Many people may never have heard of chinsaga or African cabbage before, but it is a staple crop in Kenya and a famine food for many other cultures. What exactly is chinsaga? Chinsaga (Gynandropsis gynandra/Cleome gynandra) is a subsistence vegetable found in tropical to subtropical climates from sea level into the higher elevations of Africa, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam and many others regions. In the ornamental garden, we may actually know this plant as African spider flower, a relative of cleome flowers. Keep reading for more information on growing chinsaga vegetables.
What is Chinsaga?
African cabbage is an annual wildflower that has been introduced in many other tropical to subtropical parts of the world where it is often considered an invasive weed. Chinsaga vegetable can be found growing along roads, in cultivated or fallow fields, along fences and irrigation canals and ditches.
It has an erect, branching habit that usually attains heights of between 10-24 inches (25-60 cm.). The branches are sparsely leafed with 3-7 oval leaflets. The plant blooms with white to rose colored blooms.
Additional Chinsaga Information
Because African cabbage is found in so many places, it has a plethora of whimsical names. In English alone, it may be referred to as African spider flower, bastard mustard, cat’s whiskers, spider flower, spider wisp and wild spider flower.
It is high in several nutrients, including amino acids, vitamins and minerals and, as such, is an important part of the diets of many Southern African people. The leaves are around 4% protein and also have antioxidative properties.
Chinsaga Vegetable Uses
African cabbage leaves can be eaten raw but are usually cooked. The Birifor people cook the leaves in sauce or soup after washing and chopping them. The Mossi people cook the leaves in couscous. In Nigeria, the Hausa eat both the leaves and seedlings. In India, the leaves and young shoots are eaten as fresh greens. People in both Chad and Malawi eat the leaves as well.
In Thailand, the leaves are commonly fermented with rice water and served as a pickle condiment called phak sian dong. The seeds are also edible and are often used in place of mustard.
Another chinsaga vegetable use is not culinary. Because the leaves have antioxidative properties, they are sometimes used as a medicinal herb to aid people with inflammatory diseases. The roots are used to treat fever and juice from the root to treat scorpion stings.
How to Grow African Cabbage
Chinsaga is hardy to USDA zones 8-12. It can tolerate sandy to loamy soils but prefers well-draining soil with a neutral to basic pH. When growing chinsaga vegetables, be sure to select a site that has full sun with plenty of room to spread.
Sow seeds on the soil’s surface or lightly cover with soil in the spring indoors or in a greenhouse. Germination will take place in 5-14 days at 75 F. (24 C). When the seedlings have their first couple sets of leaves and soil temperatures have warmed, harden them off for a week prior to transplanting outside.