Mondia whitei is a perennial, woody, rather robust and vigorous climber that grows from a large tuberous rootstock. The roots are aromatic and apparently taste like ginger or liquorice and have an aroma reminding one of vanilla. The leaves are attractive, large (100-300 x 50-150 mm), opposite, with a deeply notched heart-shaped base and 30-55 mm long stalks.
Mondia whitei is endemic to South, Central, East and West Africa. In South Africa the plant is restricted to the coast and midlands in KwaZulu-Natal, and to the Limpopo Province with some records from Swaziland. From here the distribution extends north to the southern parts of Sudan and west as far as Senegal.
Some tribes use the roots for making a tea that is used for the treatment of general pains and aches. The dried leaves are powdered and mixed with food and taken daily as a supplement.
The vanilla-like odour of the plant may cause it to be regarded as a novel African fragrance or spice. The roots are said to taste like liquorice, or ginger. As a potential African spice, the scent and taste of the roots has variously been described as reminiscent of vanilla, ginger, marzipan, cinnamon and liquorice and may thus make a useful food-flavouring agent.
Growing Mondia whitei
This species is easily cultivated from seed. Seeds are collected as the fruit starts to split open — pick the seeds off from their parachute-like tuft of hairs before it opens. The seeds are best sown fresh, but they can be stored for about a year under normal room conditions. Use wood-ash from a fire mixed with the seed to prevent attack by insects. Seed in South Africa ripens naturally toward the end of the winter (August), just before the spring rains start