/ 19 September 2016

Indigenous African foods: five forgotten super-foods

Indigenous African

Throughout history, Africans have depended on super foods for sustenance and folk medicine for offsetting a multitude of ailments. Now, modern science is corroborating what has been known in traditional African medicine for ages about several medicinal properties of indigenous African foods. The following examples illustrate different ways indigenous African foods are beneficial for health.


Baobab is known scientifically as adansonia digitata while local names include kremetartboom, isimuku, umshimulu, isimuhu, ximuwu, mowana, and muvhuyu. Baobab leaves, fruit pulp, and seeds are edible. The fruit pulp is a rich source of hydrating electrolytes such as potassium and calcium and it is used for treating dehydration due to diarrhea and other causes. An oral rehydration solution is made by simply dissolving baobab fruit powder in plain water.

Packed with vitamin C and multiple antioxidants, baobab is simply age-defying. Vitamin C is essential for production and maintenance of collagen which gives skin a youthful appearance and minimizes visible signs of aging like wrinkles. What’s more, the antioxidant activities of vitamin C and other nutrients protect body cells from damage that results in premature aging.

Baobab is a potent anti-cancer food as well. Again, antioxidant nutrients including vitamin C are involved. They search for and neutralize harmful radicals that participate in the formation and progression of cancer. Baobab also supplies omega-3 fats, which are highly concentrated in the seeds. Different scientific studies show that eating foods rich in omega-3 fats is vital for maintaining cognitive vitality. Cognitive function refers to mental tasks required for processing information and problem solving. Such skills include memory, learning ability and language skills.

Other benefits associated with eating baobab are healthy blood pressure, controlled blood sugar, optimum heart health, and reduced risk of stroke. Baobab is also reported to be liver-friendly, capable of preventing and repairing damage to the organ.

Baobab leaves are rather hard to come by but the fruit can be found at markets and health food stores. With a demonstrably long shelf life, baobab is enjoyed even when it is not in season and in places far from where it grows. Some estimates put shelf life of baobab fruit at four years. Baobab fruit pulp may be eaten as-is or dissolved in water or milk. The seeds are eaten raw or roasted. They may also be ground into a paste for thickening stew.


Figs have versatile health benefits. Traditionally, they have been used for treating sexual dysfunction and sexually transmitted diseases. Figs are also good for regulating blood pressure due to the presence of potassium, fiber, and other important nutrients. Potassium manages blood pressure by maintaining proper balance of body fluids. Another advantage that comes with fiber relates to digestive health. Being fiber-laden, figs keep the digestive system healthy by easing constipation, relieving bloating, preventing piles, and minimizing the risk of colon cancer. Besides, figs are instrumental for balancing cholesterol, maintaining healthy bones, and supporting healthy vision.

Fig leaf tea has powerful anti-inflammatory features and this works perfectly for offsetting bronchitis and arthritis. Additionally, fig leaves are said to possess extraordinary anti-diabetic properties that result in massive health improvements in people battling diabetes. Furthermore, fig leaves fight off cancer and minimize harmful blood fats known as triglycerides. Eating figs and drinking fig leaf tea also keep nerves calm, an effect that makes figs suitable for promoting proper sleep as well as warding off stress and anxiety.

Figs are eaten fresh or dried. Since they are naturally sweet, figs present a healthy option for sweetening oats; simply chop up some figs and add to cooked oats. And there is more to fig leaves than healthy tea; they can be eaten and vegetables and also serve as wrap for grilling or steaming food, especially seafood.


Sorghum is another wonder food and making it part of your diet comes with great benefits. The fiber and antioxidants in sorghum are helpful for fighting different types of cancer. When it comes to colon cancer, fiber acts by suppressing colon polyps, which are abnormal growths on the inside of the colon. These growths may turn cancerous if not challenged. Compounds in sorghum also block multiplication of colon cancer cells.

Moreover, sorghum is a rich source of magnesium which plays an integral role in maintaining a strong skeletal system, regulating blood pressure, preventing stroke, and combating diabetes. Additionally, magnesium relaxes nerves, an effect that promotes proper sleep, eases stress, and reduces anxiety.

Sorghum can only maintain all these health properties when eaten as a whole grain in its whole or unprocessed form, the way it comes naturally. This means that the sorghum grain ought to retain the edible outer layer or bran which is rich in fiber, antioxidants, and several other nutrients.

Bambara nuts

Bambara nuts are a type of legume and they appear frequently in traditional African dishes. Local names for bambara nuts include jugo beans, ditloo marapo, indlubu, hlanga, njugo, nduhu, phonda, and tindhluwa. Bambara nuts are particularly rich in quality protein and they are also packed with B vitamins, which are essential for maintaining overall health. B vitamins lower blood levels of homocysteine, a hormone associated with different conditions including stroke, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, thyroid disorders, and a generally impaired immune system. dditionally, B vitamins play a key role in helping the body cope with stress.

Bambara nuts have a healthy dose of fiber as well and this feature is a key reason bambara nuts are good for maintaining bowel regularity. Also present is calcium, making bambara nuts well-suited for keeping the skeletal system strong and preventing bone-related conditions such as osteoporosis.

Bambara nuts, which are eaten fresh or dried, are sold at African markets and in a number of grocery stores. Fresh bambara nuts are boiled or roasted and eaten as a snack while dried nuts are typically boiled together with a grain food like dried maize. From a nutritional perspective, combining dried bambara nuts with a grain food creates a meal with complete protein. Even though bambara nuts are rich in protein, they are deficient in certain building blocks of protein, or amino acids, which are required by the human body. Grain foods happen to be rich in those same amino acids bambara nuts lack. However, grains are also deficient in amino acids abundantly present in bambara nuts. This amazing pairing of foods also shows just how nutritionally balanced typical African dishes are.

Black jack

The black jack plant, which grows as a weed, is scientifically referred to as bidens pilosa. In Malawi, blackjack goes by muxiji and gewone knapseherel. Traditionally, black jack has been used for alleviating several health conditions including sexually transmitted diseases, malaria, and urinary tract infections.

Blackjack is also known for its immense anti-cancer powers. Fiber, antioxidants, plant compounds known as sterols, and different nutrients in blackjack combat cancer at all stages starting from preventing the disease to impeding cancer growth or killing cancer cells. Different studies have also linked blackjack to a dramatically reduced risk of heart disease, cholesterol abnormalities, diabetes, high blood pressure, and many other ailments.

Black jack leaves are prepared and eaten like any other leafy green vegetables. It is important to note that blackjack contains beta-carotene and vitamin E, which are fat-soluble nutrients. In order for these nutrients to be properly absorbed, healthy oil must be added. Alternatively, an oil-containing healthy food like peanuts or avocado may be eaten along with the vegetable. Another way to enjoy the benefits of this great plant is to drink herbal tea made from fresh or dried leaves or flowers. When in season, blackjack is sold at different markets.


Even though indigenous African foods in an urbanised world are now starting to look like a thing of the past, these foods are still as beneficial to health as they have always been. And a key advantage with wild foods is that they are completely devoid of genetic modification, chemical fertilisers and pesticides most conventionally grown foods are exposed to.

Disclaimer: This information is provided for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended to substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment