The African Mint Potato – CH.1 – The Journey

The African Mint Potato – CH.1 – The Journey

JUN 26 – As the day was dimming, I planted some very special plants; plants that traveled through a lot of adversity to get here.  They originally came to this country from Africa.  A humble plant that was thought to be a “woman’s plant”: the African Mint Potato (Solenostemon rotundifolius) [1] It is considered to be one of the Lost Crops of Africa. 

Drawing courtesy of

Last year (2019) after a brutally long and unusually hot summer, I became interested in new crops that could survive the rigors of climate change. After doing some research, I ended up speaking with a professor and research scientist, Dr. Harbans Bhardwaj, who was working with the African Mint Potato at Virginia State University, and he agreed to send some in the Spring of 2020.

MAR 30: As the time drew near to get the plants, the the pandemic arrived and changed everything. The sad news arrived that the university was shut down, and that it would not be possible to get any of the plants to send.  

JUN 7: Then a surprise email arrived – a few plants would be able to be sent after all – due to the efforts and kindness of Dr. Bhardwaj.  

JUN 12: The plants were flown here, but didn’t arrive the day they were expected. After many phone calls it was discovered that the box had been badly damaged and was in process of being shipped back to VA, which would have been the end of the plants, and any hopes of getting more.

Finally the carrier was able to cancel the return process, but it still was not clear where they were, and the best that could be done was to try to deliver them the next day. (I was crestfallen.)

Then a call came. The girl I had spoken to earlier had noticed a random box by her desk – and it had my name on it. They were at the main hub for the carrier, and even though they were closed, she said I could come get them!

When I arrived, the plants had been re-boxed and were piled on top of each other in their pots. Most were flattened, with some having not much more than a little piece of the stem left, but they were here.

These resilient little plants were nurtured and nursed back to health.  Proving that they were exactly what we needed, a plant that could overcome adversity.

JUN 26: There was a sense of sacredness, in the quiet evening, when I put them into the ground at last. I spoke softly to them as I planted them with my bare hands. The moment seemed right, since we were expecting a massive plume of dust, the next day, from none other than Africa.[2]

JUN 27: Today the dust turned the blue sky a milky blue, and brought its gifts from across the ocean to settle on these little plants.

This story will be continued.

For more information on the African Potato (Solenostemon rotundifolius) and the work of Dr. Bhardwaj:

[1] There are several plants called African Potato, but we are specifically working with Solenostemon rotundifolius

[2] This phenomenon normally fertilizes the rain forests of South America, but this one came here.