This unassuming plant has had a massive change of fortune in the last few years due to its proven medicinal benefits and ease of growth under the African sun where it takes root like a weed and hardly needs any nurture or cultivation. Now classed as a superfood, moringa leaves can be boiled fresh and made into a tea or dried and processed to create a highly potent powder which can be added to juices and smoothies for a vitamin boost – it is rich in antioxidants, lowers blood sugar, cholesterol, and reduces inflammation.
Baobab oil and powder
The Baobab tree is also known as Africa’s ‘Tree of Life’ being the only fruit in the world that dries on its own branches. After six long months under the African sun, the fruit’s ripe, green prickly exterior turns into a hard brown casing similar to a coconut and inside is the very dry pulp of the fruit. When ground down into a powder, it retains a fruity essence and can be added to smoothies and juices and any other foods you desire to give you a huge vitamin C boost.
Half of the fruit is pure fibre, which makes it easy for the body to absorb. It aids immune function, the absorption of iron, is high in alkaline properties which defends our bodies against disease, it’s fantastic for the skin and helps digestive health, too. When distilled into an oil, it makes a fantastic moisturiser and, unlike most oils, it works well with water, especially the dampness of skin after a bath or shower, trapping in the excess moisture beautifully.
This product of the nut of the African shea tree contains large amounts of unremovable fatty acids which makes it a far superior moisturiser to the more commonly known cocoa butter. The high amounts of fatty acids make shea butter second to none when it comes to moisturising and rejuvenating skin. It protects the skin from wind, cold and sun, fights effects of ageing, as well as aiding recovery for damaged skin when applied as a balm to heal sores.
More remarkable is its multi-purpose use – in northern Ghana, it is used as a cooking base far superior to other more commonly used oils, and it is beginning to gain popularity in chocolate-making as a base for confectionery, after the domination of cocoa butter for many years. As a cosmetic product you can find it in natural soaps, hair products and distilled into an oil for maximum skin and hair benefits. Nothing beats natural raw shea which melts at body temperature. If you are taking it to colder climes though, make sure to pick up a whipped variety that’s more pliable, as it will harden to an uncommon degree when out of the African heat.
Coconut oil is another multi-purpose oil that can be used for cooking, as well as a cosmetic product for hair, skin, nails and even teeth. Locally produced coconut oil is incredibly cheap and plentiful, giving off a fantastic nutty aroma and having deeply protective properties. High in fatty acids, it can help burn fat when ingested as well as provide good protection for the brain, lower cholesterol and kill harmful microorganisms. It protects hair against damage, moisturises the skin and acts as a sunscreen. It can even be used to protect against tooth decay and help in teeth-whitening. The Ghanaian company Makola makes the best local multi-purpose coconut oil and at All Pure Nature you can find cosmetic versions by the gallon.
African Black Soap
A soap used by the women of West Africa and particularly Ghana for hundreds of years, this vegetable based soap has been made by local women using ingredients such as plantain skins, cocoa pods, shea tree bark and palm tree leaves. Such items are dried and roasted, then ground into ash and returned to water while natural emollients such as coconut oil, shea oil, shea butter and palm kernel oil are mixed in.
After more heating, the subsequent soap is left to cure for two weeks. The end result is a strong antibacterial soap that is great for the complexion, fights acne and eczema and provides exfoliation and cleansing. It can also be used on the hair and scalp as a clarifying and anti-fungal treatment. You can find fantastic versions at Skin Gourmet and Tama. Many versions along with other natural products made in Ghana are available at Wild Gecko handicrafts and Global Mammas, a Fairtrade store.
This strange-looking fruit has been imbibed in its juice form by holistically minded Ghanaians for some time, incorporating shots into their diets in the morning and evening. This is because the slightly winelike juice is thought to help lower cholesterol, balance the bacteria in your body, as well as killing any virulent fungi thereby preventing parasitic disease. It may even protect against stroke damage. It is thought to be particularly beneficial to women, helping to balance hormones. It is also thought to boost immunity and repair cells with its high levels of antioxidants.
Extracted from the fruits of the evergreen Neem tree, this oil has a distinctive and pungent aroma that many have likened to curry or garlic. Don’t let that put you off though! Containing an aspirin-like compound that eliminates bacteria from skin as well as a high fatty acid compound, neem oil has been used for years as a treatment for acne and is also known to smooth skin and wrinkles, moisturise dry skin and is an effective treatment for eczema, psoriasis and dermatitis, as well as other chronic skin conditions like ringworm. In fact, it’s hard to find a skin condition that it doesn’t soothe. To top it all, it’s effective at warding off mosquitoes and other pests that bite.
Find these natural products and more at:
Relish Health Foods, Akai House, 3rd Street, Ringway Estates, Osu, Accra +233 30 277 3590
Sage Remedies, Agblezaa- Manet Road, Accra +233 50 502 7747/ 54 454 8061
Josie’s Health Shop, Cuppa Cappuccino, 6 Third Close, Accra +233 24 820 4441
Skin Gourmet at Skin Health and Wellness, Ring Road East, Accra +233 50 145 1317
Wild Gecko Handicrafts, Adamafio Crescent, Behind Gulf House, Okponglo Accra +233 30 250 8500
Global Mammas, Adjoate Street, Accra +233 24 453 0467
Tama cosmetics are also available at all good pharmacies and supermarkets