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close this bookTraditional Food Plants of Kenya (National Museum of Kenya, 1999, 288 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentForeword
View the documentAcknowledgements
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentLocal names
View the documentColour plates
Open this folder and view contentsSpecies accounts
View the documentAppendix: Nutritional composition of edible parts of plants
View the documentGlossary
View the documentBibliography
View the documentList of families and species
View the documentBack Cover


This book is a result of four years' research on indigenous food plants of Kenya. The original data was obtained from the plant collections in the East African Herbarium at the National Museums of Kenya (NMK) and was expanded through extensive ethnobotanical fieldwork carried out during the Indigenous Food Plants Programme (IFPP), 1989-1992.

The programme was implemented by the National Museums of Kenya in collaboration with the Kenya Freedom From Hunger Council (KFFHC) and Worldview International Foundation (WIF) (Kenya), covering Kajiado, Baringo, Turkana, Siaya, Nyandarua and Kilifi Districts.

During the final year, the programme also covered Machakos, Kitui, Mwingi and Makueni Districts, through a contract with World Neighbors.

The IFPP set up an Indigenous Food Plants Database, now at KENRIK in the NMK, which has data on over 800 indigenous plant species used for food in one way or another. Of these, fruits form about 50%, leafy vegetable 25%, tubers and roots 12.5%, gums, resins, spices, herbs and those used for tea, and other minor food products making up the rest. However, this book deals with 175 species, which are of particular importance, especially among the communities the programme worked with. The book also covers in less details about 130 other closely related species traditionally used for food in Kenya or elsewhere. Some of these species are little known because of their localized use or distribution but still have the potential to be used more widely. Many are collected from the wild, a few are in transition to domestication, while even fewer are well-established crops.

The book aims at helping the user appreciate the wealth of food-plant resources traditionally used in Kenya and how to recognize and utilize them for the well-being of society at large and particularly the local communities who are the custodians of the resources and information presented. Besides food use, other uses are mentioned. Of particular interest are medicinal uses where the distinction from food uses may sometimes be unclear, especially among pastoral communities who rely heavily on wild species. Ethnoveterinary, cultural, household and a host of other uses are also listed in an attempt to show the value of each species to the communities concerned, as well as its potential for use elsewhere. A salient characteristic of foods obtained from indigenous plants is their relatively high nutritional value, an important point for nutritionists in extension work.

Although this book deals with both naturally occurring and cultivated species, the emphasis is on the relatively less known but locally important species that are indigenous to Kenya. The book also includes a few cosmopolitan exotic species of cultural and nutritional importance, such as some Amaranthus species, and a few traditional food plants whose specific origins are still debatable - Solanum nigrum being a good example.

Information on the status of the species and their distribution will be useful not only in decision making but also in efforts to encourage the sustainable use of food and other plant resources. The awareness created by this book will lead to increased use, more respect and appreciation for these valuable foods as well as conservation of the species, their various forms and the preservation of the associated indigenous knowledge.

The book will be useful to researchers, social and development workers, those working in conservation and others interested in the subjects covered. It is my hope that it will also contribute to development, conservation of cultures and the associated plant resources.

Mohamed Isahakia
Director-General, National Museums of Kenya