Origin:Elmer, NJ (and Bolivia & the Delmarva Peninsula)
Improvement status:Breeding population
Seeds per packet:~35
Germination tested 12/2021: 28% (below standard - seeds have been re-cleaned to remove light seed and are undergoing a re-test)
Life cycle: Annual
EFN INTRODUCTION. NEW FOR 2022. 'Kitiley' (or 'Kitterly' or 'Kitley'), also known as 'African Pea Eggplant', is a popular traditional vegetable from West Africa. This one is from Liberia. For a while we thought we were growing the similar Solanum torvum, but now we are pretty darn certain this is Solanum anguivi.
We came very close to not being able to offer these seeds to you. The seeds were given to me (Nate) by the late Steve Facciola, author of Cornucopia and Cornucopia 2, two excellent source-books for edible plants, the second in particular a vital resource for many plant-nerds like me. Before Steve died suddenly in the summer of 2020, he shared many seeds with me which he'd collected through the years. Many were quite old. The envelope of 'Kitiley' seeds he gave me had no other words on it other than its name and "Liberia." I believe he told me a Liberian woman had given them to him.
The year 2019 was the first time I tried to grow them, and the one seedling that made it to the field was sad and malformed. It didn't last long. The next year I tried again and decided I'd better use the rest of the seeds for fear of them going bad. I got just one sprout, but this time it appeared robust. I soon transferred it to the field here in New Jersey and encircled it with a chicken-wire cage. Thank goodness it thrived! I harvested the very first ripe fruit as soon as it turned from pale green to orange in order to make sure I got at least some seeds. That plant ripened a handful more fruit before frost set in, and I breathed a huge sigh of relief. In 2021 I grew out a whole row of these plants and was happy to find that despite the genetic bottleneck there appeared to be a high degree of diversity in the population (most notably in the stem coloration, which varied from green to purple by degrees).
'Kitiley' is quite uncommon here in the US. Native to tropical Africa, it has been spread by people to the Arabian peninsula and India, among other places. The small fruits ripen to orange-red, but when they're still young and green they're used as a vegetable with a bitter taste. In West African countries including Ghana, Cameroon, and Liberia, it's very popular in certain communities. Interestingly, like its cousin the eggplant (Solanum melongena), there exist wild and weedy forms that are covered in spines, along with primitive domesticated versions with fewer spines, and more modern domesticated types with no spines at all. I haven't found any spines on this one, so I imagine it must be the product of many generations of selection by farmers in West Africa. I assume it has been bred for optimal flavor too. I've read that this species often grows as a weed in farmers' fields, but it is frequently allowed to stick around while other weeds are removed because it produces free food with no extra work. From my experience growing 'Kitiley', which is tall and somewhat spindly and doesn't produce broad leaves that might shade out other crops, it seems like it would be a pretty unobtrusive weed, so I can understand why farmers don't object to its presence. This also points to how it may have been domesticated as well.
Solanum anguivi is known to have many medicinal applications, with the fruits used fresh or dried as a medication for high blood pressure, chest pains, or coughs, and the root used for toothaches. Since becoming acquainted with this plant, I've found an African market near Atlantic City that sells bags of dried fruits labeled 'Kitley' (I'm no doubt going to have to try some of the seeds from those fruits to compare them with this variety). I'm not sure if those were intended to be used as food or medicine. They were right next to bags of dried African Bitterleaf (Vernonia amygdalina) which is used for both food and medicine.
We're very excited to be able to provide this plant to West African immigrants and others who miss this taste of home, along with anyone else who would like to get to know this interesting plant.