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close this bookTraditional Food Plants of Kenya (National Museum of Kenya, 1999, 288 p.)
close this folderSpecies accounts
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentAcacia drepanolobium Sjöstedt
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View the documentAcacia nilotica (L.) Del.
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View the documentAmaranthus dubius Mart. ex Thell.*
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View the documentAntidesma venosum Tul.
View the documentAsystasia gangetica (L.) T. Anders.
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View the documentDigera muricata (L.) Mart.
View the documentDioscorea bulbifera L.
View the documentDioscorea dumetorum (Kunth) Pax
View the documentDioscorea minutiflora Engl.
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View the documentIpomoea lapathifolia Hall. f.
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View the documentIpomoea mombassana Vatke
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View the documentKedrostis pseudogijef (Gilg) C. Jeffrey
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View the documentNymphaea nouchali Burm. f. var. caerulea (Savigny) Verdc.
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View the documentPachystigma schumannianum (Robyns) Bridson & Verdc.
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View the documentParinari curatellifolia Planch. ex Benth.
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View the documentVitex ferruginea Schum. & Thonn.
View the documentVitex mombassae Vatke
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View the documentXimenia americana L
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View the documentZiziphus abyssinica A. Rich.
View the documentZiziphus mauritiana Lam.
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View the documentTermitomyces-mushrooms (edible fungi)

Dioscorea minutiflora Engl.


Embu: gikwa, ikwa (plural) (tuber) Kamba: kikwa Kikuyu: gikwa Kisii: chinduma (plural), enduruma (singular) Luhya (Bukusu): litolotolo Luhya (Maragoli): kihama Luhya (Tachoni): litolotolo (plural) Meru: rukwa, gikwa (tuber), Sabaot: musapchet, mucukwet Swahili: kiazi-kikuu, viazi-vikuu (plural)

Description: A prickly twining perennial, dioecious plant. Stems slender, prickly, arising from a tuberous root. Tubers reddish brown, up to 40 cm long with several finger-like projections. Found 20-50 cm below the soil surface. LEAVES: Usually opposite, often heart-shaped with a pointed apex. FLOWERS: Male numerous, borne on a cluster of up to 10 short stalks on either side of the leaf node. Female borne in pairs on flower stalks which are longer than those of the male, up to 15 cm or more and resembling "hair pieces". The two flower stalks are opposite each other at the leaf node. FRUITS: Winged, rare.

Ecology: Grows wild from Uganda west to Senegal and south to Angola, but not in Kenya. Cultivated in Kenya especially by the Kikuyu, Embu, Meru (previously by the Kamba) and by some communities in Tanzania and Uganda. In the wild it is common at the edges of tropical forest where it twines to great heights on other plants. In cultivation the plant is found in humid areas with deep, well-drained soils. Mostly does well in deep fertile red soils. Common at 1,500-2,400 m in areas with more than 700 mm rainfall. Zones II-IV.

Uses: FOOD: The tubers are eaten either roasted, boiled or fried. Tubers for roasting require no peeling and are the tastiest. Yams may be fried with other types of tubers like Irish potato. D. minutiflora has a dry consistency with an appealing taste. Tubers are much relished by old people. Damaged or bruised tubers do not keep for long.

COMMERCIAL: Tubers are occasionally sold in Nairobi and Central Province. They are generally more expensive than other types of tubers.

Management: Many types of yams are propagated vegetatively. In Central Province, among the Kikuyu, D. minutiflora is propagated by use of the hard, much-branched stem base (ihindi, meaning bone), from which the tubers arise. Portions of the stem base are chopped off. The pieces may keep for a month or more. Preferably the soil should be mixed with manure. Planted pieces take 3-5 weeks before sprouting. As the stems are weak they should be supported by strong, tall stakes to give the plant more space for climbing and to enable more light to reach the leaves. Better still, the yam can be planted near an existing large tree on which it can twine. Traditionally the Kikuyu, Embu and Meru plant D. minutiflora along with cuttings of Commiphora eminii ssp. zimmermanii (Kikuyu: mukungugu, Chuka: mutungururi, Embu: mukugugu) for support, and hence the Kikuyu saying, "They are as friendly as the gikwa and mukungugu". Where the soil is not deep or loose, artificial mounds may be created.

Growth is quite fast (up to 1 m a month) and tubers may be harvested after 2-3 years. One plant at the Nairobi Museum that had not been disturbed for almost 20 years gave more than a 60-kg sack of yams!

male flowers

female flowers


The yam can be intercropped with other common crops like maize, beans and Irish potatoes. They can also be planted just outside crop land where they will not inconvenience other activities. They should be grown on deep-rooted trees to avoid competition.

Remarks: The most commonly used yam in Kenya; at one time widely used by the Central Bantu. But its use as food has declined rapidly in recent decades. It is now a rare crop, almost invariably maintained by elderly women as a matter of tradition in their small shambas.

Also referred to as "yam" in Kenya is Colocasia esculenta (L.) Schott (Araceae), syn. C. antiquorum Schott (English: cocoyam, taro, Swahili: nduma, Kikuyu: nduma, matuma (leaves), Kisii: enduruma (singular), chinduma (plural), Kamba: nduma, Embu: nduma, ituma (singular), Luhya (Bukusu): litolotolo, Mbeere: nduma, Meru: nduma, matuma, ituma (singular)). This is the root crop erroneously referred to as arrow root in Kenya. The starchy corms, which may have a black or greyish cover, are much liked, especially for breakfast. The leaves are also used as a leafy vegetable as a side dish (mboga) and for mashing with traditional food (kienyeji, Kikuyu, Kamba). Cocoyams are native to Asia and the Pacific islands. They are propagated vegetatively by planting the top of the corms (the stem base) in valley bottoms, along streams and where waste water collects. C. antiquorum was until recently treated as a distinct species but now it is considered a variety of C. esculenta. Var. antiquorum (Schott) Hubb. & Rehder is the commonest variety in Kenya; var. esculenta is distinguished by the presence of numerous smaller corms in addition to the main one. The earliest forms to be cultivated by the central Bantu had small, less tasty corms that left an itchy sensation in the throat (Kikuyu: nduma-ya-mwanake) after eating them. Nowadays, these are rare as they are rapidly being replaced by the larger tastier cultivars.

Colocasia esculenta

Dioscorea minutiflora sprouting shoot

Dioscorea minutiflora tuber