A plate of salad with elephant bush leaves

Is Elephant Bush Edible?

If you own a beautiful Elephant Bush or Portulacaria afra plant, you’ve probably heard that you can eat the leaves…well the rumors are true!

The Elephant Bush, or Spekboom, is edible and non-toxic to humans and pets. Furthermore, it requires no preparation time, so you can add it directly to your salad, dazzle up your cocktail or even turn it into tangy sorbet.

what does elephant bush taste like?

Spekboom has a distinctly sour taste. Some people would describe it as tangy and lemony.

The taste of the leaves can change slightly throughout the day depending on environmental factors like the amount of sun.

If you want to use the leaves in a recipe, pick them in the early morning and late afternoon, as this is when the leaves are tangier and more flavorful.

It doesn’t have a strong aroma, and the leaves have a smooth texture. The leaves are plump and juicy as they are full of moisture.

a portulacaria afra or spekboom against a purple gradient background

What is spekboom used for?

Thanks to its ability to retain moisture, the elephant bush is a versatile plant with many traditional uses.

For example, sucking a leaf can help treat exhaustion and dehydration.

You can juice the leaves and use them as an antiseptic for various skin ailments such as soothing rashes, sunburn, and insect stings.

Crushing up the leaves can also help you relieve blisters; chewing them can treat mouth infections and even a sore throat.

Some women may eat the leaves as they believe it aids breast milk stimulation when they have a baby. During times of famine, the Zulus (an ethnic group in South Africa) have relied on eating Elephant bush as a form of sustenance.

However, the plant’s most popular consumers are elephants (hence the name), wildlife, and livestock. During times of drought, this hardy plant is a lifesaver on farms for livestock.

These days you can even buy artisanal-made soap with spekboom as one of the main ingredients, thanks to its skin healing properties.

 How To Use Spekboom In Food

You don’t need to do any special preparation or cook the leaves before eating them. Instead, you can literally pluck them from the bush, give them a rinse and add them to whatever you are making.

Despite being an indigenous South African plant, it’s only lately that it’s become quite trendy and mainstream to use in recipes.

It’s not uncommon to see spekboom in some shape or form on the menu in some of South Africa’s trendiest restaurants. However, many cultural groups in South Africa have long been aware of this miracle plant and its nutritional properties.

Some interesting ways you can use it:

  • Add it to your salad. It works well with chickpeas and tomatoes. Remember, it is a bit sour, so don’t overdo the ratio of Elephant bush leaves to other ingredients.
  • Mix it into a smoothie. Add about a 1/4 cup spekboom with 2 frozen bananas, half a cup of blueberries, a cup of water, a cup of aloe vera juice, and 1/2 tsp fresh ginger.
  • You can turn it into a chutney. Chutney is an extremely popular condiment in all South African households, thanks to the large Indian community in the country.
  • Add a small sprig to tomato stews for a unique flavor.
  • Combine with a vegetable such as wild asparagus for a unique and tasty quiche.
  • Local distilleries in South Africa have started experimenting with making Spekboom flavored gin. Alternatively, add a sprig elephant bush to your gin & tonic or any other cocktail to spruce it up.
  • The tangy flavor of the Elephant Bush lends itself perfectly as an ingredient in sorbet. Think about spekboom and apple for a very zesty sorbet or spekboom combined with rooibos and mint. Rooibos (you might know it as rooibos tea) is also indigenous to South Africa.
  • If picking off too many leaves of your beautiful plants feels too painful, you can still opt for using a few leaves as a unique garnish. 
A plate of salad with spekboom leaves

what nutrients and benefits does it have?

Research has proven what many communities in South Africa already knew: it’s an extraordinary plant with healing properties.

The elephant bush is a rich source of phytochemicals (bioactive plant chemicals). These phytochemicals have proven to have high antioxidant activity, therefore can have health benefits.

Spekboom has heaps of Vitamin C and is rich in cobalt, manganese, and magnesium. It also contains microelements such as iodine and selenium. 

The Elephant bush is also an incredible air-purifier, so you can put one of these plants in your bedroom as well. They are also incredibly easy to propagate – you can then have plenty of them around your house.

Conclusion

The Elephant Bush, or Spekboom, is a fascinating plant with many benefits. Not only is it edible and not toxic to humans or pets, but it also has a distinctly sour taste that some people enjoy.

The spekboom, or elephant bush, has a broad range of nutrients and components that can benefit our health. They have been used traditionally to treat skin conditions and the populations in South Africa have resourced to them during times of famine.

There are many ways you can use spekboom in the kitchen. You can take a few leaves as garnish, turn them into a smoothie or add a sprig to your drink to raise your cocktail game to the next level.

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