Wild plants, pregnancy, and the food-medicine continuum in the southern regions of Ghana and Benin

A.M. Towns, Tinde Van Andel*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


Ethnopharmacological relevance In West Africa, women utilize wild plant species to maintain and enhance their health throughout the duration of pregnancy. These plants are a culturally resilient and financially accessible form of nourishment for pregnant women in the region, many of whom are malnourished, yet studies that identify both the nutritional and medicinal properties of these plants are limited. Aim of the study The objective of this study was to analyze women's knowledge of plants consumed in pregnancy in the southern regions of Ghana and Benin from a food-medicine continuum perspective. Materials and methods We gathered data in two fieldwork periods in West Africa (Ghana 2010 and Benin 2011) through herbal market surveys and 56 questionnaires with women and then conducted a literature review on known properties of the plants. Results Ghanaian women reported consuming wild greens such as iron-rich Nephrolepis biserrata and tree barks such as protein-rich Ricinodendron heudelotii in a soup based on the African oil palm fruit (Elaeis guineensis), a source of fatty acids. In Benin, participants frequently reported ingesting plants during pregnancy in the form of herbal teas. Commonly cited species included Securidaca longipedunculata, Dichapetalum madagascariense, and Schwenckia americana. Several of the plants demonstrated antioxidant, anti-malarial and anti-inflammatory activity in pharmacological studies, yet the majority has incomplete nutritional and pharmacological profiles. In total, informants cited 105 species that were consumed during pregnancy. Although Ghanaian and Beninese women mentioned different species and different forms of consumption, in both countries women cited "strengthening" as the most common motivation to consume wild plants during pregnancy. Strengthening is a concept that resonates within the food-medicine continuum, bridging the local diet and herbal pharmacopoeia of women's plant use during pregnancy. Conclusions Ethnobotanical studies of this nature highlight the multidimensional use of plants and can improve health and nutritional programs in the region.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)375-382
JournalJournal of Ethnopharmacology
Publication statusPublished - 17 Feb 2016


  • African indigenous vegetables (AIVs)
  • Herbal decoctions
  • Medicinal foods
  • Medicinal teas
  • Prenatal health
  • Strengthening
  • West Africa

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