Under African skies

Hibiscus tea leaves
Superfoods. The term can be misleading. After all, any organic, fresh food is pretty super. When we hear about superfoods these days, it seems what is really meant is something new-to-the-West with high nutritional value. We got cocoa, coffee and quinoa from South America. Turmeric, ginger and ginseng from Asia. Now it’s the time for the African continent to shine. Baobab, moringa and hibiscus may become as ubiquitous as blueberries in Nova Scotia.


Sitting down to a steaming cup of pink tea is a rare pleasure afforded by the one and only hibiscus flower. You’ll often find a bit of hibiscus in berry tea blends just for this beautiful colour it gives.

The medicinal variety of hibiscus flower is a West African native commonly known as Roselle. There it is made into sweet herbal teas and candy. Do not confuse the healthful Hibiscus sabdariffa with the purely decorative Hibiscus ascetosella. The latter is well-known for its beauty but can’t hold a candle to the benefits of the sabdariffa.

Hibiscus, like moringa, is high in protein. The vibrant colour of the tea is a giveaway of its high flavonoid content, which is known for being antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. These inherent antioxidant properties have been shown to reduce the biomarkers of oxidative stress in male athletes.

Hibiscus is also high in vitamin C, iron and other minerals. Its slightly bitter or sour flavour makes it a nice post-dinner drink or afternoon pick-me-up.


This iconic African tree is often called the “upside-down tree” because its branches look like roots reaching for the sky instead of into the earth. Its fruit pulp, leaves, bark, roots, seeds and oil are all used in traditional African medicine, but in North America you will generally only encounter the dried fruit pulp. The fruit is called “monkey bread” locally and it is pollinated by bats.

All parts of the baobab tree are used in Africa: The fruit, seeds, leaves, roots and even the tree trunks themselves, which hold up to 4,000 litres of water and can be a thankful sight to a weary desert traveller. The fruit pulp is eaten on its own or mixed into a porridge and is also used for making soft drinks.

Traditionally the fruit and leaves were used to treat fever, asthma, fatigue, and as a tonic for insect bites, skin allergies and various intestinal discomforts. The pulp of the fruit is rich in vitamin C and just 40g has been shown to deliver up to 100% of the recommended daily intake for pregnant women.

Baobab is also an excellent source of potassium, calcium and magnesium and is a great source of low-fat carbohydrate. Its high calcium content makes baobab fruit a vegan and dairy-free alternative source for supplementation, particularly among women, children and the elderly. Finally, baobab is high in soluble fibre, which lowers blood cholesterol levels and controls blood sugar levels.

The pulp of a baobab fruit lends itself to processing and use as a natural health product because it is already a dry consistency. That makes processing less involved, with less room for error and a higher-quality product on the other end.


If you’re a keen-eyed OptiMYz reader, you may remember this superfood from one of our 10th Anniversary issue smoothie recipes. It is chock-full of protein, calcium, iron, vitamin C and antioxidants. You’ll find it in health food stores in powder form.

Moringa is also known as the “Miracle Tree,” as every part of it is useful, though the leaves are more well-known in North America. Leaves are dried and ground to a fine powder that is easy to use in smoothies and raw baking. Note that morninga has quite a green flavour, similar to chlorophyll.

Moringa is often used as a dose of antioxidant power. Studies show it has high protein content (about 30%) and low carbohydrate content (about 13%) with a full range of essential amino acids. It has also been shown to contain a ton of vitamin C—even more than oranges.

This is another multipurpose plant. Fresh, the leaves can be used like any green leafy vegetable in cooking. The seeds are full of oils used for cooking and in cosmetics, while the pulp left over from the pressed seed is used for water purification.

More Inspiration: Check out these super healthy bowl dinner recipes!