It is difficult to find a more resilient plant in the Sahel. This tree of the Capparaceae family grows from the southern strip of the Sahel to remote corners of the desert such as Kawar, Djado and Fezzan in southern Libya.1 In its fruiting season in April2, it is very popular with birds that come to suck the sweet juice from its pods. What is particularly interesting is that this tree has very abundant foliage. These leaves are one of the main food sources for goats and camels. But more importantly, they are rich food for humans too. Suffering from a pungent and bitter taste at first, probably caused by glucosinulates, they become completely edible once debittered by cooking or bathing in warm water. They are regularly used as the main ingredient of the sauce in several Sahelian communities, such as among the sedentary people of the Tanout department and around the Koutouss mountain range in Gouré. By tradition, they were also part of the daily diet of the Tuaregs of the Aïr mountains, who ate the crushed leaves of M. crassifolia in goat's milk.3 Nutritively, the contributions of its leaves are relevant: rich in protein up to 15.5% and containing a good level of the eight essential amino acids, accompanied by good levels of iron, calcium, magnesium and selenium, the leaves of M. crassifolia compare very well to the leaves of Moringa oleifera ubiquitously praised for their rich nutrition.4 But better than Moringa, this plant can flourish in almost all the arid regions of the Sahel up to the rainfall limit of 100 mm per year without requiring any irrigation. For food safety, it's hard to get better than this.
1Harouna Souleymane, 2014. Personal communication.
2Renate Garvi-Bode, 2014. Photo documentation.
3Spittler, G. 1983. Les Touaregs face aux sécheresses et aux famines : Les Kelewey de l''Aïr, Niger (1900-1985). Karthala, Paris.
4Freiberger CE, Vanderjagt DJ, Pastuszyn A, Glew RS, Mounkaila G, Millson M, Glew RH 1998. Nutrient content of the edible leaves of seven wild plants from Niger. Plant Foods Hum Nutr. 53:57-69.