We add spices to our food to enhance flavour, taste and colour. Many common spices have wide applications in the world of culinary arts. Its fair to say that many people are only familiar with a few common spices. In Africa, we have even forgotten about most culinary condiments of our ancestors. Unless you know about African spices from a few local species, you may not know about their existence. West Africa is one of the best areas to find and consume spices native to African countries. Here are some of the West African spices and herbs you need to know.
West African spices and herbs list
Many herbs and spices originate from West African countries. In addition to their use as food condiments, most West African spices also have beneficial medicinal uses. To learn more about medicinal spices from Africa read:
- The most amazing medicinal spices from Africa
- 13. Most healthy African spices with amazing medicinal benefits
- Know the medicinal vegetables from Africa
1. Ashanti pepper/ West African black pepper (Piper guinense)
Ashanti pepper also goes by several names including Benin pepper, Uziza in Igbo, Iyere in Yoruba or false cubeb. Sometimes its called Guinea pepper, however, the name has conflicted usage since its also used on two other West African spices which are grains of Selim and grains of paradise.
Ashanti pepper is a herbaceous plant with elliptical leaves. It is widely distributed in West African regions.
Ashanti pepper vines are native to tropical regions of Central and West Africa. In other countries like Nigeria, people can semi-cultivate the spice. In Nigeria, they use the leaves of Ashanti pepper to flavour stews.
The dried berries have a reddish colour and they have a similar taste to cubeb pepper however they are much less bitter. In addition, the Ashanti pepper also has a fresher herbaceous flavour as compared to cubebs. The fruit or berry of the plant adds hotness, flavour and aroma to soups and food.
The Ashanti pepper also has several medicinal uses and health benefits. It can help enhance milk production in breastfeeding mothers. Ashanti pepper also has several applications in herbal treatments for cancer, diabetes and rheumatism. Some use it to treat seizures and convulsions. And it also helps in treating bronchitis, coughs and liver health.
2. Pepper elder (Peperomia pellucida), another of the common West African spices and herbs
It is also known as the shiny or silver bush. This West African spice grows as a bush in the Nigerian wilds. Pepper elder is a weed with small seeds that grow in most wild parts of the world. It is called RinRin or RenRen by the Yorubas of southwest Nigeria.
It has succulent leaves and stems which are used as a spice and food condiment. The spice is added to food for its ability to stimulate appetite and aid your digestion. Pepper elder is highly aromatic.
The spice also has medicinal uses. It is a herbal remedy for haemorrhaging in wounds, inflammation, oxidative stress and cell sickling. It can also help you manage your blood pressure and diabetes.
3. African Chili (Capsicum frutescens)
This West African spice is also known as red pepper or bird’s chilli. Its wildly cultivated throughout the African continent.
The fruit of the African chilli is smaller and more spicy and pungent than the common chilli (Capsicum annum). The fruit is green when unripe but it turns red-orange when ripe. The seeds are yellow.
The African chilli adds hotness and heat to soups, therefore it is a popular food condiment. If you are a hot food lover then this West African spice is for you. You can consume the red chilli fresh, as a paste, dried powder or chopped pepper.
This spice is not only one of the hottest West African spices and herbs, but it is also a medicinal spice. It can help you fight inflammation, inflammatory diseases, oxidative stress and cancers. It can also help as a herbal spice for the management of blood pressure, diabetes and lowering blood lipids. Some use it as a herbal pain killer.
4. African locust beans (Parkia biglobosa)
African locust beans are leguminous plants. They are known by several names in Nigeria. In Yoruba, its known as “iru”, its “ogiri” in Igbo and its “dadawa” in Hausa.
Fermented African locust beans have wide uses as food condiments and seasoning in local diets. Africa locust beans have a wide distribution in Africa. In Africa, this spice is cultivated as a food source, a medicinal herb, a source of income and a seasoning for soups.
There are several medicinal uses for this West African spice. Eating African locust beans can help you improve your eyesight. It is also useful in wound healing, treating leprosy, diabetes management, lowering blood pressure and numbing pain.
5. African basil (Ocimum gratissimum): West African spices and herbs
African basil or scent leaf is a herbaceous plant commonly found in the savanna and tropical rain forests of West Africa. It is one healthful West African herb.
In Nigeria, they know African basil as “efinrin” in Yoruba, ” nchanwu or nehonwu” in Igbo and as “daidoya” in Hausa.
The minty and aromatic flavour of African basil makes it useful as a food condiment.
African basil is also one of the highly medicinal West African spices and herbs.
African basil also aids in diabetes management, liver protection, fighting inflammation and oxidative stress and in stimulating the immune system.
6. African nutmeg/ calabash nutmeg (Monodora myristica)
This West African spice is a flowering plant that grows in the wild in most African countries. African nutmeg is one of the most powerful West African spices and herbs that I know. In Nigeria, they know calabash nutmeg as “ariwo or abo Lakoshe” in Yoruba and “ehiri, ehuru, ehu seeds, uhuru” in Igbo.
Calabash nutmeg seeds have a highly aromatic flavour, which makes them an excellent spice. In addition, calabash nutmeg has powerful medicinal properties.
Calabash nutmeg is helpful in the management of inflammation and inflammatory diseases such as arthritis. It also helps you in fighting oxidative stress, cancer, lowering high blood pressure and managing diabetes.
Also read: Calabash nutmeg benefits for the best health
7. Alligator pepper (Afromomum melegueta): another West African spice and herb
Alligator pepper has many names including, Mbongo spice or Hepper pepper or Guinea pepper or Grains of paradise. In Nigeria they know alligator pepper as “atare” in Yoruba, “chitta” in Hausa and “Ose-oje” in Igbo. In Ghana, they call it “efom wisa”.
This plant belongs to the ginger family. It is a herbaceous perennial plant that grows in the swampy parts of Central and West Africa. It is one of the most common West African spices and herbs.
The fruit of alligator pepper contains several small and strongly aromatic seeds with a pungent odour. The seed is used commonly in preparing a special West African dish called pepper soup due to its flavour. It is also a special spice for cooking meats, soups and sources.
Alligator pepper is one of the medicinal spices from West Africa. It is useful in herbal remedies for tumours, ulcers and diabetes. The spices also enhance sexual activity. It helps in fighting inflammation and oxidative stress.
8. Ethiopian pepper/ Selim pepper (Xylopia aethiopica)
Mostly distributed in almost all parts of Central and West Africa. It goes by several names including Guinea pepper or Grains of Selim. In Nigeria, it is called “uda” in Igbo. Selim pepper has wide culinary applications due to its aromatic flavour.
Selim pepper also has powerful medicinal uses. It enhances fertility in women. Selim pepper also helps fight helminths and bacterial infections. The spice is an excellent herbal remedy to deal with inflammation and oxidative stress. You can also use it to manage diabetes and blood pressure.
9. Pepper fruit (Dennetha tripetala), a West African spice
Pepper fruit is the last of the West African spices and herbs I will discuss in this article. It is commonly used as a spice in Nigeria due to its distinctive spicy taste. It is also one of the most nutritiously rich West African spices. This is because it is rich in antioxidant vitamins, which include vitamins A, E and C.
Pepper fruits also have several medicinal uses. It helps manage diabetes, inflammation and cancers like glaucoma and prostate. This spice can also help you in fighting inflammation and oxidative stress.
Conclusion on West African spices and herbs
These are not the only healthful West African spices and herbs but they are some of the most common. If you love wild healthful spices, then this list can serve you well. These spices are more than food condiments, they are healthy food!