Celosia: Nature’s Prettiest Vegetable

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By Amanda Stone

You may know it as that pretty ornamental flower in your garden, but did you know that celosia could also be a delicious snack? This beautiful plant with flame-like flowers is actually a common and important food in parts of tropical Africa, its original home.

Because of its flavor and nutritional value, celosia is widely consumed in several parts of Africa. It is an especially important food in Nigeria, Benin and Congo because of its affinity for hot and humid climates, and it is also commonly eaten in Indonesia and India. The leaves, young stems, and flowers a can be made into soups and stews, served as a nutty-flavored side dish with meat or fish or with a cereal-based main course such as maize porridge. Celosia has a pleasant, mild flavor, and lacks the bitterness of other leafy vegetables.

Celosia grow easily, require little care, and often reseed themselves making them high yielding, cheap and simple to grow. Having proven widely tolerant to both tropical and dry conditions and usually unaffected by pests, diseases, or soil type, this crop is among the most flexible greens for harsh growing conditions.

In addition to their nutritional and aesthetic value, Celosia may also help repress striga, a parasitic weed which devastates other crops such as sorghum, millet and maize. Though the research on this trait is still far from clear, farmers call it “striga chaser”.

With the potential to increase food security, Celosia is valuable in more ways than one. When cultivated near homes, the colorful flowers will brighten villages and local cooks can also pluck off some leaves each day to add to dinner or for a snack.

Amanda Stone is Nourishing the Planet’s Communications Assistant.

Danielle Nierenberg
Danielle Nierenberg, an expert on livestock and sustainability, currently serves as Project Director of State of World 2011 for the Worldwatch Institute, a Washington, DC-based environmental think tank. Her knowledge of factory farming and its global spread and sustainable agriculture has been cited widely in the New York Times Magazine, the International Herald Tribune, the Washington Post, and
other publications.

Danielle worked for two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Dominican Republic. She is currently traveling across Africa looking at innovations that are working to alleviate hunger and poverty and blogging everyday at Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet. She has a regular column with the Mail & Guardian, the Kansas City Star, and the Huffington Post and her writing was been featured in newspapers across Africa including the Cape Town Argus, the Zambia Daily Mail, Coast Week (Kenya), and other African publications. She holds an M.S. in agriculture, food, and environment from Tufts University and a B.A. in environmental policy from Monmouth College.
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