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Ensete plantThe Enset / Ensete - እንሰት (ïnsät) or False banana tree (Ensete ventricosum) is native to Ethiopia. Actually there are more than 40 varieties of Ensete and the family name this plant belongs to, Musaceae, derives from the Ethiopian word for banana, or Muz - ሙዝ .
Contrary to the regular banana tree, it is not the fruit the edible part, but the seeds, leaves and roots of the plant.
Enset is a multipurpose plant, not only used as food, but also as medicine and in cultural activities.
The plant grows to a height of between 20 to 30 ft, it is cultivated mainly in the south and southwestern regions of Ethiopia and it takes about 4 years to be ready to be harvested.
Ensete flowerEnset is also called Abyssinian banana or Ethiopian banana and it’s an herbaceous perennial with huge leaves that look like giant boat paddles.
The pulp of the plant is chopped, grated and fermented to be later used as flour to make kocho bread. Millions of Ethiopians depend on kocho for their food, specially the Gurage people.
On average, a full grown plant can provide food for a family of six for 10 days.
The whitest part of the plant, called the bulla, is sometimes used as medicine for diarrhea, broken bones, and joint problems.
The GurageEnset also has religious and ritual values; certain varieties are planted near the house to protect the inhabitants from evil spirits. Some parts of the plant are used also in sacrifices to honor the adbar or spirits during planting new fields with Enset.
Fortunately Enset is a very strong plant that once planted doesn’t need much care and farmers can spend time with other crops while the ensete matures. Also, the plant can be harvested throughout the year providing food in times of famine or when other crops fail.
Traditional farming methods have helped preserve many varieties of Enset, so in case one variety succumbs to some disease, there is always another one resistant to the same problem so the food supply is maintained.
Even when Enset is native to all Africa, only in Ethiopia it is so important as a food source. In our western culture, the enset is only valued as a decorative plant in warm regions for his tropical and exotic look.