The marama plant is native to southern Africa. The plant grows along the ground like a vine growing horizontally in all different directions. By staying close to the ground, the marama plant is shielded from the dry winds of the desert.
The marama plant can thrive in the dry climates and the poor soil of the desert by using its roots to store water. During drought, the water stored in the plants can also be a source of hydration for humans and animals. After planting a marama plant, it can take two to four years for the plant to produce food.
The marama plant produces food above and below ground and the roots of the marama plant can be eaten. Above ground, the plant produces fruits that contain one or more bean, containing seeds that can be roasted and eaten like a nut. The roasting process makes the shells crack open for easier access to the seeds. The seeds can also be ground and boiled in water for a hot drink. Marama oil, used for cooking, can also be extracted by pressing the seeds. Raw seeds can be stored for years before eating.
Despite the plant’s ability to produce various types of foods, the marama plant has not become a popular crop in other parts of the world. Current practices for harvesting seeds and tubers are labor intensive because the plant is still picked and dug by hand. Scientists are researching whether there is a way for the plant to produce crops more quickly and more abundantly.