The Ugwu or ugu (Telfairia occidentalis) is a leaf vegetable native to Nigeria known for its high vitamin and mineral content. The good thing is that, being a perennial plant, it grows in abundance and thrives more once the rainy seasons arrive. Many of the indigenous tribes of Nigeria utilize it to combat malnutrition and fight various diseases.
Another perk that it gives is that you can get bundles of it at relatively cheap prices. All the better if you will take the time to grow it yourself, as it is not at all hard to cultivate it.
- The official name is pumpkin leaf. We have another vegetable in Nigeria that we call fluted pumpkin leaves (ugboguru, ugbogiri) because the stalk of Ugboguru is hollow hence the flute in the name. But this one is just pumpkin leaf.
- The Igbo name for Nigerian pumpkin leaves is Ugu. The G sounds like the G in GO.
- The scientific name is Telfairia occidentalis.
- Nigerian pumpkin leaf has a unique leaf arrangement. One stalk comes out from the main stalk and branches out into three stalks. At the end of the 3 stalks, you will find a leaf.
- Ugu is Nigeria’s super vegetable. It is just like kale in the western world.
- Because it is packed with nutrients and health benefits, you can use it in green smoothies. People drink Ugu smoothie to help them recharge after a bout of illness.
- Ugu is one of the greenest vegetable in Nigeria. With some really fresh ones, I sometimes feel like the green colour will stain my fingers when I touch them.
- Ugu has a medium texture so when you add it to your cooking, stir and take the pot off the stove immediately else the vegetables will be overcooked, become dull and unappetizing.
- Because of its mild taste, Ugu is the choice vegetable for a range of Nigerian dishes: Yam and Vegetable, Egusi Soup, Ogbono Soup. You can also steam Nigerian pumpkin leaf on its own to get Steamed Vegetables that can be used as a garnish for other dishes like Nigerian Jollof Rice.
- Ugu is best planted in the garden in the rainy season. If you plant it in the dry season, you will need to water it often. The main thing is that it needs lots of moisture to flourish. You can also plant it in the farm but the leaves of the ones planted in farms usually do not look as fresh and healthy as the ones planted in the garden.
- Ugu is a climbing plant and it is best to build stakes for them to climb on.
The fruit of Nigerian pumpkin is like a massive cocoa fruit. Some of them weigh so much that one person cannot lift them.