Spekboom – a miracle of nature

Beth Cooper300St Francis Bay freelance journalist Beth Cooper Howell takes a look at the other side of life in Woman on Top, her weekly lifestyle column for The Herald.



An elephant’s favourite food, high in vitamins and capable of saving the planet, is growing on my stoep.

A birthday gift that keeps on giving, my spekboom is a miracle of nature – and I wonder why there aren’t more growing on stoeps?

Colloquially called Elephant’s Food or iGwanitsha, its official name is Portulacaria afra; and thanks to the planet-conscious botanists, nature enthusiasts, university professors and farmers who understand these things, there’s plenty to know and be excited about.

Warriors of the veld

My husband believes that it is too late to save the planet from the effects of carbon emissions, but the spekboom pokes a silver lining in that argument.

According to the Spekboom Foundation of South Africa, this fat-leafed, juicy and lemony-tasting plant “has enormous carbon-storing capabilities. Its capacity to offset harmful carbon emissions is compared to that of a moist, subtropical forest”.

Uniquely, it also “stores solar energy to photosynthesise at night”, which contributes to making spekboom thicket “10 times more effective per hectare at carbon fixing than any tropical rain forest”.

In short, each hectare of spekboom could capture 4.2 tons of carbon annually.

But that’s not all it’s good for

Not only is this hardy eco-warrior a tree-hugger’s dream garden accessory; it’s also fire-resistant, which is an obvious plus.

I was also told by a friendly nursery owner that there’s plenty of Vitamin C to be had in the leaves.

It tastes mildly tart and astringent, so you’ll blink a little – but it really is good enough to eat.

Foodie and game reserve owner Adriana Theunisen is so passionate about her Spekboom, which grows prolifically on her and husband Philip’s Bhejane Game Reserve between Steytlerville and Willowmore, that she’s made a salad dressing out of it.

“Spekboom grows naturally in the area,” she says. “It’s so good for nature, too. You should try making a stew with it – put some whole stems in the dish; it almost tastes like white pepper.

“I also put it in with my green beans! Our guests now look at spekboom with different eyes. They just love it.”

Esti Stewart, of Kouga Tourism, a human eco-warrior with a passion for hikes and people who love nature, is luring tourists to the province with Adriana’s dressing and touting it at consumer travel shows.

She ended my birthday week in style with a bottle for me.

Last night, as my daughter poured the dressing onto her greens, I glanced over her shoulder at the baby spekboom on the stoep, which I knew was photosynthesising us towards a better planet while we dined.

It felt a little like eating our way out of extinction.

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