Common Igbo Herbs, their English Names & Uses 

This article aims to discuss some common Igbo herbs in Nigeria. We’ll provide the English names of each of the herbs we’d be discussing and also state their uses. It is, however, important to note that these herbs are not exclusively used by the Igbo people as other ethnic groups in Nigeria make use of them as well. 

Common Igbo Herbs

  Here’s a list of common Igbo herbs, their English names, and uses: 

  • Aja-aji  

English name: Ginger

Although ginger is originally from Southeast Asia, this herb is widely grown in the southeastern part of Nigeria for its numerous benefits. The Igbo people add ginger as a spice to their culinary dishes as well as in baked goods, beverages, and sauces. Aside from the flavour which ginger is known to add to dishes, it also helps improve digestion while reducing bloating. The dried and powdered form of ginger is used to make herbal teas, tinctures, and essential oils.

Ginger has other useful properties which the Igbo people make use of. One is its anti-inflammatory properties which make it useful in treating colds, flu, and sore throats. Additional uses of ginger include its ability to treat nausea, relieve stiffness and improve function relating to arthritis. This herb also possesses antibacterial properties which help treat several skin conditions, as well as analgesic properties that may help reduce muscle pain and soreness.  

  • Onugbu

English name: Bitterleaf 

Onugbo is a herb that’s common among the Igbo people of Nigeria. Known by its English name, bitterleaf, Onugbo possesses antioxidant, anti-bacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties which make this herb highly medicinal. In addition, bitterleaf is usually added to culinary dishes, such as salads, soups, and stews. Okro soup is an example of a traditional Igbo soup in which bitterleaf is an ingredient. 

Furthermore, bitterleaf is rich in several nutrients such as Vitamins A, C, and K. More so, the high levels of Vitamin K in the bitter leaf may help to prevent bone loss and osteoporosis. In addition, bitterleaf leaf is known for its ability to aid in keeping the digestive system healthy since it is a great source of dietary fibre. Lowering blood sugar levels and improving insulin sensitivity are some more benefits of consuming bitterleaf. 

  • Ugu 

English name: Pumpkin 

Ugu is another common herb that the Igbo people of Nigeria use for several uses. This versatile vegetable is used as an ingredient in soups and stews since they are a great source of vitamins and minerals. Additionally, the juice from pumpkin leaves is known for its effectiveness in treating high blood pressure and diabetes. 

The seeds of pumpkin are eaten as snacks and could also be used to treat kidney stones and urinary tract infections. In addition, pumpkin seeds provide substantial amounts and healthy fat when consumed. The oil from Ugu may be used to treat skin concerns like eczema and psoriasis due to its anti-inflammatory properties. 

Aside from pumpkin being used for medicinal and culinary purposes, this herb has several uses in Igbo culture. For example, Ugu leaves could be used as decorations during special traditional events. Furthermore, the pumpkin fruit is sometimes presented as a gift during celebrations like child-naming celebrations. 

  • Agbilu/Aki Ilu

English name: Bitter Kola

Bitter kola, known as Agbilu or Aki Ilu by the Igbo people of Nigeria, is a common type of herb in Nigeria. To the Igbo people, bitter kola is mostly used in traditional ceremonies. For example, bitter kola is offered to guests during a traditional wedding ceremony and other special events, to welcome them. Aside from its symbolic function during traditional Igbo celebrations, bitter kola has been used for its medicinal properties for a very long time. 

This herb is known to possess antibacterial, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory properties which help treat a range of concerns. This herb when chewed after meals is proven to aid digestion and is also used in making traditional medicines and herbal tonics. In addition, it is a common belief in Igbo land that bitter kola has aphrodisiac properties.

  • Nchuanwu

English name: Scent Leaf

Ncuanwu is a widely used herb by the Igbo people in the southeastern part of Nigeria. Known for its strong, aromatic smell which has a soothing effect, scent leaf is used as an ingredient to flavour soups and stews. Aside from the flavour it adds to dishes, scent leaf is a good source of Vitamin A, C, and B6, as well as calcium, magnesium and potassium. More so, this herb contains a substantial amount of fibre which is beneficial to the digestive health of those who consume it. 

Scent leaf is also used for medicinal purposes as well. Its antibacterial and antifungal properties make it effective in treating coughs, colds, indigestion, malaria, and several other ailments. Additionally, in Igbo tradition, Nchuanwu is believed to possess the ability to ward off evil spirits and protect against witchcraft. Hence, scent leaf is often used in spiritual rituals and ceremonies.  

  • Efo-Igbo 

English name: Moringa 

The use of the moringa plant in Igbo culture is diverse. The leaves are used as an ingredient in soups and stews or could be dried and ground into a powder to be used as a nutritional supplement. Moringa seeds are also useful too, particularly in producing used for hair and skin treatment. 

Additionally, the roots of the moringa plant are also sometimes used to produce herbal tea. Furthermore, the antioxidant properties of the moringa plant and its high level of Vitamin C make it helpful in protecting the body from damage caused by free radicals and boosting immune function respectively. Calcium, iron, and other essential nutrients contained in the moringa plants make it beneficial for consumption and even for lowering blood sugar levels.  

  • Zobo 

English name: Hibiscus 

Hibiscus plant, known as Zobo in the Igbo language, is a popular herb that Nigerians, including the Igbo widely use. The hibiscus plant is the major ingredient used in making a traditional drink known as “zobo drink” which is enjoyed all year round and often served at parties and ceremonies. Zobo is rich in antioxidants which help boost the immune system, lower blood pressure, and aid digestion. Additional benefits of the Zobo drink are that it is low in calories and believed to improve skin health.    


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