Nigerian Cures You Need to Know About

Boy chewing the twig of the Bitterleaf Bush | © Ayodele Olofintuade
Boy chewing the twig of the Bitterleaf Bush | © Ayodele Olofintuade
Before the advent of more modern medical practices, people from the east and west of Nigeria, like most ancient civilizations, sought healthcare from traditional healers. Most of these healers were herbalists and well-trained in the science of using barks, leaves, grasses, and roots to cure ailments and illnesses.
Garlic cloves - one of the most versatile ingredients in the Nigerian kitchen © Donovan Govan/

With the adoption of modern medicine, more people go to hospitals because they are believed to be more effective. The traditional sciences have, however, not died out—particularly curatives that focus on everyday illnesses like malaria, the common cold, catarrh, and allergies. There are several kitchen ingredients that have been used as cures for centuries. The basic rule is if it can’t be eaten, it cannot be medicinal.

Feed the cold

Peppersoup is used mostly to cure a cold, catarrh, allergies, and a loss of appetite. Several ingredients are used for making different types of peppersoup. Varying by region, availability of said ingredients, and the severity of the illness, the following ingredients are basic and used interchangeably.

Fish, chicken, or goat meat: Nigerians believe strongly in the medicinal value of proteins because they are an active part of cells, and there’s hardly any meal on the Nigerian table that doesn’t have one protein or the other. For a healing peppersoup, many add fish, goat meat, or chicken. For chicken peppersoup, local chickens are preferred because they are less fatty and are free range.

Cayenne Pepper - one of the major base ingredients for peppersoup © Eric in SF/

Cayenne pepper: Particularly a favorite of the Yoruba from Southwest Nigeria, many use it as a base for most of their stews. For a cold, many peppers are added for their spiciness as it helps ease itchiness in the eyes and throat and clears the air passage.

Alligator pepper: This is another spicy ingredient that goes into making the base chili for the peppersoup. Not only are the seeds a stimulant, the leaves are also quite medicinal and are often used for herbal cures.

Other ingredients include ginger, garlic, mint leaf, uziza, onions, and calabash nutmeg.

Chew your way to strong teeth and healthy gums

The chewing stick was and is still used by many for dental hygiene. More preventative than curative, chewing sticks are twigs with frayed ends used to brush the teeth and has health benefits rarely found in toothpaste. The best chewing sticks are made from the twigs of the West African Orange Tree, the Neem Tree, Ironweed (Vernonia), Liquorice, Walnut Trees, and other trees with bitter roots. However, the best chewing sticks are made from the Salvadore Persica Tree (also known as the toothbrush tree). It does not only make teeth stronger, it also reduces plaque and mouth odour.

Boy chewing the twig of the Bitterleaf Bush © Ayodele Olofintuade

Herbal remedies for malaria

There are high rates of differing strains of malaria in Nigeria, and there are also several orthodox medicines used as curative measures. Herbal drinks are often used by the population to cure malaria because they are considered safer and more friendly to the body. A combination of garlic cloves, ginger roots, lemon grass, lime, onions, unripe pawpaw, and utazi boiled together in a cauldron is often consumed as both preventive and curative measures. This combination varies from one culture to the other, but it is sometimes used as herbal baths as well. The Ironweed, also known as the Bitter Leaf Shrub, is also juiced and drunk as both preventative and curative for malaria. The juicing and drinking of Ugwu (pumpkin leaves) to is used increase production of blood cells and improve the appetite.