Plant-based traditional foods and beverages of Ramotswa Village, Botswana
Journal of Ethnic Foods volume 7, Article number: 1 (2020)
Background and objectives
Different communities have various types of edible plants at their nearby ecology from which they process their traditional foods that make the basis of diversified diets for food and nutrition security. Exploration of various ethnic traditional foods knowledge will have an immense contribution for preservation and sustainability of the traditional food system and culture. The objectives of this research were to investigate and document the edible plant type used and description on the processing of plant-based traditional foods/dishes and beverages of the Ramotswa village, Botswana. Majority of the Ramotswa village residents belong to the Balete tribe.
Questionnaire interviews and focus group discussions (FGD) were used in the documentations of edible plants type, methods involved in the processing, values, challenges, and the seasonal availability.
Results and discussion
There are 50 wild edible plants used and most are available during rainy season. Maize, sorghum, beans, cooking melon, watermelon, and pumpkin are widely used domesticated crops. The edible part of wild plants is utilized in different ways. Some consumed after minor processing and some as cooked, boiled, recipe in traditional dishes, inoculum in fermentation, substrate in traditional beverages, and medicinal plants. Food safety concerns were indicated for few products. High temperature and shortage of rainfall are making some edible plants scarce. For some, preparation takes a long time; and when processing is not properly done, unpleasant odor, bitter taste, and mold growth can result, particularly for traditional beverages. Even though, most traditional foods/dishes and beverages are still consumed and enjoyed by the communities, there are worries that the young generation has limited knowledge and skills to process and utilize them.
Most plant-based traditional foods/dishes consumed are low in sugar and fat, but are wholesome (whole grains, with dietary fibers) with high potential for diet diversification. The documentation provided will help to create awareness for preservation of the traditional foods/dishes and beverage culture, and as a baseline information for further studies for those nutrient and bioactive compound data are not available.
Traditional/indigenous food product(s) are that a given community acquire and process from bio-diverse plant and animal sources available in their ecology in which knowledge and skills are preserved and transmitted by oral or other folklore means. Traditional foods have special place among the communities because of their unique sensory acceptability, cultural heritage, health benefits, religious, and commercial values. For example, the Mediterranean traditional food patterns  are highly recognized as healthful because they are associated with the reduction of all causes of mortality  and are high in anti-oxidants [2, 3].
The Lancet Commissions review on sustainable food systems  recommended to move toward healthy diets derived from whole grains, nuts, fruits, vegetables, and legumes, a low to moderate amount of seafood and poultry, low or no inclusion of red meat, processed meat, added sugar, refined grains, and starchy vegetables to achieve a win-win situation (i.e., sustainable-healthy diets and environment). A review  on the documentation of indigenous foods in 11 different countries from 2001 showed that the sustainability of indigenous foods are globally threatened, by factors like an intensive cultivation of limited crops, various anthropogenic activities, urban land policy, and life style changes.
Indigenous food system revival has been given due attention by FAO  high-level experts because they are cornerstone for sustainable diets of low environmental impacts . There are more than 14,000 edible plant species globally of which only 150 to 200 species are used from which 60% of human calories are derived from rice, maize, and wheat . Agro-industrial food system that depends on limited crops has been recognized to cause biodiversity loss, environmental pollution, land degradation, and malnutrition [4, 7, 8].
A study conducted  in Gaborone on cardiovascular disease risk factors reported that a relatively high prevalence of overweight, obesity, and low intake of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol in young adults with a shifting of diets toward high in sugar, refined starches, and meat. Traditional/indigenous food (TIF) consumption in two urban and two rural areas of Botswana were found important for household food security and dietary diversity, even though TIF consumption was declining due to preference for modern foods [10, 11].
In Batswana cuisine, plant-based ingredients used are either harvested from the wild or grown in home gardens and fields of which wild plant contribution are known to be significant . However, information on the types of wild plants and the description on processing of plant-based traditional foods/dishes and beverages used by various ethnic groups within different villages of Botswana are limited. To create awareness on the sustainability of traditional foods of a given community, documentation of traditional food system is important. Such information is used for preservation of traditional food heritage, bio-piracy, biodiversity conservation, unnecessary eradication (clearing), entrepreneurship development, chemical investigation, standard development, wild species domestication, education material to teach in schools, tourism, and food trade fairs. In view of this, in this paper, plant-based foods/dishes and beverages of Ramotswa Village of which majority of the village residents are Balete tribe are reported.
The study was conducted at Ramotswa village (25°13′ S and 25°40′ E, South-East District, 35 km from Gaborone) (Fig. 1a, b). The majority of the village residents belong to the Balete tribe. A qualitative research approach was followed [13, 14].
A structured questionnaire for face to face interview and questions for FGD were developed through several consultative meetings with a team of scientists (food scientists, sociologist, and botanist). Questions included were edible plants type used, processing, food value, health/medicinal claims, safety and taboos, preservation methods, seasonal availability, challenges, and status on knowledge and culture of indigenous foods. The term “traditional food” and “traditional dish” were defined as those “without recipes” and “with different recipes,” respectively. Questionnaire pre-testing was conducted at Bokaa village (24°25′35″ S and 26°1′0″ E, Kgatleng District, 37 km northeast of Gaborone).
The Paramount Chief and deputy Chiefs of the Ramotswa village were consulted. They consented to the research objective and FGD schedule and assisted on selection of FGD participants. The criteria used were residents in the village, have full knowledge and skills on traditional foods/dishes and beverages of the village, processing for family consumption and/or for sell, past experience and ability to judge current scenario, knowledge in the culture and language of the communities, both male and female participation, and age between 40 and 87 years. The FGD was conducted involving 14 participants by an experienced sociologist. When consensus on a particular issue was reached among FGD participants, information generated was captured on flip chart by the facilitator and two rapporteurs on note books. An audio decoder was also used.
The interviews were conducted by trained enumerator, a resident of Ramotswa village. Vernacular language and wherever possible English language were used, and the scientific names on the list of edible plants were generated by a Botanist Dr. Shimane Makhabu at BUAN, Botswana. The data from 25 questionnaires were decoded in a spreadsheet of Microsoft Excel, 2013, and responses were extracted and reconciled information with FGD are reported.
Results and discussions
The participant demographic characteristics are shown in Table 1. All participants were from Balete tribe, Christians. Majority of them were subsistence farmers and household food processors.
Wild food plants
There are 50 wild edible plants used in the study area (Table 2). For most fruits/pulp, in some cases like morula (Scleroccaria birrea), the seeds/nuts are also used. For motlopi (Boscia albitrunca) and mogakangwaga (Trochomeria debilis), fruits and roots/tubers of the same plant are used. Some are used as leafy vegetables (Table 2). For mokgalo (Ziziphus mucronata), its fruit pulp, leaves, roots, bark, and seeds are used. Mokgalo seeds are ground and eaten as powder, and leaves’ paste is used to heal wounds, sores, and boils, while its roots are boiled and the juice is used to relief pain. Fruits of morula and moretlwa (Grewia flava) are used in the traditional beverages. Some leaves such as mosukujane (Lippia scaberrima), kgomodimetsing (Myrothamnus flabellifolius), lengana (Artemisia afra), seswagadi (Jatropha zeyheri), rammola, and moritelatshwene are used for tea-like beverages. The fruits of motlopi are used in the traditional beverages, and its roots for making a coffee type beverage. Fruit pulp of mmupudu (Mimops zeyheri) can be compacted and dried for preservation. Mogwana (Grewia bicolor) fruits are used to flavor traditional beverage khadi. Khusubele (Withania spomnifera) is used as a relish. Water is extracted from the roots of leruswa (Stomatostemma monteiroae). The fruits of morobe (Ehretia sp.) were indicated to cause constipation if consumed in large amounts. No taboo indicated for wild edible plants. Availability of most wild edible plants is limited after rains. Most of them were described as perishable, whereas few as semi-perishable and durable (Table 2). The study indicates that with availability of water, there is domestication potential. However, to make them available during off rainy season, development of appropriate food preservation technologies are required. For some wild edible plants, market potential was high and very high, however, for majority was poor (Table 2).
Wild plants for foods and medicinal use
The economic value, potential for food and nutrition security of Botswana edible wild plants [15,16,17], wild vegetables , and medicinal importance  for some indicated in this paper were described. Morula and mmilo (Vanguera infausta) were valuable sources of vitamin C, fibers, and minerals (K and Mg) . Mokgalo roots were reported to have a strong anti-oxidant activity (IC50, 2.5 mg/mL) , and the bark to treat some diseases . Motlopi is eaten either raw or cooked and can be concentrated to make a syrup and porridge, and its unripe fruits are used to treat epilepsy . Mmupudu has potential for production of jam, jelly, and dried products ; its roots are used to treat syphilis, stomach ache, and gynecological infections and leaves for diabetes mellitus management ; and flavonoids were indicated as major bioactive compounds . Ximenia caffra and mmupudu seed oils were reported to have anti-proliferative effect on human colon adenocarcinoma (Caco-2), human embryonic kidney (HEK-293) cells , and women breast cancer cell lines . Both seed oils were rich in oleic acid: 59.4% and 55.7%, respectively . Lengana is one of the most commonly used herbal medicines in the southern African region because of its monoterpenoids and sesquiterpenes  and described as tea plant. Its leaves and roots were indicated to treat asthma and colds with very high demand.
Domesticated food plants
There are 13 domesticated edible plants used (Table 3). Sorghum, maize, and pearl millet are used in traditional foods/dishes; sorghum and maize in fermented beverages. Among pulses, common beans, Jugo beans and Mung beans, are consumed in traditional foods/dishes. Ground nuts are consumed as snacks, oil sources, or cooked with other recipes. Sunflower is consumed as a roasted whole snack. Watermelon (Citrullus lanatus (Thunb.) var. lanatus) pulp and seeds are consumed in traditional foods. The melon (Citrullus lanatus var. citroides (L. H. Bailey) Mansf.) pulp, rind, and seed are consumed in the traditional foods and dishes. Pumpkin pulp and makgomane (squash like) fruits are used in traditional foods. The edible plant parts are used as sources of fiber, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. Some also indicated to have health-promoting properties probably because of their anti-oxidant potential. No taboos on the domesticated plants were reported. The market potential for most domesticated edible plants were very high and high, but pearl millet was indicated poor (Table 3). The market potential for pearl millet is probably low due to its high-fat content prone to rancidity.
Borekhu (gums from trees and bushes of genera Vachellia and Senegalia))
Borekhu is consumed as a snack right there after harvest extract, especially from Vachellia tortilis. The extract is also found in mogonono (Terminalia sericea). The product is available from September to November.
Bogobe Jwa Ting (fermented sorghum porridge)
Cleaned sorghum grains milled into flour or decorticated sorghum grain flour is mixed with warm water (1:2, w/v) and left to ferment for 2 days. To speed-up fermentation, potatoes are cut and added into the mixture. Potatoes supply starch and sugar as substrate and may also contribute to fermenting microorganisms, in which case fermentation only takes 1 day. The fermented paste is called “ting.” The fermented paste is cooked to porridge in a boiling water for about 15 min while whisking to avoid lumps. The product is usually consumed with sugar, milk, madila (sour milk) or other relishes, and supply fiber and proteins. It may cause heart burn to some individuals. Ting is available throughout the year.
Mosokwane (unfermented sorghum porridge)
The cooking method for mosokwane is similar to that for ting, and it can be consumed with milk, madila, soup, meat, or other relishes.
Ditloo (Jugo beans) and Letlhodi (mung bean)
Both beans are cooked, salt, and edible oil may be added for taste. The product is said to supply proteins, fiber, and carbohydrates and is available from January to June.
Lechotlho (Letshotlho, Mpsapsa)
Lechotlho is processed by cooking physiologically ripe maize grains in water with its sheath on its cobs (Fig. 2a). The cooked maize is cooled, sun dried, and stored until needed. Lechotlho is a parboiled maize and is whole grain. Besides, being whole grain, it is possible that bioactive compounds can also diffuse into the cooked grain from the maize sheath while cooking as for parboiled rice. The dried product can be stored for 2 to 3 months. After re-cooking, lechotlho is eaten as snack or cooked with beans to make dikgobe (Fig. 2d). Lechotlho may cause constipation if taken in large amounts and is available from April to May.
Lebutho (cooked maize)
Ripe whole maize grains on its cob without sheath is cooked, and the grain is removed from its cob and dried. The dried grain can be stored for about 12 months. After re-cooking, lebutho is eaten as snack or cooked with beans to make dikgobe. Lebutho provides energy and may cause constipation in some individuals and is available from December to May.
Lengangale is processed from lerotse/lekatane (Fig. 3a) rind. Melon rind is sliced into stripes and sun dried for about 3 days. If not properly dried, it can develop mold. Dried lerotse (lengangale) can be stored at room temperature for about 1 year. Lengangale is cooked and served and is available from January to June.
Lekatane (melon, an orange-fleshed type of melon used for cooking only) is cooked in water for 30 min, and salt may be added for taste and can be served with milk or sour milk (kgodu ya lerotse/lekatane) (Fig. 3b). Lekatane is said rich in calcium and helps to develop strong bones, supplies fiber, and may cause bloating. Lekatane is available from March to May.
Makgomane (whole with its seed) is cut in half and washed and cooked for about 30 min. Salt may be added for taste and then can be served plain or with milk. Lekgomane is reported to give energy, fiber, and calcium and to prevent constipation. Lekgomane may cause uneasiness (bloating) in some individuals and is available from March to May.
Leswabi (dried sweet reed, ntšhê)
Ntšhê stalk is harvested, outer green layer peeled off, and sun dried for 2 to 3 days and consumed as snack. Leswabi gives energy, because of its sugar, but can cause tooth decay. Leswabi is stored in a cool dry place for 6 months and is available from March to May.
Morogo Wa Dinawa (cooked and dried pulse leaves)
The cowpea leaves are cooked in water for 1 to 2 h and pounded until become soft. After then are spread in an open sack to sun dry. The dried product can be stored for about 1 year (Fig. 4). To prepare, morogo wa dinawa, the dried leaves are re-constituted in water, drained, and then cooked. Salt, onion, tomato, and edible oil may be added. The product is high in fiber and is indicated may cause diarrhea and heart burn in some individuals. The product is available from April to June.
Bogobe Jwa Lekatane/lerotse (melon porridge) (typical example Fig. 3c)
There are three methods of processing from sorghum and melon.
Kgodu preparation method
a. Melon is washed and sliced, and seeds and rinds are removed; cooked and fermented to make Kgodu
Unfermented sorghum flour
b. Melon is washed and sliced, and seeds and rinds are removed; cooked to make Kgodu
Fermented sorghum paste
c. Melon is washed and sliced, and seeds and rinds are removed; cooked to make Kgodu (sour milk may be added)
Unfermented sorghum flour and sour milk can be also added during cooking
Method a: The pulp is cooked until smooth and cooled, and milk is added. The mixture is stored in an airtight container to ferment. The product is called “kgodu” and is refrigerated until needed. Kgodu is boiled and sorghum flour is added to make a thin or thick porridge. Method b: the melon pulp is cooked until smooth to make “kgodu” to which ting (fermented sorghum paste) is added and further cooked for about 30 min into thin or thick porridge. Method c: the melon pulp is cooked until smooth to make “kgodu” to which sorghum flour is added to make thin or thick porridge. The sour milk may be mixed with kgodu or added during porridge cooking. The porridge is cooked for about 30 min. The product is reported to be rich in vitamins and proteins and is available from March to April when melons are in season.
Legumes (beans or peas)
Dikgobe tsa lechotlho (Fig. 2e)
Letlhodi, cowpea (Fig. 2c) or Bambara ground nut
Dikgobe tsa lebutho
Letlhodi, cowpea, or Bambara ground nut (Fig. 2d).
Dikgobe tsa mmidi
Dried whole grain maize
Letlhodi, cowpea, or Bambara ground nut
Dikgobe tsa satampa (samp) (Fig. 2f)
Sugar beans, butter beans, cowpeas
For dikgobe made with lechotlho or lebutho, both are required to be soaked for 30 min to an hour followed by cooking about an hour before adding pre-soaked legumes. Lechotlho and lebutho are hard to cook because they are par-boiled dried whole maize grains. Mmidi (maize grain) is cooked for a shorter time than lechotlho and lebutho because it is not par-boiled, and cooking time for dikgobe made with samp (Fig. 2b) is even shorter because maize is decorticated and cracked. Dikgobe is cooked until tender, and salt and edible oil can be added for taste. Dikgobe supply more nutrients like proteins, since it is a combination of beans and maize. Dikgobe tsa lechotlho is reported to cause constipation in some individuals. Dikgobe tsa satampa is said to cause heart burn and may also result in constipation and bloating in some individuals. Dikgobe is available throughout the year.
Lengangale is cooked as described above and is mixed with pounded watermelon/melon seeds, cooked, and then served. Leowane is rich in oil from the seed and said it provide vitamins. Leowane is reported to cause nausea in some people and is available from March to May, also some indicated throughout the year.
Morogo wa dinawa le makgomane (bean leaves + makgomane)
Makgomane and bean leaves are washed, when beans leaves are half cooked, makgomane is added. Optional to makgomane, fruits like khusubele and melon can be also used. The mixture is mixed with vegetables, and salt is added for taste and cooked for a while until a mushy consistency is achieved. The product is served with a starch source after cooling or it can be sun dried for storage.
Mosukujwane (Lippia javanica and Lippia scaberrima) leaves are harvested, air/sun dried for a day, boiled in a water for tea making, and sugar is added. The tea can be consumed with milk. Mosukujwane tea is said to heal the kidneys and is available from April to June.
Bojalwa Jwa Setswana (traditional sorghum beer)
Sorghum grain is cleaned and soaked in water for some minutes, water is decanted. The soaked grain is placed in a cool place for about 3 days for germination. The germinated grain is sun dried for about 2 days and milled to a make “momela” (malt). Cleaned un-germinated sorghum grain is milled to a flour and cooked in boiling water to make masokwane (adjunct) to a consistency of soft porridge (not thick), cooled, mixed with water, and put in a tank. Momela is then mixed with mosokwane and allowed to stay overnight in a tank to initiate fermentation. After fermentation, the mixture (masifa) is cooked (to gelatinize starches) for an hour and cooled to become “mogetlo.” The cooking is similar to mash cooking in modern brewing. The mixture (mogetlo) is cooled and allowed to stand overnight to ferment more. The semi-fermented sorghum (mogetlo) is cooked in water to further boost fermentable substrates. Additional water and momela is mixed with mogetlo, left for a day in tank covered with lid to allow further fermentation. After full fermentation, the product is sieved to separate the liquid from solid residue (moroko or dintshe or spent). The residue can be used to cook porridge. The beverage is reported to heal asthma, lowers high blood pressure and relieves the mind. The product is reported to cause diarrhea in some people and if too much fermentation happened to cause headache. The beverage is available throughout the year.
Bojalwa Jwa Ila
This is processed from germinated dried sorghum malt (momela), maize meal, and brown sugar; milk/madila may also be used. Addition of milk/madila may boost free amino nitrogen (FAN) requirements for yeast. Maize meal is cooked for about 30 min into soft porridge, mixed with milk, and allowed to stay for 3 to 5 days. Then, momela is added and the mixture is cooked for about 2 h. After simmering, cooled and some momela and water are added, mixed, and allowed to ferment overnight; after then is ready. The beverage is available from January to March.
Khadi (fermented alcoholic beverage)
Khadi is processed from segwere (tuber) of “mogakangaga” (Kedrostis hirtella) plant and brown sugar. Segwere is sliced, washed, and mixed with cool water followed by addition of brown sugar. Mogwana fruits may be added as an inoculum, source of sugar, and flavor. The mixture is tightly closed in a container to ferment for about 2 days. When mogwana fruits are used, fermentation can take place only overnight. After fermentation, the mixture is sieved to remove segwere (what is left as spent) and the beverage is ready. The beverage is said to relieve the mind and gives energy. The product is not consumed by children and is available from November to January.
Fully ripe morula fruits are harvested, cleaned, washed, and cooked in a boiled water for easy release of juice/pulp and cooled. The outer cover is peeled off, and the fruits are beaten/pound softly (to avoid seed breakage) to release more juice/pulp. The juice pulp is sieved to remove the seeds, mixed well with water to make it less viscous, and placed in a closed container in a cool place to ferment for 1 to 2 days; after then is ready. The beverage is said to be rich in vitamins and relieve the mind and body. The product is said to cause heart burn to some individuals and is available from November to February.
Shortage of rain fall and high temperatures were indicted limiting the availability of some plant foods to be scarce (Table 4). The cooking time for some grains (beans and maize) was said long consuming energy, making them expensive. Some indicated infestation by pests such as weevils and molds when not dried properly. For some, the preparation takes a long time, particularly traditional fermented beverages. Fermentation defects also cause unpleasant odor and smell, bitter taste, and mold growth into the product.
Concerning the culture of traditional foods/dishes and beverages. Majority of the respondents 96% and 92%, respectively indicated that people in the village still eat traditional foods and drink traditional beverages. Also majority 88% and 92%, respectively indicated there is still knowledge on their traditional foods/dishes and beverage culture. However, few have indicated that there is lack of information, too much ignorance of the new generation about traditional foods and beverages, and too much importation and preference for foreign foods and beverages as challenges. Beverages like khadi are not produced like before, so there is a limitation for new generation to learn about them.
The plant-based traditional foods/dishes and beverages of Ramotswa village, Botswana, were investigated. The study generated 50 wild edible plants. The diversity of wild edible plants used shed light on their high potential for diet diversification and for food and nutrition security. Most of the edible plants are whole grain/seed/nut, fruits, leaves, tuber/roots, and some are fermented. Such diets are in line with the Lancet Commissions review on sustainable food systems. However, the communities have worries that the young generation has limited knowledge and skills to acquire and process them. For those nutrient and bioactive compound data are not investigated, this study provides baseline information for further studies.
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Ramotswa village Paramount Chief and deputy Chiefs for their permit, study participants from Ramotswa village for sharing their knowledge, Shirley Ralenyena for serving as an enumerator, and Gombalume Tsaone and Lekaunyane Dimpho for serving as rapporteurs on FGD are acknowledged.
Funding was provided by the RTD &TC of BUAN.
The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
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Bultosa, G., Molapisi, M., Tselaesele, N. et al. Plant-based traditional foods and beverages of Ramotswa Village, Botswana. J. Ethn. Food 7, 1 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1186/s42779-019-0041-3