Yeheb or Yicib (in Somali), is a small tree or shrub species endemic to Ethiopia and Somalia. It is hardy to drought and a source of food to both animals and humans.
Yeheb as food
Yeheb produces a tasty edible seed, often referred to as a ‘nut’, of high nutritional and economic value. The energy value of this seed (446 kcal per kg), is twice that of the carob, and as much as that of soybean. The seeds are also rich in fatty acids. The leaves are an important source of food and fodder for animals during the drought season. Two variety of Yeheb are recognized; Suuley, a smaller variety from northern Somalia and Muqley, a taller and more common variety.
Both varieties are multi-stemmed plant with long massive root or taproot that reaches deep into soil moisture, making the shrub to remain green all year round. In addition the plant has also smaller secondary lateral roots that develop 10-40 cm under the soil surface but can grow up to 2.5 meters long. For this reason direct seeding is recommended as moving seedlings may cause the taproot to break and plant to die. Only fresh seeds give good germination which normally takes 2 weeks. The seeds have low viability if kept for a few months. However seeds coated in wood ash and stored in a sack are known to remain viable for at least a year. Vegetative propagation is possible.
Under good natural condition there are up to 320 plants per hectare with a seed yield of 5-8 kg per plant per season. The plant starts to produce pods after 4 years and production increases with age. Such is the demand and free access to all range plants that the fruits often collected from the shrubs before they are fully mature.
Historically, Captain Harry Edward Spiller Cordeaux, the High Commissioner of Somaliland in 1906-1910 who had a keen interest in the flora and fauna of the country, was the first westerner to discover Yeheb in the Haud Plateau. In 1907 he brought a sample of Yeheb back to Kew, England and subsequently this new plant was given the botanical name Cordeauxia edulis.
Recent reports indicate that Yeheb has vanished from many locations where it was noted by earlier travellers and, as a result, it is currently categorized as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. A recent study on 10 villages in the Somali Regional State of Ethiopia where the only remnants of Yeheb exist (in the Haud areas of Horn of Africa), found that the population is diminishing and that the plant’s natural regeneration is negligible. Our scoping mission confirmed the disappearance of Yeheb from large parts of its traditional range. Accordingly we recommend that Yeheb should be categorized as Endangered on the IUCN Red List, based on criteria A1d, because it has vanished from many areas of its natural habitat in the Haud rangeland.