It has taken a long time for its true values to be recognised. It is now a sought after commodity. It’s called the Turkey berry and now it has become very popular due to its medicinal purposes rather than it being a vegetable. Some doctors now highly recommend it in our meals.
Before you start thinking Shoprite or Koala or any other shopping mall, know that Turkey berry is Ama dweridi or Anona Ntroba in Fante or Kwahu nsusuwa or Yaa Asantewa, while the Gas call it Kantosi; plus you can get it at any market near you.
I know. Surprised? Anona Ntroba is called Turkey berry.
The Turkey berry is not peculiar to bushes in Ghana. The berry is believed to have originated from the South of the United States and spread to Asia and to Africa. It can be found in markets in Jamaica and Malaysia, where it is also revered for its high medicinal and food qualities. India has a lot of recipes with the Turkey berry. For the Indians, it is called Sunndakkai. It is scientifically called Solanum Torvum.
You may hate it for its smell or its bitter-sweet taste but despite what you think of it, the Turkey berry (or pea aubergine as it is also called) is enjoying growing popularity in Ghana.
It is now packaged gracefully in polythene bags to make them look like green peas for sale. According to some market women, this new look of the berry makes it attractive.
“When you package it like this, it attracts the women in the offices like you,” Aunt Esi, one of the sellers said.
In years past, many ignored it as it grew wildly in their backyards. Some children even humiliated the berry and used them as “bullets” on broomstick guns. Neighbours who used them for food picked them from the backyards of friends.
But in recent times, many have grown to love the berry. Those who love to use it would rather have its medicinal benefits and a little bit of bitter-sweet taste on their tongues for a short while. Others just love the bitterness it leaves in the mouth; bitter is better, they say. Yet others are irritated by the many seeds in the berry. The average berry has about 100 seeds.
In Ghana, it grows wild and many who sell them pick them from wildly grown Turkey berry shrubs for sale. The harvesting of the berries are said to be an irritating experience for harvesters, considering the prickly nature of the shrub.
In recent times, the demand for the berry has increased and led to its commercialisation. Many Ghanaians use it in palm nut soups. The boiled fruits are pounded together with the palm fruits before it is strained for soup.
Others use it like garden eggs in stews. It is known as a very good booster of blood levels and many doctors recommend it in anaemic patients. Many blend the uncooked berries, strain, refrigerate and use it as a blood boosting drink.
Its leaves, which are rich in alkaloids, could also be used for medicinal or ritual purposes in some cultures. The plant is cultivated in tropical countries for its sharp tasting immature fruits.
Research indicates that the Turkey berry is indeed highly medicinal. Some researchers indicate it can be used to treat skin diseases, ulcers and abscesses. The berry is also said to be an anti-inflammatory and an analgesic for stomach problems and for the control of diabetes.
According to Ashok D. Agrawal et al, their research on Turkey berry has shown that the aqueous extract from dried fruits of Solanum Torvum reduces blood pressure. Extensive literature survey revealed that Solanum Torvum is an important source of many pharmacologically and medicinally important chemicals such as steroidal glycosides, sitosterol, stigmasterol and campesterol.
The plant has also been widely studied for their various pharmacological activities such as antihypertensive, antioxidant, cardiovascular, antimicrobial and antiviral activity. Ashok et al concluded that more clinical trials should be conducted to support the therapeutic use of Solanum Torvum.
They noted that it was also important to recognise that Solanum Torvum extracts might be effective not only when used singly, but might actually have a modulating effect when given in combination with other herbs or drugs.
For its extraordinary uses, the Turkey berry can be said to be relatively cheap. About 300 peas cost just about GH¢1 in town and even far cheaper in the rural communities.
Maame Nyantah sells vegetables and foodstuffs at the Kotokuraba Market in Cape Coast and often goes to the rural communities to buy the Turkey berry and other vegetables.
She says she uses the Turkey berry in most of her dishes.
“This thing is more medicinal than food and I use it a lot,” she said as she picked some berries from her table where her stuff was displayed and began munching a few of them. “Ask any old woman and she will tell you the medicinal value of this berry. I have benefitted from it a lot. I am not a doctor but when I have palpitations, I just munch a few berries and the palpitations go away,” she said.
She said she was sure the berry had some medicinal value and must be seriously prompted by the Ministry of Food and Agriculture. “It’s cheaper and I am sure it will help save a lot of lives if people are encouraged to eat it,” she added while eating a few more.
Mrs Angela Abban (a teacher) says she uses the berries frequently in her meals. “I know they are healthy, that is all and so I use it often.”
Dr Demanya of the Cape Coast Metropolitan Hospital said he did not know much about its medicinal qualities but had heard much from people who had used it to boost their blood levels. "I have heard proven stories about its success in treating anaemia for example and I believe if it is not poisonous and it is medicinal, Ghanaians must be free to use it.
Mr Moses Golly, a lecturer at the Sunyani Polytechnic, thinks society can get more from the Turkey berry than it is getting now if the berry is preserved.
He and some colleagues want to develop the Turkey berry into a food spice.
He indicated that more people were ready to use them if they were more conveniently packaged, with no additives and with its medicinal properties kept. And that is exactly what his research on the Turkey berry sought to do.
“If we are to use spices in our meals then we have to use the nutritious and medicinal spices and the Turkey berry obviously is a good one and highly medicinal.”
He believes that farmers should consider cultivating the Turkey berry for sale.
Considering the high medicinal value of the plant, its cultivation could not only help ensure a healthy nation but it could be marketed abroad to earn the much needed foreign exchange for the nation’s development.