More on Eating ‘Weeds,’ Insects, and Creepy-Crawlies

Gitega drums are famous around the world. Buru...

Gitega drums are famous around the world. Burundi is the land of the sacred tambours. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Updated 31-10-2012

Due to recent interest in local indigenous crops and dishes, I am updating and reposting this and several other blogs.

In the last blog, I noted that Westerners, on the whole, seem to have an aversion to eating insects.  But as Maria noted, snails played an important role in keeping folks fed during World War II.  And of course, both snails and frogs legs are popular in France.

Throughout Africa, there are a variety of insects eaten – locusts and termites being especially popular.  Below is a trap that is made for catching flying ants, as they fly out of their underground homes, which is generally at some point during the rainy season.  In some areas of Burundi, this is an income generating activity for part of the year; the insects are fried and sold on to markets as well as being consumed at home; they are crunchy and quite tasty with a bit of salt.

A flying-ant catcher being constructed over an ant colony, in NE Burundi

A flying-ant catcher, completed. The hole next to Duncan is to crawl into, in order to collect the insects.

Certain kinds of grubs are also collected, from manure heaps and other soil-rich areas.  These are eaten by the collectors as well as being sold on.

A wide variety of plants are collected and eaten, as well as fruits.  Again, some are famine foods but others are regularly consumed – such as a wild species of lenga-lenga  (amaranth), which is found in more arid regions of eastern Burundi.  Domesticated lenga-lenga is much more mild in taste and requires more water to grow.

Below is a picture of domesticated lenga-lenga patches in the village, where especially women, youth and old folks are commonly found raising them as a minor source of income:

a small lenga-lenga plot in the nearby village, just after harvest.  These small plots provide key food and income for many villagers – especially women and children.

Here is a dish with lenga-lenga that I cooked a while back.

I cooked the lenga-lenga with garden eggs (indigenous eggplants), tomatoes, onions, and potatoes. The potatoes would not commonly be put into the dish.  Quantities are as you like.  Be sure to add a little salt and a bit of pili-pili (hot sauce).

Garden Eggs – indigenous African eggplants. Source:

In the training that I conduct with NGOs I like to give an exercise in which the teams being trained spend a day or two going out with villagers to collect wild plants and fruits, noting the kind of soils where they are found, who collects them. season, who eats them, if there are any use rights in their collection, whether they are sold or how they are processed.

It is always a surprise to the trainees in learning how many are identified.   We then discuss ways they may be promoted, whether any could be grown – and how they could be protected in the natural habitat.

Village women in Eastern Burundi with ‘wild’ lenga-lenga

Indigenous (‘wild’) lenga-lenga in the field.  Not managed; not destroyed.


About dianabuja

With a group of BaTwa (pygmy) women potters, with whom we've worked to enhance production and sales of their wonderful pots - fantastic for cooking and serving. To see the 2 blogs on this work enter 'batwa pots' into the search engine located just above this picture. Blog entries throughout this site are about Africa, as well as about the Middle East and life in general - reflecting over 35 years of work and research in Africa and the Middle East – Come and join me!
This entry was posted in Africa-Central, Agriculture, Cuisine, Food, Indigenous crops & medicinal plants and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to More on Eating ‘Weeds,’ Insects, and Creepy-Crawlies

  1. Actually, 7 species of edible amaranth are grown in Greece. Wild amaranth’s leaves (Amaranthus graecizans L.)are edible too, though have not commercial value.
    But wild amaranth has medicinal value… herbal medical practitioners use it as diuretic and bronchitis medicine.


  2. maria says:

    we have two types of amaranth growing in the garden, the wild type which we dont eat, and the edible one which grows back every year on its own (its seeds lie dormant in the winter)

    they are noticeably different, basically in texture (the wild one is drier) – they are both edible, but for obvious reasons, we only eat the non-wild type


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