|Traditional Food Plants of Kenya (National Museum of Kenya, 1999, 288 p.)|
syn: V. sinensis (L.) Hassk.
Chonyi: tsafe, kunde Digo: chani, kunde Embu: nthoroko English: cowpea Giriama: tsafe Kamba: nthooko (Makueni, Machakos) nzooko (Kitui, Mwingi), kilusya Kambe: kunde, tsafe Kikuyu: thoroko, mathoroko (leaves) Kipsigis: kunde Kisii: egesale Luhya (Bukusu): sikhubi, sikhuvbi Luhya (Isukha): likhuvi Luhya (Marachi): likhubi, likhuvi Luhya (Maragoli): likhuvi Luhya (Tachoni): esikhubi, sikhubi Luhya (Samia): ekhubi Luo: bo, alot-bo Maa: soroko Marakwet: kunde Meru: nthoroko Nandi: kunde Sanya: amos, kunde Swahili: kunde Tharaka: mathoroko, nthoroko Turkana: emaret, ekunde, ekundi
Description: An erect, trailing or climbing herb. LEAVES: With 3 leaflets. Leaflets to 10 cm long or more, ovate, rhomboid or lanceolate, entire or lobed at the base. FLOWERS: Various colours; pale green to light blue or purple, borne on axillary inflorescences composed of a long stalk, usually held vertically and with several flowers towards the tip. FRUITS: Pods to 15 cm long, straight, usually hanging.
Ecology: Cultivated all over Kenya as a vegetable and pulse, mainly 0-1,500 m. Also grows in the wild. Growth is poor at higher altitudes. Requires hot, moderately wet conditions. Prefers loam, sandy and other well-drained soils. Zones III-VI.
Uses: FOOD: Leaves and seeds widely used as a food (+++). Some communities grow cowpeas mainly as a vegetable (Luhya). Young leaves are often cooked with potash. The vegetable may be cooked alone or with other types, mainly Corchorus olitorius and C. trilocularis. The leaves are cooked with Corchorus spp. leaves, milk and butter added and served to breast-feeding mothers (Luo). Leaves are normally eaten with ugali or mashed with maize and potatoes or other pulses (Kikuyu). The seeds may be cooked with sorghum (Luo) or maize (nyoyo, Luo, isyo, Kamba, githeri, Kikuyu) or boiled, fried and made into a stew which is eaten with ugali or other foods. Seeds may also be boiled and eaten alone (afwoka, Luo) or mashed and butter added (mukenye, Luo). Seeds are not traditionally used by some Luhya communities but are harvested for next season's planting. Cowpea leaves may be dried and stored for several months. Cowpea is a major leafy vegetable among the Mijikenda, often mixed with leaves of sweet potato (mabwe), cocoyam (maburu), pumpkin and Corchorus olitorius (vombo).
OTHER: Good animal fodder. Roots reputedly very poisonous.
COMMERCIAL: Both the peas and leaves are sold all over the country. Young plants 3-4 weeks old are uprooted, tied in bundles and sold in markets.
Remarks: As with most cultivated crops, this is a very variable species. Several cultivars are grown that differ in seed colour, pod shape and length, habit (some creeping, others erect) and leaf shape and size. Fast maturing, usually erect cultivars are grown for seeds. The creeping, deeply rooted types are drought resistant and are preferred for their leaves (Kamba, Tharaka, Mbeere, Meru). Wild forms of this species are widely distributed in Kenya. The dark grey seeds of some cultivars and wild forms are impossible to cook satisfactorily (mbitia, Kamba).
Verdcourt, in the Flora of East Africa, recognizes five subspecies in Kenya:
· ssp. dekindtiana (Harms) Verdc.: pods dark, to 10 cm long. Wild or cultivated.
· ssp. unguiculata: pods 20-30 cm long. The cultivated cowpea.
· ssp. cylindrica (L.) Eselt.: pods to 13 cm long. Cultivated or wild.
· ssp. mensensis (Schweinf.) Verdc.: pods to 13 cm long. A wild form.
· ssp. sesquipedalis (L.) Verdc.