Ghanaian Elixirs Straight from the Source

Ghana is a small country at the bottom of the hump that is West Africa. I lived there as a student for almost a year and in those months under the scorching sun, I gathered that the Ghanaian people are incredibly strong and resilient. When Ghanaians are ill or ailed many will not immediately turn to a pharmaceutical drug, but rather a natural-based remedy.

Below are a few treatments I have tried that worked wonders on my fair-skinned Western self (one that usually deals with aches and pains with a quick pop of Advil).

There were countless times when I saw my host mother pick up an egg out of steaming, boiling water like it was the most natural thing in the world. It really must be human instinct to mimic what we see, because one morning when I was particularly late for school, I thrust my hand into water that had been boiling for a couple minutes to retrieve an egg. This, of course, didn’t go well.

My hands started blistering, and when my host mother came into the kitchen and saw me cradling my throbbing scarlet palm, she immediately went outside to retrieve her aloe vera plant and applied its oils right then and there — instant relief.

Within our band of misfit exchange students there were many instances of minor cuts, bruises and missing toenails. You haven’t really been to Ghana unless you lose a toenail, they say. It wasn’t until an intense game of ‘Capture the Flag’ (in which a Belgian comrade succumbed to the toenail rule and I skidded across a pile of rocks in heated pursuit of the flag), that we were enlightened on the medical effects the leaves of a cassava (a Ghana potato) can have on injuries. Our bus driver, Mr. Johnson, was quick to our aid, administering rubbing alcohol to prevent infection — but instead of a band aid for our wounds we found Mr. Johnson using cassava leaves to bandage my knees and Belgium’s bloodied toe.

We looked at Mr. Johnson like he was crazy for putting leaves on our wounds, but soon learned that the cassava leaf contains essential minerals and amino acids that promote a speedy healing process. We then wore our leaves like badges of honor.

A few times during the season of Harmattan, where dust would blow south from the Sahara Desert giving Ghana a post-apocalyptic filter, my host mother would become congested and be coughing loud enough for me to hear through the concrete walls in the other room. It was on these nights that she would go into the kitchen and boil water, adding blended ginger, fresh lime and honey. The coughing would subside and the house would become still.

When I caught a head cold while there, (surprising, considering I was always cursing the heat of the sun) my host ma boiled hot water with lavender oils and then directed me to breathe in the steam. It burned my navel cavity for a couple of seconds but once that subsided, I was met with the sweet relief of being able to breath. Ah, the things we take for granted! Ma would give a solemn nod of justification and return to her Ghanaian soap operas in the living room.

In the north of Ghana there are shea nuts which are incinerated, mixed in a bowl and heated to make shea butter. Straight from the source, Ghanaians use it frequently to moisturize, give relief from insect bites and other muscle aches, and to heal stretch marks after pregnancy (or expanded bellies if the fufu at dinner was particularly filling). And… if said fufu was particularly filling, then back to the kitchen we go to boil a pot of water with lemon. This helps with digestion, and, since Ghanaian families always make enough food at one meal to feed a small army, comes in quite handy.

These remedies have served the Ghanaian people for ages and have been attributed to living a long life. Many of these elixirs come straight from their source and spare your liver from being inundated with a steady stream of pills like we so often see in the States. And while the ingredients in these quick fixes are very accessible and natural, they may not work for everyone. We’re not saying we’re going to swear band aids off completely or anything, but if adding a leaf to our next skin abrasion makes us feel better, then cheers to you, Ghana! Bring on that fufu!

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4 responses to Ghanaian Elixirs Straight from the Source

That is a nice piece.
I surprisingly had a similar experience in South Carolina, 1979 as an exchange student from Ghana when my African American family applied Aloe Vera on my burns in the kitchen. I was like…’wow… so they also know this herbal mediation?’
What a small world!

Great article, Ms. DeLong! It’s always so interesting to read how people in other countries tackle injuries, and since you lived there you saw it first hand and I appreciate your insight! Ghana sounds like an interesting place and I loved your post-apocalyptic imagery from the dust!

Great article! We all could use a deeper connection with nature who can us in so many ways!

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