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Exploring the culinary wonders of cowpea leaves

With the increasing demand from doctors for nutrients and iron for hypertension and diabetic patients, indigenous vegetables are becoming attractive in rural and urban settings.

There’s a vibrant green gem that has been quietly making its mark on plates across the world because of its richness in fibre and vitamins A and C, which help improve digestion and relieve constipation without forgetting to boost the immune system.

Cowpea, locally known as “Kunde” has conquered most kitchen gardens at Amagoro village in Busia County and beyond due to its early maturity, usually between 3-5 weeks before the first harvest.

Besides being a staple in many African and Asian cuisines, these nutrient-packed leaves have been gaining global recognition for their health benefits and culinary versatility.

According to Elizabeth Marangach, a kitchen gardener at Amagoro, ‘Kunde’ is a traditional African vegetable whose preparation is entrenched in the cultures of native African communities. The use of “Munyu,” a traditional lye derived by leaching a variety of dried plant matter, remains vital here.

“Cowpeas contain the amino acid tryptophan, which helps in the formation of melatonin in the body, which may help improve sleep patterns and reduce insomnia,” said Marangach, the Sub County Education Director, Teso North Sub County.

Cowpeas thrive in areas with dry conditions, growing well in soils with up to 85% sand. This makes them a particularly important crop in arid and semi-arid regions where not many other crops grow.

Apart from being an important source of food for humans, the crop can also be used as forage for livestock. Its ability to fix nitrogen in the soil means that, as well as functioning as a sole crop, the cowpea can be effectively intercropped with sorghum, millet, maize, cassava, or cotton.

In Teso North subcounty, the low and erratic rainfall and lack of irrigation facilities limit the production of vegetables on a large scale. Still, exotic vegetables are grown in kitchen gardens, whereas nutrient-rich indigenous vegetables are rarely produced or consumed.

In an exclusive interview with a nutritionist at Kocholia Subcounty Hospital, Dr. Amos Wafula said that consumption of vegetables is limited despite the occurrence of malnutrition among children and women.

In addition, with indigenous vegetables having a ready market in Malaba, Busia, and adjacent towns like Bungoma and beyond, the vegetable remains useful in the general development of children.

“Production of indigenous vegetables has enhanced the livelihoods of many farmers through income generation, besides consumption of the same, enhancing their nutritional status,” noted Wafula.

There is a need for farmers to be trained in the techniques of farming these indigenous species, in addition to how to prepare and consume the vegetables.

“Most parents lack awareness of the nutritional value of these vegetables for children with non-communicable diseases. Locals believe red meat is more nutritious than vegetables, a myth which is not true,” he added.

Madam Marangach challenged women to embrace the traditional approach by ensuring every household has a functioning kitchen garden.

“It is abnormal for a mature mother to buy every vegetable on the market. At least have some within your compound, whether in a rented apartment or in your own home state,” she noted.

By Absalom Namwalo and Owen Mutai

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