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close this bookTraditional Food Plants of Kenya (National Museum of Kenya, 1999, 288 p.)
close this folderSpecies accounts
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View the documentTermitomyces-mushrooms (edible fungi)

Vigna subterranea (L.) Verdc.

Papilionaceae (Fabaceae)

syn: Voandzeia subterranea (L.) Thouars; Glycine subterranea L.

Chonyi: tendegwa, nzugu mawe English: Bambarra groundnut, Madagascar groundnut, earthnut, baffin pea, Bambarra bean Giriama: dzugu mawe Kambe: tendegwa Kisii: chinchugu Luhya (Bukusu): chimbande Luhya (Isukha): tsimbande Luhya (Kisa): tsimbande Luhya (Maragoli): tsimbande Luhya (Tiriki): simbande, zimbande Luhya (Wanga): tsimbande Luhya (Tachoni): chimbande (plural), yimbandu (singular) Luo: bande, mbande Sanya: njugu mawe Swahili: njugu mawe

Description: A dense annual herb to 40 cm. Stems creeping, short, much branched, rather hairy and usually rooting at the nodes. LEAVES: 3-foliolate, held erect by a long petiole. FLOWERS: Inflorescence borne on the leaf axils with only a few (1-3) small yellow flowers whose short, hairy peduncles bend downwards and into the soil, thus the fruits (pods) develop underground. FRUITS: Pods short, to 2.5 cm, oblong to obovoid with a recurved style base. Seeds usually 1, occasionally 2 per pod, smooth, rounded to sub-globose, cream, red, brown or black and up to 1.5 cm (commonly 1.0-1.3 cm) long.

Ecology: Cultivated in most of Africa from Senegal east to Chad and Uganda, south to South Africa. Grown in the western parts of Kenya and to a lesser extent in Coast Province. Also grown in Asia, Australia and tropical America. A traditional crop of many central and southern African groups. Can be grown in hot low country. It is found in well-drained deep to moderately deep, reddish to brown, sandy clay loam to clay soils, 0-1,550 m. At the coast, however, it is found in well-drained deep fine to very fine sandy to sandy loamy soils ranging in colour from yellow brown to reddish brown. Zones: II-IV. Will produce a crop in relatively poor soils.

Uses: FOOD: Seeds are cooked with maize (occasionally after overnight soaking) or alone, mashed, fried and used as stew. Eating a lot leads to stomach discomfort. Requires careful preparation as it may be rather bitter. Among the Mijikenda, dry seeds are pounded in a mortar to remove the seed coat, winnowed and boiled. They are then pounded and tui (coconut juice) added. The mixture is boiled until the coconut juice is ready, stirred with a wooden stirrer (lufudzo) until homogenous and of smooth consistency. It is then served with rice or ugali. Fresh seeds are prepared in the same way.

Pods are harvested before they dry, washed and boiled, salt added and eaten as a snack. These are said to be very tasty (Luhya).

Dry seeds are roasted, salt or brine added, and mixed with peanuts so that the ratio of Bambarra nut is low.



The seeds are pounded to remove the outer coat or ground and the resultant meal boiled, stirred vigorously, then simmered to a stew (borohowa, Giriama). The stew may be added to traditionally prepared leafy vegetables, especially cowpea (Vigna unguiculata). It is then cooked a little and served. The stew can also be served with ugali or potatoes (Luhya). The Bambarra nut may also be boiled with maize and beans and eaten as a snack, especially with tea (Luhya), fried (like groundnuts), usually with sesame seeds, or boiled, then mixed with boiled sweet potatoes and mashed. This dish is preferred for children. Cooked during ceremonies like weddings, or for very important persons (Luhya).

It is used in the same way as kidney beans to prepare nyoyo (a mixture of beans and maize boiled together), or boiled alone. This is then eaten with tea, porridge (Luo) or alone. Bambarra nuts are dried, ground using a pong (grinding stone) or pounded in a pany (mortar), then cooked like green grams to a sauce known as ogira. This is eaten with other foods (Luo).

OTHER: Leaves are fodder.

COMMERCIAL: The pulse is sold in Nairobi markets. Also sold in other urban centres especially in Nyanza and Western Provinces, such as Kakamega, Bungoma and Kisumu.

Management: The seeds are planted in rows or randomly. The crop takes about 4 months to mature when the leaves become brown. It can be intercropped with maize, sorghum or millet. Intercropping may affect the yield adversely. Harvesting is usually by uprooting or digging out the entire plant and picking individual pods. The pods are pressed by hand, or more often sun-dried, threshed and stored. Traditionally the seeds used to be left in the pods and were only shelled when they were needed for cooking. These pods would then be stored in a pot (Luhya).

Remarks: This is a traditional crop of the Luhya and many other communities in Africa. Its cultivation has declined over the years partly due to the labour entailed, especially during harvesting, and partly due to exhaustion of soils. The plant is native to Central and West Africa.

Two varieties are distinguished: var. subterranea is the cultivated one. The wild variety, var. spontanea (Harms) Hepper, with smaller seeds, is reported in north-eastern Nigeria and northern Cameroon. The name Bambarra seems to have been derived from a community in Mali.

The groundnut or peanut, Arachis hypogea (Swahili: njugu karanga, Giriama: nzugu nyasa, nzugu karanga, Chonyi: dzugu, nyasa, Kambe: nzugu kalanga, Luo: dzugu, njugu) also has pods that develop underground. It is native to South America but a traditional crop of coastal, Nyanza and western people of Kenya.