11-07-2021 by Leni Frau
Some call it 'African Nightshade', but its scientific name is 'Solanum villosum'.
Mnavu or managu (and many other names in every Kenyan dialect and idiom) is a green leafy vegetable very common throughout East Africa. In the West there is an often poisonous variety called Belladonna, but although some call this field herb 'African Belladonna', not only is mnavu edible, it is also delicious and comparable to our turnip greens when cooked in a pan.
At certain times of the year, bunches of this highly nutritious and protein-rich vegetable can be found on the stalls of more or less improvised markets, alongside the more famous and well-known mchicha.
The leaves, which are thin and oval with jagged edges, are usually cooked with other vegetables as the taste is rather bitter or by adding coconut milk to the cooking process to sweeten and improve the flavour.
It was once considered a "poor man's food" and in the tradition of rural areas, where it grew wild, was given as a gift by relatives and friends to family members returning from the cities.
Sima na mnavu (dish with polenta and a little tomato with mnavu) is one of the classic Kenyan subsistence meals.
In recent years, following studies and research attesting to its great nutritional and medicinal benefits, it has become an agricultural product that is even sold in supermarkets, creating new job opportunities for many small farmers even on the Kenyan coast.
The main nutrients contained in mnavu include folic acid, which is very useful during pregnancy, vitamins A, B and E, beta-carotene and vitamin C, which boosts immunity and helps heal cuts and wounds as well as iron absorption. Mnavu provides an excellent supply of fibre which improves digestion, reduces blood sugar and prevents heart disease.
In cosmetics, it is recommended to make face packs of mnavu water to combat acne and brighten the skin.
To preserve the nutrients mentioned, it is recommended not to overcook the leaves: they can be sautéed directly with a little oil, onion, tomato and other spices or softened by boiling them in a little water.
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