Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Important Plants of Ghana

Ghana is blessed with rich and fertile soil. Agriculture is the main source of income for Ghanaians, and there are an abundant amount of indigenous trees and plants, as well as some imported ones, like cocoa. They are beneficial not just for food, but also for medical purposes. Many people today still stay away from the local clinics and use their own remedies, and most of them work.

Learning the plants turned out to be a fun experience. It is how the local children would teach us Twi. I also learned that many of the schools in Ghana have farms in order to provide a little extra money to better their school. This is important to do in developing countries when the government does not have a lot of money for education.

The largest challenge according to Dua, a teacher at Salvation Army who taught me about his farm, is storage and spoilage. Many of the crops like tomatoes, oranges, plantains, and corn must be sold fast and cheap. They have no way of storing them, and many go to waste because they cannot be sold. We saw one woman in Cape Coast who was selling about a hundred oranges for 3 cedi (2 USD), just to try and get rid of them. Another challenge Ghana faces is that the weeds grow just as well as the plants. Weeding is very important and takes a lot of work. Being a farmer is a challenging job.

Kwadu- Banana Tree. Bananas are an important fruit in Ghana because they are abundant and tasty. They come in many shapes and sizes, and are often difficult to distinguish from plantains. You can tell if the tree is a banana tree because there is more white on the back side of the leaf.

- Plantain Tree. Plantains are used for cooking Red Red, which is a favorite local dish made of beans and fried plantains. Plantains are very sweet and crunchy but are considered a starch. While they look a lot like bananas, the fruit of a plantain has many more seeds and turns red when it is ripe.

Nyameduo-Blood of Jesus Plant. This colorful plant is used to mark the boundaries of farms. It gets its English name because it is supposed to keep peace between neighbors. The leaves are also used to help cure fevers related to Malaria.

Bankye- Cassava. Cassava is a very important plant because it an ingredient in the signature dish of Ghana, fufu. It looks a lot like a yam, but the fruit all grows off the same root. They grow about four inches under the soil. Cassava can also be used in a lot of local soups to add more flavor.

Kookoo- Cocoa tree. This is both the Twi and the English name (with different spellings) for the imported cocoa plant that makes up most of Ghana’s income. It is by far the most important crop in the country, and every bit of the plant is utilized. They use the pods and the rinds to make a fertilizer, and the fruit of the pod is very sweet and can be sucked off to eat. They are also used in soups for a sweetener. The most important function of the cocoa is to dry out the beans to ship off to other countries who will transform it into chocolate.

Aburow- Corn. Corn is a major part of most Ghanaian’s diets. It comes in all forms from the cob to ground up in porridge. It was mostly used for breakfast foods called Capitals (with big hunks of corn) or Lower Cases (with ground up corn). It is also pretty cheap and affordable for most people.

Amangyedua- Ficus Tree. This is a parasite tree because it will latch onto a host and then gradually take over and kill the original tree. The one I saw on the mid semester retreat was very old and very large. They are hallow on the inside and look like a rib cage to me. While cool to look at, these are not a favorite among farmers.

Bese- Kola Nut Tree. Traditionally it was used as a welcome gift for visitors. If you have read any of the Nigerian author Achebe’s writings, these nuts that grow on these trees were used in the same way.

Cokia- Kontomireh. This is a short plant with large leaves that are used in most Ghanaian stews and soups. It is said to give a person more blood if they eat it. They are also used like a makeshift bowl to hold meals on the go.

- Lemon Tree. These fruits are not used for eating the way we would use a lemon. Their primary purpose is for their acids to mix into a cleaning solution. It is also used to burn to get rid of a bad smell.

Odanya- Millettia Zechiana Plant- The ripe seeds on this plant may be eaten raw or if unripe it can be used for washing or fixing color. In Adinkra cloth, this is what they use to preserve the colors of their wash. It is found farther out into the bush, an hour or so walk out of Wiamoase.

Anka- Orange Tree. In Ghana there are oranges everywhere. They are used to eat, but they are eaten a certain way. Instead of pealing and biting into the fruit, they shave off the skin, cut off the top, and squeeze out the juice and fruit. They are too fibrous to bite. They are also believed to cause stomach ulcers if you did not eat them with something else. This fruit was good to sell because it was in season almost year round.

Kokosi- Coconut Tree. Coconut in Ghana is mostly used for eating. Venders are all over Kumasi, husking the shredding the meat for you to enjoy. The shells can also be turned into a sturdy bowl.

Paupa- Palm Nut- The nut from these trees are used for cooking soup. It is most complimentary with fufu. It has a scared significance traditionally for anointing the sick. It is still used today among the locals, although it is said to be very unhealthy.

Paya- Pear, or Avocado Tree. The fruit of the avocado is used as a food in Ghana. It makes a good spread on bread, a good soup ingredient, and medically it is said to help your system regular.

Aborobe- Pineapple Plant. Pineapples are a local favorite, and there were only a few of them in Wiamoase. I never understood how these plants grow, but now I know that they grow above the ground, and not in a tree, with the stems facing down. There is a local proverb about pineapples that says ‘two heads are better than one.’ It is referring to people, but a plant that produces more than one head of fruit is preferable.

Ahwerew- Sugarcane. This is where sugar and other sweet tastes come from. You make a slit in the side, then use your teeth to remove the outside and suck the juice out. It is really quite good. We had it for a desert during our farewell dinner with Boakye. It has a very hairy texture, and it takes a lot of effort to remove the sugar contents. The stems are also used for canning misbehaved children.

Teak- This large tree is known by this name in both Twi and English. This picture does not do it justice, but being this far away was the only way to get it to fit into my lens. The wood of this tree is used to build furniture. It has the reputation of being very solid and of good quality. This was the biggest tree I saw in Ghana. The bark is also said to help reduce cold symptoms.

Nkate- White Groundnut Tree. Groundnuts are a very important part of the diets in Ghana. They can be used for their oil, for the seed, or for the flavors they can offer in groundnut paste or groundnut soup. They are a lot like a peanut but they are purple and softer on the inside of the shell. I have also heard a variation on the Twi name as Indiaame.

Apesie- Yam Plant. This is a very important food in Ghana. Yams are used in fufu and many other dishes. They are very large, weighing up to five pounds at the market we went to, and they take a very very long time to grow. They look like a cross between a giant potato and a root. They have an outer skin that is very hard, and you have to steam off the outer skin for the best flavor. They can be identified by their pointy leaves, which can also be used in stews and soups. Traditionally yams were given as offerings to the God’s, or libations to the ancestors.


(Field Notes 13.15, 27.31-32, 48.5, 73.8, 80.8, Picture files 0525, Mid Semester Retreat, 0724, and 0731)


  1. Dear Rachel
    Ps. give me your personal e-mail ID. I want to share something with you and work jointly with you because we have common interests in many aspects.
    I am a university teacher at Agriculture and Forestry University(AFU), Nepal.
    I have teaching as well as research experience of 15 years. Actually, I am bored in Nepal so, I want to jump to other place from here. I have passed M.Sc. in Forestry.
    Kindly help me.
    Thanking you.

  2. There are some mistakes in the name of the trees. First specify which Ghanaian language this is based on and some of us can help you with name. Example: Yam is bayere. Ampesie or apesie refers to any cooked root tube like yam and potatoes as well as cooked plantain. Good job for the effort.

  3. There are some mistakes in the name of the trees. First specify which Ghanaian language this is based on and some of us can help you with name. Example: Yam is bayere. Ampesie or apesie refers to any cooked root tube like yam and potatoes as well as cooked plantain. Good job for the effort.

  4. I am looking for the english name of a plant call YAA KAKAN in our local dialect (twi). I must say this plant was ussually grown in schools in Ghana but it seems the awful smell has made most schools to stop growing them. If anyone know of this plant, please send me an email to AYIMAAH@HOTMAIL.COM. Thanks

  5. How can I order any plants edibles from Ghana....

  6. Hi, I'm Ghanaian. Please can you help me with the English name for a common plant in Ghana especially in the Ashanti region around Obuasi and other cities called 'nkwadaa nkwadaa borɔdi'. Meaning children's plantain. Thanks very much