knowledge of the importance of these ‘wild’ vegetables.
Black people began to shun their traditional foods and herbs and today’s generation almost totally dismisses African traditional foods with some describing them as ‘backward’.
Sadly, they are eager to purchase the same when they come packaged from the East and West, forgetting that these products are growing right in their backyards.
Those coming packaged from the East and West have in fact been collected from African soil and processed.
It is the aim of this article to show that there are plants and vegetables that black people overlook or dismiss as archaic yet they are crucial for their well-being.
Our ancestors had adequate knowledge on these plants and vegetables.
So effective were they that white men got interested in them after learning and experiencing their invaluable benefits.
To understand the power of these African plants and vegetables, a few examples are in order.
The popular Aloe vera (gavakava) is one good example.
Found in most households gardens, the plant’s cosmetic and medicinal purposes are endless.
It treats burns, rashes, eliminates eczema, lowers blood sugar levels, alleviates asthma, arthritis and fights prostate problems, among a host of other things.
With such uses and the plant readily available countrywide, you find black people parting with their hard-earned cash to by Aloe vera products from abroad.
Could this be ignorance, or is it entrenched mental colonisation that says everything foreign is good?
Going back to black jack; many people are cashing in on this vegetable that is virtually found in all the country’s regions.
People living with HIV, diabetes, heart disease and cancer are encouraged to religiously take this vegetable that is rich in fibre.
It is our understanding that black jack also prevents memory loss related to age, fights off bacterial and fungal infections and prevents many digestive disorders like acid reflux and bloating.
Perhaps had Zimbabweans not shunned this important plant over the years, there would not be so many cases of cancer, heart failures and diabetes, some of the leading killer diseases in the country.
“Our children must grow up knowing kuti tsine chikafu chakanaka uye chakakosha,” said Valentine Ndlovu from Epworth.
She harvests black jack almost every week and dries it before selling to her various clients along Chiremba Road.
It is important to note that just like they prioritised other African vegetables, the whiteman relied on black jack in the bush during the colonial era.
Colonel D.H. Grainger, in his book Don’t Die in the Bundu, talks about edible roots and African spinaches available throughout the year.
“Black jack is a very common annual weed and the cooked leaves are a good substitute for spinach,” says Col Grainger.
“Other edible plants include baobab (muuyu), Prince of Wales feathers (mufute) and paper bark tree (mutaswa), among others.
Another African vegetable with a high nutritional value is mowa.
Whites call it pigweed.
Very high in calcium, potassium, magnesium, copper and zinc, mowa leaves can be made into tea to treat headaches, sore throat, diarrhoea, heavy menstruation and internal ulcers among other ailments.
And for Zimbabweans, the beauty about mowa, besides its good taste, is that it is readily available all-year round and some vegetable vendors sell mowa nowadays.
Coming to kale (tsunga); regarded as the ‘queen of greens’ or the ‘new beef’, the vegetable is high in sulphur, fibre, iron, vitamin ‘A’, C, ‘K’, calcium and is a great detox that helps keep one’s liver healthy.
Therefore, tsunga, among other things, prevents lung and oral cavity cancers, fights asthma and arthritis, while lowering cholesterol levels.
Surprisingly, today’s generation dismisses tsunga as some veggie associated with the poor.
“Hatidye tsunga kana derere kumba kwedu isu,” you hear them say.
How then are today’s children expected to appreciate this nutritional giant when their so-called modern parents reject African traditional foods?
And are future generations ever going to know the importance of such African relish?
Not to be outdone is another plant today’s children must know of – zumbani – in English they call it the ‘fever tree’
I remember in August 2014, on an assignment in Chesa, Mt Darwin, this writer and colleagues had an unbearable experience with mosquitoes.
However, a colleague simply went to a nearby forest and returned with zumbani.
We all rubbed the leaves all over our bodies and that was how we learnt zumbani is a mosquito repellant.
Further research on this plant showed that our elders also used it for different purposes.
From this aromatic indigenous plant, zumbani leaves are made into herbal tea that treats headaches, diarrhoea and dysentery.
Apparently, zumbani also brings down fever and treats coughs and colds.
The above-mentioned plants are just a few of the numerous priceless plants found in Zimbabwe that the population can benefit from without paying a dime.
And with such virtually free indigenous plants with numerous health benefits, the question is: Why are Zimbabweans failing to maintain healthy lifestyles?
Is it failure to accept what is good for us, who we are and where we come from, or this has more to do with emulating ways and habits of the whiteman?
After all, who did people consult before the arrival of missionaries?

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