|Traditional Food Plants of Kenya (National Museum of Kenya, 1999, 288 p.)|
syn: M. ecornuta (N. E. Br.) Bullock
Kikuyu: muhukura Luhya (Bukusu): kumokombera Luhya (Marachi): omugombera Luhya (Marama): omukombera Luhya (Tachoni): omikobela Luo: ogombo
Description: A trailing or climbing plant with thin hairy stems. LEAVES: Large, opposite, softly hairy and heart-shaped or nearly so. Roots yellow and strongly aromatic. Stems, roots and leaves exude a white latex. Roots may spread out just beneath the ground surface covering large areas.
Ecology: Tropical Africa. In Kenya, may be found in Kakamega Forest, Busia, Bungoma, Murang'a at forest edges, especially Markhamia lutea woodland and riverine vegetation, 1,500-2,000 m. Common under trees on soft ground with plenty of humus. Zones I-III.
Uses: FOOD: The fleshy bark of the narrow roots is eaten raw or occasionally in the dried state (Kikuyu, Luhya, Nandi, Luo) for its good taste, as an appetizer (Luhya), to freshen the mouth (Luhya, Kikuyu) and for pleasure (Kikuyu). The root tastes rather hot and bitter at first then slightly sweet later. It leaves a persistent spicy taste in the mouth which is easily recognized. The root may be dried, stored and eaten when desired.
MEDICINAL: Roots used for gonorrhoea and said to cause profuse urination (Maasai). Roots chewed as an aphrodisiac and a cure for impotence (Luhya, Kikuyu) and by women to contract the uterus after delivery (Kikuyu).
OTHER: The woody middle part of thicker roots is reported to be used as a toothbrush.
CULTURAL/BELIEFS: Roots chewed for good luck (Luhya) before setting out to perform a difficult task.
COMMERCIAL: A species with the potential for commercialization. Roots reportedly sold in Western, Nairobi and Central Provinces.
Status: Nowadays generally rare, mainly because of destruction of its habitat and over-exploitation.
Remarks: Several species in this family have stem parts that are chewed, mainly by pastoral groups, for their taste and water content. Several Caralluma species and Sarcostemma viminale (L.) R. Br. have succulent edible stems. S. viminale (Maa: ol'loilei, endepeu, Pokot: cheporewo, mosolion, Samburu: loiyei, Kipsigis: ngolinyit, ngololiet, Luo: ohao, Turkana: eligoi, egis) is a scrambling, usually leafless plant often confused with Euphorbia species. Stems are green, narrow, smooth, sometimes twining and with a milky juice. Flowers are cream, borne in a cluster. Widely distributed in Kenya and the rest of Africa, also in Asia. Habitat: Rocky, dry areas especially Acacia-Commiphora bushland on rocky ground and along dry streams. Altitude: 0-2,000 m. Uses: The young soft stems are chewed and may be swallowed. In older stems, only the juicy extract is swallowed (Turkana, Pokot, Maasai, Luo, Samburu, Somali, Boran). Stems have an acid taste. MEDICINAL: Roots are used for the treatment of gonorrhoea (Maasai). Status: Common. Remarks: A variable species with several subspecies in Kenya.