Aframomum melegueta (Alligator pepper, Grains of paradise), a member of the ginger family (Zingiberaceae), has been used for years for its medicinal benefits.
It is a North African spice and is used in Africa not only in food preparation but also in cultural practices, as medicine and as an accompaniment to kola nut.
The stem is short and marked with scars of fallen leaves. The leaves are lanceolate and about 30 cm long and 12 cm wide, with close nerves below.
The flowers are handsome, aromatic and with orange-coloured lip and a rich pinkish-orange upper part. The fruits are fleshy and indehiscent, and contain numerous small golden- or red-brown seeds.
A very expensive spice and should be used sparingly because of its strong flavour, it is a popular ingredient in the famous pepper pot soup which is a specialty and great delight in West Africa.
When babies are born in Yoruba culture, they are normally given a small taste of alligator pepper shortly after birth as part of the routine baby-welcoming process, and it is also used as an ingredient at traditional meet-and-greets.
The alligator pepper plant has both medicinal and nutritive values and the extracts of its seeds has been used as an antidote to dysentery and diarrhoea.
It is an effective herb for the treatment of snake bite. The medicinal uses of alligator pepper dates back into ages and recently scientists in a new study corroborate its usefulness in lowering blood sugar under laboratory conditions.
Alligator pepper is reputedly aphrodisiacs, worm expellant, stimulants and diuretics as well as useful in the treatment of measles, leprosy, low breast milk production and excessive bleeding after child birth.
It is used in the Surinam cuisine to flavour dishes such as vegetables (okra and tomatoes recipes), soups (lentil and chicken) and fish recipes.
Pregnant and nursing women should consult a health care provider before using this herb as herbal supplements have different side effects and it should not be given to children.