Mashamba (Sh), Amajodo (N)
Bush melons are the biological ancestor of the watermelon, now found all over the world, but which originated in the Kalahari region of Southern Africa.
The fruits differ in shape (from small and round in the wild, to larger and more oblong-shaped under cultivation) and colours. The flesh can be white, yellow, green, orange or red, with a high water content, diverse also in texture and taste. The seeds again vary in seed coat pattern and colour.
Two major forms occur: C. lanatus var. lanatus, the sweet watermelons, and C. lanatus var. citroides, the cow-melons which, although non-bitter, are not sweet. Citrullus lanatus var. citroides is often cultivated but a diversity of feral forms exist. By contrast, C. lanatus var. lanatus is only known from cultivation and has emerged as a result of a domestication process involving selection for reddish colour and sweetness.
Where they can be found:
Wild melons are highly adapted to surviving drought and high light stress conditions. They are therefore adapted to desert habitats and found all over Southern Africa, most closely associated with the Kalahari sands of Namibia, Botswana, south-western Zambia and western Zimbabwe.
What is harvested – Harvesting time: Melons grow in summer and have a long growing period though there are some short-season varieties. Fruits are harvested while fresh. The fruit can be stored for many months. The flesh contains numerous oil and protein rich seeds.
Melon seeds have both nutritional and cosmetic importance.
Wild melon seeds are a good source of protein, iron, phosphorus, magnesium and zinc. The oil extracted from the seed will not clog pores and is therefore excellent for acne-prone skin.
Cow-melons have a longer shelf life than sweet watermelons and can be stored for more than a year under shade. Traditionally, wild melons have been consumed as a food, a dessert, and for animal feed. The fruit can be eaten fresh but is consumed mostly after cooking to produce a meal called nhopi in the Shona or umxhanxa in the Ndebele language. They are especially useful for fruit preserves, because of a high pectin content. In some areas, wild melons are used as a source of water during dry seasons. The rind can be pickled or candied.
The seeds are highly prized both as a protein-rich snack food (raw or roasted), pound into a flour (and cooked with vegetables, stirred into maize meal or steeped in boiling water to make a drink), and for their oil content. The seeds are rich in a clear, yellow oil which has a long history of use as a cosmetic. Traditionally used as a moisturiser to protect the skin from the sun, to ensure a blemish-free complexion, to promote hair growth and in soaps. Modern entrepreneurs have developed effective and popular skin lotions and tonics building on this traditional heritage.
Growing markets for the seed oil as a cosmetic oil.
- RECIPES USING WILD MELON