How well do you know Spekboom?

Over the past few years this indigenous plant has gained international fame due to its ability to remove carbon from Spekboomthe atmosphere, improving the air that we breathe and, as excess carbon is responsible for global warming, it fights climate change.  But do you know it is also a medicinal plant and is edible?  If you have a small garden, multi-purpose herbs are a must – you need to make the most of every bit of space you own. And if your garden is bigger you might consider planting more than one!

Where did it get its name?

It has a few names, but the most common seems to be Spekboom.  I have Googled, researched and asked around, and the only answer I have found is that Spekboom means Bacon Bush.  Well, I had figured that out, but why Bacon Bush?  It is still a mystery! And then there is ‘Soetspekboom’ and ‘Suurspekboom’ (sweet and sour). More on that in the culinary section.

Another name it goes by is ‘Elephant’s Food’, which makes sense since it is eaten by elephants, rhino and various buck species.   And, yet another name is Dwarf Jade Plant, as it looks similar to the Jade Plant (Crassula ovata).  Don’t get them confused though, the Crassula is slightly toxic when eaten.


It is a water-wise succulent and suited to most South African gardens.  It will grow into a shrub or small tree, can be planted to stop soil erosion and, if you plant a few bushes close to each other, you can train them into a hedge. Apparently it will live for up to 200 years which is pretty impressive! The bright green leaves and red stems are attractive during the year, but it is absolutely stunning when it flowers. Masses of pink flower clusters cover the plant and attract all kinds of butterflies, bees and other insects and, of course, brings in loads of birds.

It is easily propagated from stem cuttings.  Leave the cutting to dry for about 5 days before planting it into river sand or well-drained sandy soil. The easiest is to stick a piece into the ground where you want it to grow. Don’t overwater or it will rot.


Spekboom and broccoli salad. Barefoot HerbsNow let me tell you about the ‘sweet’ and ‘sour’.  This is so interesting and great for cooking! During the day the leaves have an acidic flavour, especially when the sun is really hot.  As it cools down the acidity lessens, and by the evening they are at their sweetest.  I pick in the evening for pesto and chutney, late morning for pickling and, as sweet or sour work in salads, I pick when I need them. Fresh, they have a crunchy texture which is good in salads and sandwiches. Leaves can also be added to stews and soups and they get a sort of green bean texture.  Try topping hot soup with a few fresh leaves just as you are serving to give it a bit of crunchy zing.



Spekboom is pretty impressive when it comes to our health.  Firstly, it is rich in  Vitamin C, manganese, iodine, selenium, cobalt and magnesium, so is super good for you.  And here are the medicinal properties;

  • It is antiseptic making it good for skin ailments like rashes, insect bites, sunburn and pimples.
  • Chewing a leaf helps with mouth infections and a sore throat
  • Apply crushed leaves to blisters to relieve pain and assist with healing.
  • In Mozambique new mothers eat the leaves to increase milk supply.
  • Suck a leaf to quench thirst – eating enough will help prevent dehydration

So there you have it.  Another one of our marvelous indigenous plants that is definitely worth planting  Be sure to try the recipes for Spekboom pesto, Spekboom pickle, Spekboom Chutney and Spekboom & Broccoli Salad.


Spekboom (Portulacaria afra)


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