Tylosema esculentum (Burch.) Schreiber


Author: Janine E. Victor

Bauhinia esculenta Burch.

Common names

Camel's foot; Gemsbuck beans; tamani berry; marama; morama bean; braaiboontjie (Afrikaans)


Fabaceae, Cercideae

  Origin and geographic distribution

Tylosema esculentum occurs in the southern parts of Africa, namely South Africa, Namibia and Botswana. It is being cultivated successfully in Perth, Australia (Francis & Campbell 2003) as well as in the USA, and may become more widely cultivated in future.

  Description (Fox & Norwood Young 1982)

A herbaceous or woody prostrate and trailing plant. Stems up to 3m long, arising from a large tuber (at least up to 10 kg), with forked tendrils opposite the leaves. Young parts sparingly to densely hairy. Leaves deeply bilobed, lobes reniform. Inflorescence a many-flowered raceme with large yellow flowers up to 25 mm long. Fruit a flat-ovate to oblong-ovate pod, sometimes circular. Seeds oval to circular, brownish-black.


Marama is prized by people of the Kalahari desert for the protein and oil content of its large seeds (20-30g). The seeds are not eaten raw as they are tasteless with an unpleasant slimy texture, but after roasting, they have a delicious nutty flavour, resembling roasted cashew nuts. The composition and nutritional value of the seed rivals that of the peanut or soya bean, and is rich in oil and protein: protein content is 30-39%.
Marama beans are also boiled with maize meal, or ground and pounded to a powder for making porridge or a cocoa-like beverage. The oil resembles almond oil and is suitable for domestic purposes, having a pleasant nutty flavour although a slightly bitter taste. In some areas the tubers and young stems are also roasted and eaten, having a pleasant flavour. The tubers are usually harvested when they are still fairly small (less than 1 kg) as older tubers (more than two years) become fibrous and astringent. Owing to the tough outer shell, the bean can be harvested for months after ripening.
This plant is considered to be potentially a valuable crop for semi-arid lands, particularly with breeding (Fox & Norwood Young 1982).




Occurs in grassland and open bushveld.

  Growth requirements and habitat adaptations

Vegetative growth is very vigorous during the summer months arising from a massive underground tuber. It is dormant in winter. The plants have long creeping stems that enable them to creep along the ground and avoid the strong destructive windstorms of the Kalahari.

  Propagation and planting

Seeds germinate in warm conditions after rainfall. The seed coat is a very hard 1 mm thick shell that needs to be scarified to ensure germination. Seeds must be planted in moist neutral to acid soil or sand that should not be waterlogged.


Marama Bean (Echo Plant Information Sheet)

New high quality oil seed crops for temperate and tropical Australia
(RIRDC Publication No 03/045)


Fox, F.W. & Norwood-Young, M.E. 1982. Food from the veld. Delta Books, Johannesburg.

Francis, C.M. & Campbell, M.C. 2003. New high quality oil seed crops for temperate and tropical Australia. RIRDC Publication No 03/045 RIRDC Project No UWA-47A.

Jeffrey, C. 1978. Cucurbitaceae. Flora Zambesiaca 4: 433-434.