Nov 12

African Ginger to be Grown as a New Diet Supplement for Busch Gardens Gorillas

By Hortiulture Director, Joe Parr and Animal Nutrionist, Heidi Bissell

Busch Gardens’ gorilla care specialist Kristen Arnold recently attended the Southeast Regional Gorilla Workshop at the North Carolina Zoo. The zoo staff from that facility had returned from West Africa bearing seeds from a species of ginger called “African Pepper” (Aframomum melegueta).

A drawing of Afrinca Ginger's roots, seeds and leaves

This tropical perennial herb is uncommon in the US. It is only grown in the swampy lowlands of West Africa’s “Grain Coast”, which is named for the seeds of this plant. Aframomum is known to craft beer brewers as the “grains of paradise” plant, and is used to impart a warm, spicy and slightly bitter flavor to some varieties of beer. Grinding the seeds produces a spice that is pungent and peppery with a hint of citrus that is reminiscent of cardamom. To the people of west Africa, it is a cash crop used as a substitute for imported black pepper. Locally, the seeds are chewed on cold days to warm the body.

The seeds of African Ginger

Humans aren’t the only ones who rely on Aframomum. Both Eastern and Western Lowland gorillas love this plant in the wild. In fact, it is the most common plant they eat. Aframommum appears to have important health benefits for gorillas, particularly for their cardiovascular health. It contains powerful anti-inflammatory substances called gingerols, and it has antibiotic properties. Native African healers have used this plant for centuries to treat infections. Aframomum is important to daily life in West Africa, where the seeds are consumed socially for good health.

African Ginger leaves

Kristen brought a small start of the plant back from her conference. It will be raised in the Busch Gardens horticulture nursery greenhouses and propagated when the plant’s size and the growing season permits. We look forward to having enough of it to start feeding to our animals!