Ghana's Indigenous Plants, Spices & Herbs
The West African country of Ghana is home to a broad range of native plant species, many of which are used medicinally or as edibles with varied applications. A few species, such as the cola, have received worldwide attention for their use in globally distributed foodstuffs. Others, such as the melegueta pepper, have been traded historically, but are principally used within the Republic of Ghana and nearby countries.
The melegueta pepper (Aframomum melegueta) is known in other parts of the world as grains of paradise, guinea pepper and alligator pepper. It typically has a central shoot measuring no more than 4 feet high, with long, sheathed leaves spanning up to 6.5 feet in length. The melegueta pepper produces showy pink flowers that are trumpet shaped. Like black pepper, this herbaceous plant produces aromatic, spicy fruit that is used in Ghanaian cooking. The fruit is red with white pulp inside. A single fruit may contain more than 1000 seeds. In North Africa, melegueta pepper, along with butter, honey and almonds, is commonly used in after-dinner coffee. It also flavors brandy, beer, meats, sauces and soups. The melegueta's leaves are used locally as an herbal medicine to treat measles and leprosy, and nursing mothers take the root to control lactation.
The neem tree (Azadirachta indica), also known as the Indian lilac or margosa tree, is one of Ghana's more useful native plants. Well-known for the insect-repellent properties of its oil, the neem tree is widespread in Ghana, where it grows to heights of up to 66 feet. It has a very straight stem and dark gray bark. The tree produces white, slightly fragrant flowers. Neem lumber is useful for building furniture, tools and other wooden goods. The bark, leaves and fruit of the tree are used as medicinal herbs for a range of ailments, from syphilis to leprosy to rheumatism.
According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the cola plant is one of the foremost edibles grown in Ghana. Native to western Africa, the cola plant is related to the cacao, which is used to make chocolate. In Ghana, both Cola nitidia and Cola acuminata flourish; the former is frequently traded, whereas the latter is typically cultivated for personal consumption. The nuts of the tree, popular around the world for flavoring cola beverages, contain high levels of caffeine and are commonly chewed as a stimulant by locals.
Mondia, also known as White's ginger (Apocynaceae), is native to Ghana, where its climbing form is notable for large, heart-shaped leaves and clusters of yellow and purplish-red flowers. Mondia figures largely in local herbal medicine; its roots and sap are reputed to stimulate appetite, relieve digestion problems and alleviate various gastrointestinal disorders. In addition, the bark of the root is believed to serve as an aphrodisiac and to increase sperm production.