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4
CELOSIA

Of all the world’s vegetable crops celosia is far and away the prettiest. Deriving from the Greek word ‘kelos,’ meaning burned; the name itself refers to the plant’s brilliant appearance and striking flame-like flowers. In a hundred nations the showy heads of this species1 seem to outshine the sun in gardens, window boxes, streetside displays, and floral exhibits. Not only are the flowers richly hued, their deep-green foliage may also be shot through with streaks of red or purple pigment. As a result, celosia can be eye catching even before it blossoms.

But although this plant catches eyes almost everywhere on earth, few of its admirers know that it is edible, let alone that it is an important leafy vegetable in parts of tropical Africa. In Nigeria, Benin, and Congo, to name just three countries, the fresh young leaves are a common item of diet. They are primarily eaten in a dish prepared from various vegetable greens, combined with onion, eggplant, hot peppers, palm oil (or other vegetable oil), and fish or meat. Sometimes, peanut butter is also added as a thickener. All the ingredients are added to one pot, and brought to a steady boil to produce a tasty and nutritious “soup.”2

To such dishes celosia leaves certainly contribute their share of nutrients, including calcium, phosphorus, iron, and vitamins, as well as not a little protein. Among people in the know, these dark-green leaves are valued especially for physical (and, at least according to rumor, sexual) stamina.3

This intensively cultivated leafy vegetable usually grows about a meter tall but can tower well over 2 m.4 Two types predominate: One bears

1

There are 60 Celosia species but this chapter refers mainly to Celosia argentea, the only one widely planted as an ornamental and food crop. A commonly seen synonym (applied selectively to one monstrously distorted form) is Celosia cristata. Another is Celosia trigyna.

2

Information from Haroun Hallack.

3

“Sokoyokoto,” the plant’s name in southern Nigeria’s Yoruba language, literally means “the vegetable that makes your husband’s face rosy,” which we think is a wry—maybe sly—joke shared among women in the marketplace.

4

The plant is a member of the Amaranth family and shares many features with members of the genus Amaranthus, such as broad edible leaves with high protein content and



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