Cleome gynandra (Bastard Mustard, Spider Herb, Spider Flower, Cat's Whiskers) is a plant in the Capparaceae family. It is an erect herb usually 0.5 to 1 meter high but as high as 1.3 m tall. It has hairy, oil stems. The leaves are on long stalks and usually divided into 3, 5, and 7 leaflets that are up to 7 cm long. Flowers are white or pink and the fruit is a long-stalked capsule splitting to release small rough, grayish black seeds. It grows in much of Africa, tropical Asia and America.
Cultivation in Kenya
In Kenya, spider flower is a weed that is encouraged and grown as food. It grows from sea level to 2400 m in altitude. It's common in abandoned homesteads and especially animal enclosures.
- "Uses: Food: Leaves (often with flowers) widely used as a vegetable in Kenya, especially in the western and coastal regions (Luo, Luhya, Kisii, Teso, Kipsigis, Nandi, Giriama). Not a traditional vegetable of the Central Bantu, however. By themselves, leaves are bitter. Leaves are boiled, butter added and eaten along with ugali made from finger millet flour. This is served to important visitors such as in-laws as a sign of respect (Luo). Usually cooked with other vegetables such as cowpeas, amaranth (Luhya, Pokot, Luo) and Solanum nigrum (Pokot). In western Kenya, milk is added and preferably left overnight in a pot. This reduces the bitterness. Leaves mixed with those of kandhira (Brassica carinata) are boiled, made into lumps, dried in the sun and stored in a clay pot (agulu) as a dry-season food (Luo). This may be eaten with apoth (Asystasia mysorensis) as mboga. Among the Kisii, it is almost mandatory for women to use this before and after childbirth, circumcised boys must eat it and it is served to important visitors.
- "Medicinal: Root infusion used for chest pain (Makueni); vegetable a cure for constipation (Luo). Water obtained after boiling leaves is used to treat diarrhoea (Luo). Leaves are pounded with a little water and the extract drunk as a treatment for chira (a condition with symptoms like those of AIDS, but associated with a curse or punishment from the spirits). Patient also bathes with this."