Our 2023 EFN seed catalogue is now online! 100+ new varieties. Over 40 different growers and foragers from across the country. A million thanks to all who make this possible, especially our amazing seed-house crew!
EFN INTRODUCTION. NEW FOR 2020. This is a green-fruited selection from the 'West African Njama Njama Landrace' we introduced in 2021. It came from a solitary plant whose fruits ripened to green rather than the standard purple-black. The leaves of this selection are slightly paler in color too. To our taste buds, the most similar vegetable to these leaves, in flavor and texture, is spinach. (See photo of leaves from this selection sauteed with garlic. If I'd been served this at a restaurant I would've been certain it was spinach.)
Most commonly known in English as "garden huckleberry," njama njama is the name used in Cameroon and other West African countries, as well as among many Africans in the diaspora, for this special plant in the nightshade family. But while these plants are laden with berries, most African people grow them for their delicious and nutritious leaves. Indeed, for many people njama njama (which is basically pronounced "jahma-jahma") is a staple food. It has a long history of medicinal use as well, and can be used as a dye plant.
The original parent population was collected and grown by Ergibe Boyd, an Eritrean-American immigrant farmer based in southern Maryland. Ergibe had a long and interesting career, including many years in the US diplomatic service, before deciding in her retirement to become a full-time farmer and entrepreneur. She focuses on providing African vegetables to people who have no other source for their culturally important foods, so she grows crops like bitterleaf, celosia, and njama njama for the leaves (though she also likes to put a few of the antioxident-rich berries in her smoothies). She gathered a diversity of stock seed for njama njama, primarily from West African sources, and consequently produces a beautiful array of interesting-looking plants. Some make more leaves than others, and some leaves are bigger than others. Most have dark purple to black berries, while a handful of them have pale purple berries, and of course one plant produced berries that ripen green. I (Nate) grew out seeds from that green-fruited plant in New Jersey in 2021, and found that almost all of the offspring also produced green-fruited plants (just two out of around 25 plants produced purple fruit, and these were culled as soon as I could tell). I have no idea if the green-fruited trait comes along with other traits — different flavors, different nutritional profiles, different pest resistances, etc. — but in the coming years I expect to learn more about it. I hope that by releasing these seeds here, some of you might learn more and share it with us!
GROWING TIPS: Grow as you would tomatoes, starting indoors a few weeks before last frost date then planting out once the soil warms up. Leave plenty of space, because these can become sprawling plants four or five feet wide. The plants seemed unbothered by pests, until the local blister beetle population took a liking to them and completely defoliated them. The fruit ripened nevertheless and once the blister beetles went away the plants started growing leaves back again.
NOTE: While this plant is commonly grown and consumed as a vegetable in Africa, members of this genus are known to contain potentially harmful alkaloids, so care should be taken when eating it for the first time. Like any new food, it's worth being aware of the potential for allergic or other adverse reactions. That said, millions of people enjoy the leaves of this plant every day.