Wednesday, July 20, 2011


The cassava is a very useful and important plant in places like South America, Indonesia, and especially in Africa, where my distant basenji cousins live.  When it grows, it makes a bunch of tuber-type roots under the ground, sort of like potatoes.  This is the part of the plant that is eaten the most, but you can also eat the cassava leaves or feed them to your cattle and goats.

The scientific name of the cassava is Manihot esculenta.  There is evidence that people were already eating wild cassava plants in central Brazil all the way back to 10,000 years BCE.  In the 16th century, Portuguese traders brought cassava and maize to Africa, and these plants soon became important crops for the African people to grow.

Cassava is also called manioc.  In South America, it is called yuca, but this is not the same as yucca, which is a different plant.  Cassava likes to grow in places where the weather is hot.  You can start new plants by just cutting the stems of old plants and sticking them in the ground.  It is an easy crop to grow, and it will do okay even if the soil is poor or there is a drought.  Cassava is full of calories, protein, fat, carbohydrates, calcium, phosphorus, iron, and vitamins B and C.  In some parts of the world, cassava is the main thing people have to eat, and if they didn't have it, they might starve.

You can make all sorts of things out of cassava, including starch, flour, tapioca, and an alcoholic drink.  Every ethnic group has different traditional dishes they cook with this plant, but usually they are some kind of bread, cake, pudding, or porridge.  Cassava leaves can be pounded and made into a sauce or stew.  Just don't eat cassava raw because it can make you very sick or even kill you!  The reason for this is that cassava has cyanide in it, and if you don't cook it or soak it or ferment it before you eat it, you can get pancreatitis or goiter or partial paralysis.

Cassava porridge

Cassava leaves are used as a medicine to treat headaches, high blood pressure, pain, arthritis, fever, wounds, diarrhea and beri-beri.  The boiled bark can help you get rid of intestinal parasites.  Also you can make cassava into laundry starch or glue.  The tops of the cassava plants can be cut when they are still young and then dried in the sun for a couple of days.  After that, they can be fed to livestock, and they are a good source of protein and roughage.

Nigeria produces the most cassava in the whole world.  Many farmers who used to grow maize now grow cassava because cassava has a bigger yield per acre, and it will grow even if there is not much rain.  Also there is a bunch of research going on to make cassava into an ethanol fuel to burn instead of oil and gas.  And at Ohio State University, scientists are using genetic engineering to grow cassava plants with bigger tubers.  They have made some plants already with roots that are 2.6 times larger than regular cassava roots.  If more, bigger cassavas can be grown, then there will be more food for hungry people.  And that's a good thing.

Cassava heavy cake

I don't know if any of my basenji cousins ever eat cassava or not, but maybe sometimes their people give them some porridge or stew, if there is any to spare.  Personally, I think the porridge would be yummy, but best of all would be the cassava cake.  I think I'll ask Mom and see if she will make some for us.

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