Vegetable production: Don’t underestimate morogo

amaranth; crops; morogo

Morogo (imifino) long bore the image of poverty and deprivation – food only eaten by those who couldn’t afford meat. Today, more and more people are recognising its true nutritional and cultural value.

There are many different kinds of morogo and the leaves are freely available. Traditionally, most morogo is harvested in the veld and land lying fallow throughout South Africa.

Not all species are indigenous. Some originated in Europe and the Americas, but are now “naturalised” in South Africa, and some, such as Black Jack (Bidens pilosa) are considered to be a problem weed.

Morogo is extremely nutritious, compared to other leafy vegetables such as cabbage, and are rich in essential nutrients such as vitamins A and C and in iron (see table below). These nutrients are especially valuable in the diets of women, children and the elderly.

Morogo could be an answer to current problems of food security and malnutrition in rural and urban areas. Most species have adapted to – and can be cultivated in – local, often marginal, conditions. And this means it can help farmers and home gardeners increase their nutritional status and generate income.

HOW TO PLANT MOROGO

  • It is not always necessary to harvest morogo from the wild.
  • It can also be grown in the garden.
  • It will grow in almost any soil type but sandy, sandy loam and loam soils are best.
  • Well-rotted manure can be dug into the soil before planting to improve soil nutrients.
  • Morogo plants can be intercropped with each other, or with maize or any other vegetables. The seeds are very small, so mixing them with sand or dry soil will make them easier to sow evenly.
  • The seeds are usually planted in rows about 1.5 cm deep and then covered lightly with soil. Seedlings can be transplanted when they are 5 cm to 10 cm tall, and should be planted 10 cm to 15 cm apart in rows that are 30 cm to 50 cm apart.
  • Seed can also be broadcast.
  • Mature plants will withstand a certain degree of drought, but prolonged dry spells will cause early flowering and shorten the harvesting period.

HARVESTING

There are several ways (and combinations of these) to harvest morogo. You can:

  • Uproot young plants or shoots and harvest the leaves.
  • Continue harvesting new leaves until flowering starts.
  • Cut the plants off at a height of 20 cm and harvest the leaves.
  • This will encourage bushing and more leaf growth.
  • It is best to harvest early in the morning or late in the afternoon, when it is cooler.
  • Wrap harvested shoots and leaves in a wet cloth or place them, without water, in well-ventilated bags and leave overnight.

DISEASES

  • Damping off, leaf rot and stem rot are some morogo diseases.
  • Caterpillars, cutworms and stem borers attack the plants.

SEED AND SEED STORAGE

  • Morogo seeds are not freely available so farmers have to produce their own.
  • Collect the seeds from healthy, disease-free plants when they are fully dry, just before the seedpods open.
  • Seeds can be dried in the shade on a cloth or dry grass, but never on concrete or corrugated iron as it becomes too hot and will spoil the seeds.
  • Store dried seeds in a closed container to prevent insect damage.
  • Ash and charcoal can be added to the containers to keep insects away.
  • Store the seed containers in a cool, dry, dark place.

TYPES OF MOROGO

  • Different types of amaranth (thepe, imbuya) are popular and used in many parts of South Africa.
  • Almost all varieties are eaten, but there is a preference for those with bigger, softer leaves.
  • Yields of 30 tons to 60 tons per hectare can be achieved under optimal conditions.

Amaranth seeds can be eaten and species that have white seed (grain amaranths) produce a lysine-rich grain that can be used by people who are sensitive to gluten (found in wheat).

Spider plant (lerotho, bangala) is very popular in the warmer, northern areas of South Africa because it has a strong taste. It is an extremely nutritious food given to new mothers to help them rebuild their strength. It can also be used as a food to wean infants. Yields of up to 2 tons per hectare can be expected under cultivation.

Jews’ mallow (delele, guxe) is also very popular in the warmer, northern areas. The cooked leaves are slimy, just like okra (ladies’ fingers), and bicarbonate of soda is often added to help reduce the sliminess. Some cooks mix mallow into the tougher morogo. They believe it helps older people to swallow it more easily.

The leaves of cowpeas (dinawa) and pumpkin (intanga or monyaku) are popular, especially because they provide more than 1 product (leaves, seed, fruit, pods, flowers). They are among the most commonly dried morogo for the winter months when fresh material is not available.

Many other species are also used. These include balsam pear or nkaka (Momordica balsamina), pennywort or nonyongwana (Centella asiatica), goosefoot or serowe or imbilikicane (Chenopodiun album) and many others.

WAYS TO COOK MOROGO

The most common method is boiling it in water for a few minutes to an hour or more (depending on the toughness of the leaves, most are cooked for between 5 and 20 minutes).

The water for cooking is sometimes changed to get rid of the bitter taste. Unfortunately, this also gets rid of many of the nutrients. Sometimes salt and/or other flavour enhancers are added to the leaves.

One sort only, or a mixture of morogo types, may be used. Both fresh and dried leaves are prepared and enjoyed with porridge, and many cooks add extra ingredients to the mixture to create their own special flavour.

Peanuts (ground, paste or butter), as well as tomatoes and onions, are the most popular of these.

A better way to cook morogo is to wash young, tender leaves, chop them coarsely and steam them in the water left over from washing them until the leaves are tender (usually only a few minutes).

Also read:
The leafy greens of the amaranth

  • This article was written by Willem J Van Rensburg and Ineke Vorster and first appeared in Farming SA.

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