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The Different African Herbs

The Different African Herbs

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Africa is the second largest continent on the Earth; it is the magical land to several cultures including European, Arab, Asian, African, and different ethnic groups. This diversity is clearly reflected in the African cuisine. Each African province has its own distinct dishes, and preparation techniques using various African herbs. In Central Africa (stretching from the Tibesti mountains in the north to the vast rainforest basin of the Congo River), spicy groundnut stew is cooked along okra, chicken, scallions, ginger, and cayenne pepper and served with Fufu (fermented cassava roots) . Another popular delicacy is Bambara, porridge of rice, peanut butter, sugar, kosher salt, bay leaves, crushed red pepper, paprika, onion powder, garlic powder, dried thyme leaves, cayenne pepper, pineapple juice, soy sauce, and garlic cloves. Around 100 years ago, Arabs settled in the coastal regions of East Africa. Arabic influences are distinctly seen in the Swahili cuisine. Rice is cooked in Persian style with different spices like cloves, saffron, cinnamon, and pomegranate juice. Several centuries later, the Portuguese, the Indians and the British had introduced different techniques of roasting, marinating, and use of aromatic herbs for preparing spicy curries, lentil soups, flat breads and variety of pickles. North Africa includes Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, Mauritania, and Egypt, lying along the Mediterranean Sea. Tunisian coucha or Moroccan tangia is an extremely popular, slow-cooked, spicy meat broth prepared with cinnamon, nutmeg, garlic, and ginger. The Ottoman Turks brought sweet pastries and other bakery products. The South African cuisine reflects the perfect blend of many cultures including European, indigenous African societies, and Asian. Southern Africans love to eat biltong (dried preserved meat) with traditional beer. Biltong is a type of cured meat prepared with black pepper, coriander, salt, sugar, balsamic or malt vinegar, nutmeg, dry ground chili, cayenne peppers, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, bicarbonate of soda, onion powder, and saltpetre. Potjiekos is another traditional stew made with meat, spices, herbs, & vegetables and cooked over coals in iron pots. Cloves, cinnamon, seeds of Guinea pepper (Aframomum melegueta), and mint are the key spices of West African cuisine.




What are the most popular African Herbs used for culinary purposes?

  • Rocket (Eruca vesicaria) is an edible, leafy green plant native to the Mediterranean region including Morocco and Portugal. It is closely related to the family Brassicaceae (cabbage). African garden rocket is used a condiments, vegetable, and oil crop. For its strong peppery taste, raw young leaves are often used in meat broths and salads. Cooked matured leaves are added in sauces. Apart from culinary uses, this African Herb has numerous medicinal benefits. It is used to combat mild to severe eye infections, stomach and kidney ailments. It is an excellent stomachic stimulant, diuretic and antiscorbutic. The leaves are often applied as a rubefacient on the skin. In the Mediterranean region, Garden rocket has been always considered as a potent aphrodisiac. African garden rocket oil is used to sooth burn injuries.
  • Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus) is a popular perennial African Herb which belongs to the family Asteraceae (wormwood). It has anise-like aroma. Tarragon is the main ingredient in the well-known French-African creole (prevalent in North Africa) sauce called as "remoulade". If chewed, Tarragon leaves have a numbing affect on the tongue and oral cavity. In southern Africa, Tarragon extract is used to treat feverish illnesses, improve digestive, eliminate intestinal roundworms in children, and cure menstrual illnesses. Leaf paste is externally used for burns and inflamed skin.
  • African Blue Basil (Ocimum basilicum X O. kilimandscharicum) is characterized by bright green leaves with purple veinings on soft leaves that range in shape from long and thin to tall and rotund. African Blue Basil has a sharp sweet peppery flavor with traces of clove and mint. It is one of the extensively used South African herbs. It is used to season aromatic curries prepared with chives, cinnamon sticks, parsley, cardamom, coriander and dill. Small quantity of Basil complements tomato-based dishes like stews, soups, roasts, and cooked vegetables. This potent African Herb is used to boost immunity in cancer patients. Basil also decreases the risk of platelet aggregation in the blood. It is beneficial in reducing tension headaches, calm frayed nerves, and combat asthma, indigestion, stress, and diabetes.
  • Alligator pepper (Aframomum exscapum) are the seeds of the perennial African herb commonly used in North African. It belongs to the Zingiberaceae (ginger) family, native to the West African coast. It imparts heat, pungency, and spicy aroma to traditional West African stews. In West Africa, Alligator pepper is an expensive herb and used sparingly.
  • Calabash nutmeg (Monodora myristica) is a tropical plant belonging to the custard apple family (Annonaceae). Calabash nutmeg is widely used as an inexpensive nutmeg substitute. Ground calabash nutmeg is added to soups, stews, cakes and desserts. For medicinal purposes, Calabash nutmeg is used as stomachic, stimulant, and insect repellent. 
  • Njangsa (Ricinodendron heudelotii) are commonly found in tropical West Africa. The red-brown, aromatic seeds are sun-dried and used in West African soups or stews as a thickener, and flavoring agent. However, the oily seeds have mild bitter aftertaste. Njangsa is the key ingredient of Mbongo Tchòbi, a classic recipe of the Bassa people living in Cameroon. R. heudelotii is often crumbled into rice recipes as a flavoring.
  • Baobab (Adansonia digitata) is a versatile tree commonly found on the African continent. Young leaves are eaten as a substitute of spinach. Dried leaves are either made into a fine powder or as a coarser powder (tisane). Cooked or raw leaves are commonly eaten as salad green in Zimbabwe, Malawi, and the Sahel. In Nigeria, Baobab leaves are called as "kuka", and used to make the classic kuka soup. The dry pulp of the fruit, after separation from the seeds and fibers, is eaten directly or added into milk or porridge.



Which African Herbs are used for medicinal purposes?

Since, Africa is regarded as the “cradle of mankind”, African medicine has been widely accepted as the oldest form of traditional medicine system known to humans. For centuries, traditional African healers have used age-old materia medica to treat illnesses, promote good health, and communicate with the healing spirits. Ancient indigenous healers possessed encyclopedic knowledge of medicinal barks, flowers, leaves, and roots which they passed down the generations by word of mouth. Over the centuries, a wide variety of these African herbs have been added in the Western pharmacopoeia and are now undergoing extensive clinical examinations for integration into mainstream medical systems.


  • Yohimbe or Pausinystalia Yohimbe is an evergreen African herb native to Western Africa. It is commonly seen in Gabon, Zaire, and Cameroon. Yohimbe constitute an active alkaloid called yohimbine, which is used to increase sexual libido and treat erectile dysfunction (ED). Additionally, Yohimbe herb is recommended for sexual problems caused by depression in both men and women. It increases the blood flow and nerve impulses associated with the penis or vagina. The potent chemicals also improve athletic performance, aid in weight loss, reduce chest pain, combat hyper-tension, cure diabetic nerve pain, and eradicate depression. For improving sexual performance, an individual can consume 15-30 mg daily. A maximum dosage of 100 mg of Yohimbe can be taken daily. Children, pregnant and breastfeeding women must avoid this African herb.
  • Pygeum or Prunus Africana is one of the most popular medicinal African herbs, native to the Islands of Sao Tome, Fernando Po, Madagascar, and Grande Comore. The bark of this evergreen tree has been used in Europe since the 1970s to combat benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). It is useful in treating symptoms associated with prostate cancer. The phytosterols present in Pygeum inhibit synthesis of prostaglandin, thereby reducing prostate inflammation. The triterpenes present in Pygeum has anti-inflammatory properties; the ferulic acid esters are responsible for decreasing cholesterol in the prostate and also limit androgen synthesis. All these synergic actions help to improve the symptoms of enlarged prostate accompanied by less urine flow especially during nighttime. An individual suffering from benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) can take 75-200 mg of pygeum per day.
  • Devil's Claw (Harpagophytum Procumbens) is a flowering shrub native to Southwest Africa. This healing Africa herb gets the name from its fruit covered with hooks meant to attach onto animals for seed dispersal. The roots and tubers of the Devil's Claw plant are used for therapeutic causes. Key chemical constituents of Devil's Claw are plant sterols, iridoid glycosides, doloteffin, ardeypharm, trans-cinnamoyl harpagide, trans-coumaroyl harpagide, and procumbide. Devil's Claw is said to have sedative, analgesic, and diuretic properties. This potent African herb is mostly used for chronic diseases, rather than acute illnesses. It has been officially included in the European Pharmacopoeia. Devil's Claw is used in several anti-arthritic OTC preparations and dietary supplements. Regular consumption prevents back pain, atherosclerosis, chest pain, gout, arthritis, myalgia, tendonitis, heart burn, gastrointestinal upset, migraine headache and fever. It is used to ease childbirth and menstrual flow. Some people use Devil's Claw to regain lost appetite and cure kidney and gall bladder disease. Osteoarthritis patients can take 2.6 grams daily. For back pain, 50-100 mg can be safely consumed daily.




Which is the most sacred African Herb?

Sweet Grass (Weengush) is a well-known sacred herb widely used by African people. During spiritual ceremonies, shamans burn these sweet smelling braids as incense for purification, cleansing, & healing of the body, mind and spirit. It is assumed that this African herb brings positive energies and eliminates negative forces. Sweetgrass is also made into medicinal tea. 




What are the popular herbal tonics prevalent in Africa?

  • Kinkiliba is an herbal concoction (tea) served throughout West Africa. Many West Africans begin their day with a cup of this powerful tea that boosts general well-being and health. Kinkiliba is recommended for treating colds, fevers, flues, and pains.
  • Kerejupon is another popular favored tonic made from the leaves of the Akerejupon plant. It is consumed to control high blood pressure. This herbal concoction is said to have aphrodisiac properties. It is prescribed to reduce menstrual swelling in breasts, cough and malarial fever.




Which are the most potent African Herbs used as sedatives?

  • Kanna (Sceletium Tortuosum) is one of the most popular mood-enhancing and anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) African herbs. It belongs to the Mesembryanthemaceae family. Sceletium contains several types of alkaloids including mesembrenol, mesembrine, and tortuosamine. These potent alkaloids affect the brain’s dopamine and serotonin receptors and induce sedation. Sceletium is found to be very effective in treating chronic anxiety and depression.
  • Wild Yam (Dioscorea villosa) is a potent sedative. African natual healers use it to cure panic attacks, epilepsy, and fear psychosis. Mild dosage is recommended as a sleep inducer and analgesic. For ages, Wild Yam has been used as general anesthetic to fix broken limbs.
  • African dream root (Silene capensis) is native to the Eastern Cape region of South Africa. It is indigenously known as “Undela Ziimhlophe” meaning “white ways." This flowering species has been regarded by Xhosa shamans as a “sacred herb”. Being rich in triterpenoid saponins, this herb has the capacity to induce vivid and prophetic dreams. Dosage less than 250 mg can actively alter waking consciousness.
  • African dream herb (Entada rheedii) is a perennial vine which thrives well in the east and southern African coastline. It is well-known for its huge seed pods. The inner pulp of the seeds is consumed raw or dried, chopped or smoked to stimulate vivid dreaming. Many Africans prefer wearing these large seeds as lucky talismans. 


Other culinary herbs, click below:

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The many health benefits of Sage

The diabetic savior, Curry leaf


Please leave us a comment, if you have used any of the above African herbs.


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