Prota 2: Vegetables/Légumes
Suppl. pl.: 193 (1782).
2n = 12, 24, 36
Wild garlic, woodland garlic (En).
Origin and geographic distribution
Tulbaghia alliacea occurs in Malawi, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique; also in South Africa, Swaziland and Lesotho.
In Zimbabwe and South Africa the leaves of Tulbaghia alliacea are cooked as a relish, alone or with leaves of other plants, such as Adenia species. The rhizome is scraped clean and boiled with meat in stews or roasted as a vegetable. Young leaves are chopped and used to flavour soups, stews, pickles and omelettes as a substitute for shallot.
In South Africa the bruised rhizome is used in baths for the relief of fever, rheumatism or paralysis. Small doses are used as a laxative.
Tulbaghia alliacea contains alliaceous compounds; the whole plant smells strongly of onions.
Perennial herb with a swollen rhizome up to 10 cm long; roots thick, fleshy. Leaves 6–8 in a rosette, with very short sheath at base, linear, 15–20(–25) cm × 3–5 mm, fleshy, glaucous. Inflorescence a (3–)6–10(–13)-flowered umbel on a scape 15–30 cm long; bracts 1–2 cm long. Flowers bisexual, regular; pedicel up to 2 cm long; perianth tube cylindrical-campanulate, 6 mm × 2–4 mm, glaucous green, lobes in 2 whorls of 3, lorate-lanceolate, 2–4 mm × 1.5–2 mm, olive green with white margins; corona annular, cup-shaped, 2–3 mm long, fleshy, obscurely 3- or 6 -crenate, greenish brown fading to orange-brown; stamens in 2 whorls of 3, inserted on the corona, without filaments; ovary superior, ovoid, 3-celled, style short, stigma capitate. Fruit an obcordate capsule up to 8 mm long. Seeds triangular, flat, black.
Tulbaghia comprises 22 species and is confined to southern Africa, north to Tanzania and Angola. In Malawi the flowers and leaves of Tulbaghia cameronii Baker are cooked and eaten as a side-dish, mixed with other ingredients. In Zimbabwe Tulbaghia leucantha Baker, known as ‘vlei garlic’, is used as a vegetable relish in the same way as Tulbaghia alliacea.
Tulbaghia alliacea grows in a variety of habitats from lowland swamps to moist sandy meadows and barren ground, up to 2000 m altitude. It is often a garden weed.
Although Tulbaghia alliacea is not cultivated for use as a vegetable or ornamental, it is occasionally grown as a potplant by plant amateurs. The plants have a dormancy period during winter, when they must be kept relatively dry. The rhizomes are planted in a loam-based compost (free draining but moisture retentive).
Propagation can be done by dividing the rhizome after the dormancy period, before active growth has started. Multiplication by seeds is possible, but Tulbaghia species are reported to hybridize readily, so care must be taken to avoid cross-pollination. Seeds sown at temperatures of 18–21°C normally germinate within 14 days. The following year clumps of young plants are potted off and flowering can be expected within a year or two from the date of sowing.
Genetic resources and breeding
Tulbaghia alliacea does not seem to be endangered by genetic erosion because it is quite common and its use seems restricted. An extensive collection of living Tulbaghia plants is maintained at Marwood Hill Gardens, North Devon, United Kingdom.
The importance of Tulbaghia alliacea and other Tulbaghia species as a relish seems restricted to local use and there are no signs it has special qualities that onion and garlic would lack. Prospects as a vegetable specialty therefore seem to be restricted.
• Benham, S., 1993. Tulbaghia: a survey of the species in cultivation. Plantsman 15(2): 89–110.
• Tredgold, M.H., 1986. Food plants of Zimbabwe. Mambo Press, Gweru, Zimbabwe.153 pp.
• van Wyk, B.E. & Gericke, N., 2000. People’s plants: a guide to useful plants of southern Africa. Briza Publications, Pretoria, South Africa. 351 pp.
• Watt, J.M. & Breyer-Brandwijk, M.G., 1962. The medicinal and poisonous plants of southern and eastern Africa. 2nd Edition. E. and S. Livingstone, London, United Kingdom. 1457 pp.
• Burbidge, R.B., 1978. A revision of the genus Tulbaghia. Notes Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh 36(1): 77–103.
• Vosa, C.G., 1975. The cytotaxonomy of the genus Tulbaghia. Annali di Botanica 24: 48–121.
• Vosa, C.G., 1983. Notes on Tulbaghia: 5. Scanning electron microscopy of seed-coat patterns in nineteen species. Journal of South African Botany 49(3): 251–259.
• Williamson, J., 1955. Useful plants of Nyasaland. The Government Printer, Zomba, Nyasaland. 168 pp. (Reprint: Williamson, J., 1975. Useful plants of Malawi. University of Malawi, Zomba, Malawi).
Correct citation of this article:
van der Burg, W.J., 2004. Tulbaghia alliacea L.f. In: Grubben, G.J.H. & Denton, O.A. (Editors). PROTA 2: Vegetables/Légumes. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.