Health benefits and uses of natural spices in Ghana – GIJ student uncovers 

A level 300 student of the Ghana Institute of Journalism reading Communication Studies and majoring in Journalism Magdalene Ekua Ampofoah Arkoh has outlined some key Health benefits and uses of natural spices in Ghana.

The young advocate for SRHR and a volunteer with the Youth Action Movement; youth wing of the Planned Parenthood Association of Ghana – Accra who is determined to be among the top notched Public Relations practitioners in Ghana delved deeper into some plant spices in Ghana, outlined their health benefits, uses and proposed how the spices should be effectively used. Her findings also cover test results, functionality of herbs, medicinal uses among many.

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Read below her rich and detailed article as copied to Coverghana.com.gh from deck. 

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Lead Spices are natural plants or vegetable mixtures such as seeds, leaves, barks, flowers, buds or roots that are used either whole, crushed or in powdered form mainly for seasoning, boosting, flavoring or adding aroma to the taste of food.

From time immemorial, human beings rely immensely on spices as the key ingredient for preparing and processing food all over the world. Plants used as spices normally have strong pungent and aromatic smells that make dishes very delicious.

Natural spices are rich sources of powerful antioxidants. Natural spices have been used for flavour, colour and aroma for more than 2000 years. They have also been used for preservation of foods and beverages primarily due to their phytochemicals. The antioxidants in natural spices are very effective because they possess excellent antioxidant activity.

According to Mrs. Helena Adams Gyamerah, Executive Manager of Enolena Group of Companies and a dietician says, spices are God’s creation for use which are incredibly important to improve our health and to also add a great taste and aroma to our foods. Some shapes of fruits or vegetables tells you the part of the body/ organs it works effectively on. Some examples are ; ginger, which has the shape of the intestine works on the intestines, avocado which has the shape of the womb works on the womb and improves fertility, beans which has the shape of the kidney works effectively on the kidney and so on. Spices are to be taken in the right proportion as too much intake of spices is bad.

Below are some of the natural spices in Ghana, its uses and health benefits;
Cloves, locally called ‘Dadoa Amba’ or ‘Pepre’ in Twi or ‘Mbrego Amba’ in Fante. The combination of anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties spells heaps of health benefits, from boosting protection from heart disease to helping stave off cancer, as well as slowing the cartilage and bone damage caused by arthritis.

Compounds in cloves, like those found in cinnamon, also appear to improve insulin function. Have a toothache? Put a couple of whole cloves in your mouth. Let them soften a bit, then bite on them gently with good molars to release their oil. Then move them next to the painful tooth and keep them there for up to half an hour. Clove oil has a numbing effect in addition to bacteria-fighting powers.

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In test tubes, cloves also kills certain bacteria that were resistant to antibiotics. It adds a burst of flavor to foods and helps in the body’s digestion. It also protects the liver, boost the immune system, cures respiratory infections, relieves headache and stress and heals wounds. It also fights against cancer, bacteria infection and cures stomach ulcer. It can also be used for the treatment of bad odour; extracted clove oil and warm water should be gargled in the morning and evening for the treatment. The seeds can also be soaked overnight for the treatment of bad odour. It removes dirty skin cells which directly or indirectly ensures a youthful body skin. Manufacturers use cloves in the production of cosmetic products such as soaps.

Anise Seeds, locally called ‘Nkitinkiti’ in Twi or ‘Osu Kan’ in Ga. Anise is used for upset stomach, intestinal gas, “runny nose,” and as an expectorant to increase productive cough, as a diuretic to increase urine flow, and as an appetite stimulant. Women use anise to increase milk flow when nursing, start menstruation, treat menstrual discomfort or pain, ease childbirth, and increase sex drive.

Men and women use anise to treat symptoms of andropause and menopause. Other uses include treatment of seizures, nicotine dependence, trouble sleeping (insomnia), asthma, and constipation. Some people apply anise directly to the skin to treat lice, scabies, and psoriasis. In foods, anise is used as a flavoring agent. It has a sweet, aromatic taste that resembles the taste of black licorice. It is commonly used in alcohols and liqueurs, such as anisette and ouzo. Anise is also used in dairy products, gelatins, meats, candies, and breath fresheners.

In manufacturing, anise is often used as a fragrance in soap, creams, perfumes, and sachets. Normally used in stews and soups to give a sweet aroma. It helps improve digestion, reduces nausea and alleviates cramps. It can also be taken in tea after meals in which they relieve bloating, constipation and stomach gas. Anise is rich in iron, potassium, magnesium, manganese, zinc and calcium.

Basil Leaves, locally called ‘ Akuko Besa’ in Twi. The plants bear leaves that have a strong aroma that might remind you of mint and cloves. While the leaves’ fragrance is powerful, the taste is more subtle. Basil is rich, spicy and slightly peppery— a lovely culmination of flavors making it delightful to use fresh, dried or frozen. Basil is wonderfully versatile because the leaves can be eaten fresh or cooked. Fresh leaves add extra zing to salads and can double up as a garnish. It greatly enhances the taste of veal, chicken, fish or lamb. When used with mild vegetables such as cauliflower, potatoes, cabbage, squash, eggplant or zucchini, basil accentuates the taste factor. Soups, stews, sauces and marinades with basil add zip and zest; the two flavors complement one another where the sum is greater than the parts. Lemon basil is often used in chicken dishes and desserts. It is used in tea, soups, stews or as vegetables. It’s an antidepressant used to reduce stress, depression and anxiety. It is rich in vitamins A, C and K, manganese, calcium, magnesium and omega 3 fatty acids. It is used for the treatment of wounds,skin infections, improves digestion, supports the liver, detoxify the body and prevents headache.

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Negro Pepper, locally called ‘Hwentia’ in Twi or ‘Soh’ in Ga. It is used in stews, soups and cornmeal porridge. It gives a nutmeg – like taste when used less but has a bitter taste when used in excess. The pepper can be used as a herbal stimulant for treating gastrointestinal problems such as stomachache, dysentery and gastric ulcers. Dried Negro peppers are usually used in folk medicine for increasing the menstrual blood flow. It can also be used for treating amenorrhea, which is an abnormal absence of menstruation. It can be used as anti microbial agent. Negro pepper can be used to relieve pain as it acts as an analgesic.

The essential oil from Negro pepper can be used for the manufacture of cosmetics like cream, soaps, perfumes etc. it works both as a preventive measure and in treatment of primary,secondary and tertiary stages of syphilis .Negro pepper has anti inflammatory properties and so can be used in the treatment of arthritis, rheumatism and other inflammatory conditions Anti malaria properties of negro pepper makes it a useful tool for prevention and treatment of malaria.

The phytochemical constituents of Negro pepper like flavonoids makes it a useful tool for the prevention and treatment of cancer. The negro seed is used to prepare food given to women after delivery to relieve pains, promote healing and lactation.

West African Black Pepper, locally called ‘Esoro Wisa’ in Twi, ‘Wie Din’ in Ga, ‘Masoro’ in Hausa or ‘Kale’ in Ewe.Black pepper is one of the most versatile and widely-used spices in the world. Available in several varieties, peppercorns are actually the dried berries of the pepper plant (piper nigrum), native to Asia.

The same plant also produces white and green peppercorns. For the best flavor always choose whole peppercorns over pre-ground versions: the flavor of freshly ground or cracked pepper makes the small effort in preparation well worth it. Black pepper’s uses are almost endless, adding both heat and that extra bit of dimension to many dishes. Try coating meats with crushed peppercorns or add it to warm beverages such as chai tea. Add to fresh fruit for an extra kick or mix with other spices for a flavor-enhancing blend. When used in minimal quantities, it has a clove – like flavor in soups, stews and cornmeal porridge. The uniqueness about it is that, its leaves can be eaten. It increases appetite while reducing constipation and indigestion.

African Bird Pepper/ Chili, locally called ‘Akweley Waabiin’ in Ga or ‘Misewain’ in Twi. Its taste is very hot and good for spicy foods. It’s used for enemas, reduces blood pressure, helps in digestion of foods by stimulating peristalsis, break up phlegm and eases stomach upsets.Nutritionally, bird pepper is acclaimed to be high in Vitamin A, which stimulates the production and activity of white blood cells; takes part in remodelling bones; and is associated with helping to keep the linings of the skin, lungs and gut healthy, whilst protecting your vision. Bird pepper has Vitamin C, which helps absorb iron and prevents easy bruising; promotes healing of wounds and production of collagen, the connective tissue that holds bones and muscles (tendons and ligaments) together. Importantly, Vitamin C is an antioxidant which functions to protect your cells against the damaging effects of free radicals (unstable molecules) which may play a role in heart disease, cancer, and other diseases.

Bird pepper also has the Vitamin B complex, besides calcium, required for vascular contraction, muscle function, nerve transmissions and hormonal secretion, among other things.

Guinea Pepper, locally called ‘Efom Wisa’ in Twi, ‘Wire Tsuruin’ in Ga or ‘Essa’ in Nzema. It is used as a substitute for pepper. It has a characteristic pungent flavor and medicinally used for antimicrobial and has aphrodisiac properties.

African Nutmeg, locally called ‘Wedie Abain’ or ‘Awerewain’ in Twi. It’s used in spicing assorted foods;meats. African nutmeg has many health benefits such as controlling blood pressure, treating kidney infections, helps to relieve headaches, helps with insomnia, and can also be used as an insect repellent. It lowers cholesterol, relieves constipation, cures headache, rheumatism and Arthritis. African nutmeg is rich in potassium, calcium, iron, vitamin-c, folic acid, and many other anti oxidants. The origin of the African Nutmeg can be traced to many African countries such as Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Cameroon, and Liberia.

African Locust Bean, locally called ‘Dawadawa’ in Twi or ‘Dadawa’ in Hausa.African locust bean is of great importance in the underdeveloped and developing countries as many people rely on it as a source of food, firewood, timber, fodders, dye, traditional medicines and remedy for several ailments. Both the fruits, seeds, leaves, nuts, pods and essential oils of the African locust beans are highly valuable to the economy of these countries. The seeds, which are enclosed in the yellow pulp are the most important and the most widely used part of this plant. Interestingly, these seeds are usually converted into a flavourful and aromatic spice which is locally known as dawadawa. African locust bean is mainly used as an aromatic condiment for seasoning assorted traditional soups such as palm fruit soup (banga soup), bitter leaf soup (ofe onugbu), melon (egusi soup), corchorus soup, African salad (abacha) and ayamase stew etc.it has a very strong free radical scavenging and reducing abilities and as such can be used as an antioxidant for detoxifying the body.

The fruit has a remarkable amount of polyphenols that accounts greatly for its anti-oxidizing properties. The bark of the African locust beans can be crushed, ground, soaked and boiled for preparing herbal tea for treating and healing wounds. It can also be used for the treatment of hypertension and boosts the immune system. The bark can be infused, soaked and boiled for use as a mouthwash and for treating toothache. It contains riboflavin and thiamine used to season food; soups and stews. It’s a source of protein, fat and calcium. It cures diarrhoea, diabetes and heart attack and also an antidote to snake bite.

“Herbs and spices make food tastier while boosting your health. You should be cooking with herbs and spices regularly and if possible, using several at a time”- Moreno, an adjunct professor of nutrition at the University of Miami and a dietician for Miami Marlins. Natural spices is a necessity and not optional as it is beneficial for the health and it is healthier than the processed spices. These processed spices contains sodium and preservatives which have negative effects at the long run.

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