North Africa

The history of North Africa is one of conquest, survival, and lucrative trade. The indigenous people of the areas now called Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco were the Berbers. The first invaders of this region were the Phoenicians, who established the city of Carthage in present-day Tunisia. Though the Berbers eventually gained control of Carthage, it finally succumbed to Roman rule. The Berbers then moved southward and westward, establishing important trading posts throughout most of North Africa, particularly in today’s Morocco, which became an important stop for spice-trading ships traveling to and from Europe.

Many of the foods and spices now associated with Moroccan cuisine came from the influence of Islamic Arabs, who conquered the region in the 7th century. In the centuries that followed, most of the countries of Europe battled for control of Morocco, a fight finally won by France in 1912. Morocco gained its independence in 1956, inheriting a population that was 80 percent Berber, with heavy Arabic, Spanish, and French influences.

Over the centuries, Morocco has grown almonds, dates, walnuts, chestnuts, prickly pears, cherries, oranges, lemons, apricots, olives, and mints. Spices imported and incorporated into the region’s foods include paprika, black pepper, nutmeg, turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, cumin, cloves, and saffron. Proprietors of spice shops developed secret mixtures known as ras el hanout (“head of the shop”), which contained as many as 100 carefully blended spices. While there are subtle variations in cuisine across North Africa today—Tunisian foods contain more fiery spices than Moroccan foods do—the blended influence of indigenous Middle Eastern and European people has created a cohesive herbal tradition that stands on its own.


Spice shops add color to the streets of Morocco, which was once an important stop on the spice trade route. Paprika, turmeric, ginger, and cinnamon are often used in the regional cuisine.

Important Herbs Of Africa

Herb Examples Of Uses
Aloe (Aloe vera) Treatment for skin irritations and burns
Buchu (Agathosma betulina and A. crenulata) Treatment for gastrointestinal ailments
Castor bean (Ricinus communis) Oil used as laxative and motor lubricant
Devil’s claw (Harpagophytum procumbens) Treatment for arthritis
Iboza (Tetradenia riparia) Fever reducer
Lotus (Nymphaea lotus) Sacred flower
Milk bush (Euphorbia tirucalli) Treatment for warts
Rooibos (Aspalathus linearis) Caffeine-free tea substitute
Wormwood (Artemisia afra) Treatment for bronchitis
Yohimbe (Pausinystalia yohimbe) Aphrodisiac, treatment for fevers and coughs