Njama Njama (Garden Huckleberry)
Garden Huckleberry or Njama Njama is a very important leafy vegetable crop in Cameroon, west-central Africa. Our seeds originally come from Marie and Mary, Cameroonian farmers living and growing vegetables in Northwestern Oregon, who call this vegetable "Hokeyberry." They grow and cook three distinct varieties together: Buea, Bamenda, and Bamoun, each named after places in Cameroon. While these varieties have three different leaf types with varying sizes and bitterness, they "all end up as vegetables, joined together, and prepared at once." Working Theory Farm is next door to Marie and Mary, and grew this variety for our catalog with their guidance.
For a beautiful read and plenty of information about growing and eating this vegetable, we offer you this excerpt from a blog entry by our friend Yaje Ngala at Jeje's Garden.
"Njamsu, contri njama njama, African nightshade, Garden huckleberry, or Solanum scabrum. These are all names for my favorite vegetable in the whole wide world! My mom would be SHOCKED to hear this given how much grieve we gave her as kids when this was for dinner. Saturdays and tuesdays were the designated "fufu and njamsu" days at our house. These were Soppo market days when mom could buy the fresh njamsu, and I tell you there was some crying involved. One would rather drink cold water garri than eat njamsu. Time indeed does change things.
"The garden huckleberry is cultivated in West, Central and East Africa. It is the main source of vegetables in the diet for the Wimbum people in the North West Region of Cameroon, where I come from. The garden vegetable grows in a wide variety of soil types but it does better when cultivated in nutrient rich soil. So, be sure to add a lot of compost or manure to your soil before planting these.
"There are many varieties. The "bamenda" njama-njama cultivated in the North West region of Cameroon is hailed as the better tasting type. I grew up in Buea and quite frankly prefer the large leafed variety popular in the South West region mostly because they are not as bitter and they are easier to prep for cooking. The bud, flowers and fruit are removed, and the leaves and fresh shoots eaten as cooked vegetables. You can get very fancy with cooking it, or like the people in the village, just steam and add palm oil to it. It is usually served with fufu corn, but also can be eaten with other starchy vegetables such as plantains, cocoyams, cassava etc.
"I have experimented with both varieties in the back yard garden here in Houston, Texas and the "Buea" variety seems to do better. It may have something to do with the humidity but I am not too sure.
"This year, I nursed the veggie early with hopes of have an early harvest. I think they will be ready to transplant in a week or two. Can't wait to cook me some bah and njamsu and off course khati-khati!"
Two notes: Many US-based seed companies will market these plants for their "edible" berries, but traditionally they are grown for their leaves, and occasionally their berries are used for dyes. Also, try this vegetable carefully if you are new to it. This species is closely related to others that can be considered toxic when consumed. That said, this is a widely eaten vegetable throughout parts of Africa - and is considered very healthy.
Days to maturity: 30-45
Seeds per pack: 60-70
Germination rate: 98% on 01/19/2022
Planting / harvesting notes
Grow these plants like you would tomatoes or peppers. We recommend sowing them indoors to get a head start on the season in cooler climates. Sow seeds ¼" deep 3-4 weeks before the last frost, and transplant 2-3' apart in the field. That said, our Cameroonian grower friends in Texas and Oregon sow them directly in the soil in a "nursery," mixing them lightly into the soil, sown very close together, and then transplanting them well-spaced into the garden when they've reached 2" tall. They will grow bushy and sprawling.
Seed keeping notes
Harvest the berries when fully ripe, dark, and plump. Squish out the seeds, clean them off, and dry them for two weeks in a well-ventilated place away from direct sunlight.
All photos credit: Capers Rumph