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the web of life in southern Africa

Tylosema esculentum (Marama bean, Gemsbok bean)

Maramaboontjie, Elandsboontjie, Braaiboontjie [Afrikaans]; Marama, Morama [Tswana]; Marumama [Thonga]; Tsi, Tsin [!Kung San]; Gami [Khoi]; Ombanui [Herero]

Life > eukaryotes > Archaeoplastida > Chloroplastida > Charophyta > Streptophytina > Plantae (land plants) > Tracheophyta (vascular plants) > Euphyllophyta > Lignophyta (woody plants) > Spermatophyta (seed plants) > Angiospermae (flowering plants) > Eudicotyledons > Core Eudicots > Rosids > Eurosid I > Fabales > Family: Fabaceae > Subfamily: Caesalpinioideae > Family: Tylosema

Grows mainly in the Kalahari Desert. It has a large tuber that is harvested for eating or for providing water in emergency situations. The pods contain large seeds that are roasted and eaten by people in the Kalahari. This species is under cultivation and selective breeding because of its advantageous traits as an arid adapted plant that yields tasty nuts.

This plant grows mainly in the Kalahari and has a huge tuber that can weigh up to 277 kg. It has creeping stems up to three metres long, deeply bilobed leaves, and yellow flowers. The pod contains two to six large seeds, measuring about 2 cm in diameter and each weighing about 3 grams. Within the 2 mm thick seed coat is a tasty white nut. The potential of this species as a crop plants in arid regions is such that it is being grown in Texas, Australia and Israel, with a view to developing superior plants through selective breeding.

Tylosema fassoglense also has large edible nuts and it occurs as a creeper in bushveld habitats of South Africa, Swaziland, Namibia and Angola, extending northwards to as far as Sudan.


  • The nuts are roasted in a container of sand over a fire (to distribute the heat evenly and prevent the seed coat from breaking). Roasted nuts are considered more tasty than groundnuts and form an important component of the diet of people in the Kalahari. Nuts have a high protein content (30-35%) and quite a high oil content (35-42%).
  •  Roasted nuts are ground up and used as a coffee substitute or for porridge.
  • Young pods are eaten as a vegetable.
  • Young tubers are roasted and eaten.
  • Large tubers can provide water in emergency situations.


  • van Wyk, B.-E. & Gericke, N. 2000. People's Plants. A Guide to Useful Plants of Southern Africa. Briza Publications, Pretoria.