By Elie Calhoun
We rely on African herbs and plant medicine to sooth all kinds of day-to-day aches and pains. (Please note, though, that we’re not doctors and that African Epicure in no way substitutes for professional medical advice.)
Stomach aches. Low-grade fevers. Head aches. Weariness. Period cramps. Nausea. You name it.
Our traditions and family knowledge teach us to use plant medicine the way our grandmothers and their grandmothers did: simply. Now, science and nutritional studies bear out what we always suspected was true. Plants with their own unique intelligences and all kinds of uses grow in our ecosystem.
It is a privilege to help you discover new ones that you might not know already.
African Epicure is a community effort, so please email us (firstname.lastname@example.org) to tell us about your family’s plants and herbal remedies. With your permission, we would like to publish them and share them with the whole world on the Internet.
African ecosystems are among the richest and most well conserved in the world. Our traditions tie us to the land and to her seasons, just as our health is tied to the Earth.
Here are just 5 of what we consider the “top healing plants and herbal remedies” from West Africa. It’s laughable to even try to make a list like this, as to do any justice to the region it would be hundreds and hundreds of plants long. Please forgive all the knowledge that we have missed, and do enlighten us with an email.
It should be obvious, but we are not doctors and nothing on this site or anything African Epicure should be construed as medical advice or should substitute for the wise guidance of your chosen health care practitioner.
5 Top West African Healing Plants and Herbal Remedies
Aloe vera enjoys the dry, rugged environments around the belt of the Sahel and on the coastline, where aloe grows wild in many places. The clear, sticky sap from the succulent’s leaves applied directly on the skin makes a healing salve for a cut or sunburn. Aloe feels cool to the skin but is rather drying, so counter its topical use with some natural moisturizer.
Aloe very is extremely bitter, but some people take small amounts internally as a tonic, sweetening the sap in sugar water before they drink it. We’ve heard that this can be quite strong and potentially harmful, so although we love ourselves some aloe vera, we recommend that you use it on the outside only.
Neem trees originally come from India. Trade routes and colonizers brought them in, planting them along city avenues and public gardens. In many African capitals, old neem trees still grace some downtown streets. The fresh leaves are extremely useful to ward of mosquitoes. In West Africa, people burn them around and outside houses. In East Africa, some communities boil up young leaves to make a very bitter tea, drunk weekly, said to keep away tropical fevers.
Neem leaves are very healing to the hair and skin and, dried and powdered, can help with a wide variety of fungal and other tropical skin conditions. Neem oil can be used for similar ailments. It is very antibacterial, so neem soap is also good for the household!
3. Kenkiliba (also “kenkeliba”)
The leaves of the kenkiliba bush are known through Mali, Senegal, The Gambia, and Burkina Faso as a strong tonic for well-being and longevity. Kenkiliba tea is taken regularly to improve digestion and elimination.
4. Baobab Oil
The nourishing oil from baobab seeds makes a rich, golden oil that is a rejuvenation and restorative facial serum. Baobab oil helps maintain collagen levels in the skin, which means less fine lines through this 100% natural beauty treatment. Baobab oil can be mixed into cocoa butter and shea butter, along with your favorite essential oils, to make a luxurious body butter that is lovely for massages or after showers. This is another luxurious gift from the mighty baobab trees!
Once established, this long grass makes a sturdy ground cover and self-propagates as it grows. The green leaves, boiled and drank hot, are a warming purgative for fevers, general weakness and stomach aches. Lemongrass, also called citronella, is grown in many home gardens and is known as a general tonic for vitality and longevity.
Lemongrass is often made into tea but an also be used in the bath, in soups, curries and desserts, and as an essential oil mixed into your homemade natural body care products. The citronella java variety is an effective natural mosquito repellent, but only when that variety!
You probably knew many of these plants were good for you, but now we hope you feel inspired to include one or many in your lifestyle and your daily routine. They are strong plants, so be sure to pay close attention to how you feel and to start with small portions.
To enjoy the beauty of these healing trees and plants, nurture them in your garden, especially the ones that flower, for the bees. We honor our traditions and the Earth when we make choices that bring us closer to the natural healing that is found in nature.
Elie Calhoun is a writer, chef and social entrepreneur. She lives in West Africa.