The Farm Corner: Growing Maasai Milk Gourds

Quail Springs Farm and Garden, Permaculture 1 Comment

By Lindsay Allen

Oh what a happy harvest we pulled from the garden this month! We are wealthy in big, heavy, beautiful, Tanzanian gourds. This past winter Sasha, Andrew and I were lucky enough to be working on a few different projects in Kenya and Tanzania. During our last week we were walking, slightly lost, in a village outside of Arusha, Tanzania on the forested slopes of Mt. Meru. The area has had prolific intensive production for hundreds of years; a canopy of bananas and fruit trees looms over food crops of maize, amaranth, beans, and cassava, as well as cash crops like coffee. Many seeds have been passed down for generations.

As we walked along we saw an old Maasai grandmother sitting out in her yard drying her big, gorgeous milk gourds. These gourds are traditionally used to ferment milk, a staple food of the Maasai. We had been seeing lots of living gourds hanging from trellises, drank some of the fermented milk and now we just had to get some seeds! With Andrew’s amazing Swahili skills, we made friends with the grandmother and were able to leave with a handful of the gourd seeds.

Maasai woman who gave us the seeds.

Maasai woman who gave us the seeds.

This spring, every seed germinated after quite a good rain year—always curious about tropical seeds out in the high desert! Now, in the beginning of November they are still growing, with some plants spread over 20 feet. We have harvested nine large gourds and there are many more to come, depending on frost! Right now we are drying the gourds, after they are dried we will cut the tops off, take out the seeds, and then rub the inside with a high tannin ash and of course, the best part, we will decorate them! What a honor and treat it has been to grow a plant that has been grown and utilized so importantly by the Maasai for thousands of years.

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