Apart from her historical heritage, extraordinary scenic beauty, and rich cultural diversity, Ghana is also home to some of the best range of dishes served in either international restaurants or street stalls. The country's delicacies are simple yet flavourful. Several spices in Ghana contribute to these sumptuous meals adding outstanding health benefits.
Part of the secret behind Ghana's delicious meals is their spices. Virtually every home in the country has a range of spices, including chili pepper, thyme, ginger cayenne, and bay leaf, which are used as seasonings. While some are stored by smoking, some others are through drying, freezing, salting, and roasting.
The health benefits of these spices are part of what makes them essential ingredients in every meal. For instance, African bird pepper makes your chicken cuisine hot and helps lower blood pressure. This is why knowledge of different spices in the country and their uses can impact how you prepare your meals, no doubt.
List of local spices in Ghana
The list does not include processed spices like Maggie cubes and Onga, which are common to many Ghanaians. Most local names of spices come from prominent languages such as Twi, Ga, and Fante. So, efforts have been made to mention some herbs and their Twi names. Check out the list of Ghana's common herbs and spices below:
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Cloves are known as Dadoa Amba or Pepre in Twi, or Mbrego Amba in Fante. They add a burst of flavour to foods while aiding digestion. Cloves have several health benefits, including:
- Protection of the liver;
- Prevention of mutation;
- Enhancement of the immune system;
- Improvement of oral health, and
- Curing of respiratory infections, headaches, and relieving stress
2. Anise seeds
Known as Osu kon in Ga and Nkitinkiti in Twi, consumption of anise seeds helps improve digestion, reduce nausea, and alleviate cramps. The seeds contain thymol, terpineol, and anethole, which are good at relieving coughs. They can also relieve bloating, constipation, and stomach gas when taken in tea after meals.
Basil is known as Akuko Besa in Twi. The herb is an antidepressant that is also used for stress reduction, depression, and anxiety. It helps to maintain good health and general well-being of a person. Basil is commonly used in tea and may be added to soups or vegetables.
4. Negro pepper
Negro pepper is called Hwentia or Ahentia in Twi and Soh in Ga. It also goes by the names Senegal pepper, Ethiopian pepper, and Moor pepper. The spice has medicinal uses due to its microbial properties. When used sparingly, it gives a nutmeg-like taste and a bitter taste when taken in excess. The spice is best used in soups, stews, and in cornmeal porridge.
5. West African black pepper
The spice is known as Esoro Wisa in Twi and Wie Din in Ga. Interestingly, the pepper's leaves can be eaten. In terms of hotness, the pepper is not as hot as other peppers like the African bird pepper. When used in minimal quantities, it has a clove-like flavour in soups, stews, and cornmeal porridge. Also, it increases appetite while reducing constipation and indigestion in the body.
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6. African bird pepper
African bird pepper or chilli is scientifically known as Akweley Waabiin in Ga and Misewain in Twi. It can also be called Piri-piri, Malagueta pepper, or African Devil. The taste of this chilli is very hot and is suitable for spicy foods.
Medicinally, African black pepper is used for enemas. It reduces blood pressure, helps in the digestion of foods by stimulating peristalsis, breaks up phlegm, and eases stomach upsets.
7. Guinea pepper
Also called Grains of Paradise, alligator pepper, and Melegueta pepper, guinea pepper is known as Efom Wisain or Efom Wisa in Twi, Wire Tsuruin in Ga, and Essa in Nzema. The spice has a characteristic pungent flavour, and medicinally, it is used for its anti-microbial and aphrodisiac properties.
8. African nutmeg
African nutmeg or Calabash nutmeg is known as Wedie Abain and Awerewain in Twi. It can reverse liver toxicity induced by high cholesterol diets and exerts a hypercholesterolaemic effect.
9. Turkey berry
Turkey berry is known as Abeduruin or Kwahu Nsosuain in Twi. It is also known as wild eggplant or prickly nightshade. Its other local names are Kwanwu nsosuaa, Kantɔsi, and Abeduru. The leaves of turkey berry are rich in iron and vitamin C, making it suitable for pregnant women.
10. African locust bean
African locust bean is known as Dawadawa in Twi. The spice contains the minerals riboflavin and thiamine. Also, it helps to promote good sight and rids off hypertension and disease conditions like stroke and diabetes.
When burnt in a coal pot like incense, it gives off a sweet aroma. Some say that Aridan is a symbol of power, while others claim that it increases the quality of baby milk in lactating mothers. It also increases their blood flow and eliminates blood clots. At the same time, it possesses anti-inflammatory properties.
Dried or smoked fish such as prawns or crayfish are ground into a powder and used as a seasoning in spinach stew. The result is commonly known as Nkontomire, or a beans stew locally known as Aboboi.
Potash, otherwise called Potassium Carbonate (K2CO3), is locally known as Kanwu or Kaawe. Besides its chemical use in industries, it is used in preparing Waakye, which is a mush of rice with beans. The local spice is also a salt substitute and serves as a food thickener and tenderizer. You may also use food-grade quality potash to increase the pH of wine.
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14. Waakye leaves
Waakye is the local name for sun-dried leaves or stalks of red sorghum. When added to food, it adds a red colouring that is appealing to the eye.
15. Unripe pawpaw
Unripe pawpaw is diced and added to meat to tenderize it. The enzyme papain is responsible for this. You may also marinate the meat with the pulp before cooking.
The spice has a strong flavour and brings warmth to dishes, along with a hint of subtle sweetness. Whether it is used fresh, dried or as an oil, it has significant health benefits. It helps to fight bacteria, reduce inflammation, and is as well rich in antioxidants, which are compounds that help fight damage from harmful free radicals in the body.
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Herbs in Ghana
Ghana is also endowed with herbs, some of which grow naturally while others can be purchased from local dealers.
1. Ashwagandha [Roots, leaves, seeds]
Its common names are Indian ginseng, Winter cherry, and Ajagandha. It is commonly used as a stress reliever as well as for boosting the immune system.
The seeds possess a diuretic effect, while the leaves have sedative, anti-inflammatory, and analgesic properties. Then, the roots are known for their anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, sedative, immune boosting, and analgesic properties.
2. Aloe vera
Commonly called Aloe, Barbados, and Cape, the leaves of aloe vera contain a gel used in making many skincare products. When applied on the skin, it acts as a moisturizer and can treat sunburns, minor burns, cuts, poison ivy, and scrapes. It also helps to eliminate acne on the skin.
Also called Buffalo grass, Lucerne, or Chilean clover, alfalfa’s stem, leaves, and sprouts are rich in vitamins, minerals, and proteins. The herb is suitable for treating arthritis and digestive problems. It can be used as a diuretic and can reduce high cholesterol. It also has a high concentration of beta-carotene, which builds the immune system. The herb's chlorophyll is suitable for people with body odour and bad breath.
Caution: Alfalfa is rich in vitamin K, which is an anti-coagulant making it bad for people taking blood-thinning medications. Alfalfa seeds should never be eaten as they contain a high level of canavanine, which is a toxic amino acid. Also, the seeds contain stachydrine and homostachydrine that promote menstruation and cause miscarriage, making it unsuitable for pregnant and lactating mothers.
4. Amla (fruit)
The Amla fruit is rich in vitamins (especially vitamin C), minerals and antioxidants, and it is suitable for people with joint pains, fevers, blood sugar level issues, and urinary tract infections. Its high fibre content helps in preventing constipation.
5. Arnica (flowers)
Arnica flowers are also commonly called Mountain Arnica, Leopard’s bane, and mountain daisy. When crushed and applied externally, they can relieve bruises, sore muscles, and sprains. Then, the herb possesses antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, and analgesic properties, although using it for long-term can cause skin irritation. Ingesting it into the body can also be dangerous.
Bacopa is used as a brain tonic to boost both long-term and short-term memories. The herb is an effective anti-inflammatory and can be used for treating depression, asthma, bronchitis, and allergies. It is also called Water Hyssop, Coastal Water Hyssop and Brahmi, by some people.
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7. Ghana bearberry (leaves)
Ghana bearberry is good for treating inflammation of the urinary tract and urinary tract infections. The herb has diuretic and antiseptic properties.
8. Ghana black cohosh (roots, rhizome)
The herb is a diuretic and a remedy for TB and fatigue. In the past, the herb was used to treat menstrual irregularities, rheumatism, and sore throat.
9. Boswellia (resin)
The herb is a remedy for diabetes, rheumatism, asthma, cardiovascular disorders, and fevers. It is also an effective anti-inflammatory and can be used to ease joint pains. However, an excessive intake of this herb may cause nausea and diarrhoea. Also, pregnant women are usually discouraged from using it.
10. Burdock (seeds, leaves, and roots)
Burdock is useful for treating wounds and external infections. The herb is loaded with beneficial vitamins and minerals, which are suitable for the treatment of liver and digestive problems, urinary tract infections, and ulcers.
Then, it can be used to boost energy and stamina. Its anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties can boost the immune system and purify the blood, in addition to treating external wounds. The only caution is that diabetes medication should not be taken together with it.
11. Cayenne pepper (fruit)
Also called red pepper, capsicum, and chilli pepper, cayenne is used to relieve pain and combat infections. It is also suitable for toothaches, arthritis and aids digestion.
The herb's anti-bacterial properties stimulate blood flow and are rich in minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants, which help maintain cardiovascular health. However, cayenne is a skin irritant and may cause discomfort.
Chicory is a blood cleanser, a diuretic, and a nerve tonic. It also helps deal with a loss of appetite and indigestion.
13. Cinnamon (bark)
Cinnamon aids digestion, and treats nausea, cold, and inflammations. The bark has essential oils that possess anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties.
14. Clubmoss (whole plant)
Clubmoss is used for treating fever, postpartum pain, general body weakness and also aids blood clotting. The herb can treat urinary and kidney disorders, diarrhoea, stomach upsets, and skin conditions. This plant contains huperzine, a substance that can treat memory loss and Alzheimer's disease effectively.
15. Ginseng (root)
Ginseng's root has adaptogenic properties that help a person to handle stress, mentally and physically, better. The herb is good for warding off fatigue, sharpening mental abilities, and energizing the body.
Ginseng is an immune system booster. It also has a warming effect which makes it proper for cold days. However, it is not suitable for high blood pressure patients, and prolonged usage causes irritability.
16. Schizandra berries (fruit)
Schizandra berries have adaptogenic properties that cause the body and mind to adapt better to stress. The berries are also an energizer and have skin benefits.
17. Turmeric (root)
Turmeric contains a chemical substance known as curcumin, which is a natural liver detoxifier. It also has the potential of preventing heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer's disease, and may also help improve symptoms of depression and arthritis.
Considering different spices in Ghana that have been discussed above, it is evident that the country is blessed with herbs and spices. An understanding of the medicinal properties of these spices, which can be effective remedies for common illnesses and infections, will also help in the careful selection of necessary spices when preparing foods. Whether for healing specific ailments or promotion of a healthy lifestyle, these species are essential.
In a related post published by YEN.com.gh, some of the spices discussed above are used in preparing Shito, a popular part of the Ghanaian cuisine made from fish and blended spices. All the ingredients and recipes are discussed in the post. If you are looking for a meal to try out, you will find the article interesting.