Don’t Neglect Your Roots


Roots are usually the most potent part of plants. They not only “root” the plant into the ground to secure it but also draw nutrients out of the soil to feed the rest of the plant. Throughout millennia roots have provided food and medicine for mankind. They come in all types. Some are shallow and run along the ground, others are long (tap roots) that go deep into the ground searching for moisture, especially in dry, arid places and there are also others that link together from tree to tree providing collective security by way of buffers against hurricanes and high winds. Without roots there can be no tree, shrub, plant or herb. When a seed starts to germinate it sends out a root, first and foremost and this is usually followed by a young stem which pushes upwards towards the sunlight. Roots search for nourishment to enable plants to grow and thrive while the stem searches for sunlight so that photosynthesis can take place.
Roots also support the plant during seasonal changes, even during winter when the leaves are long gone. When eaten, roots and the minerals derived from them form the basis of a healthy constitution and a strong immune system. They provide carbohydrates for energy and bulk, fibre (both soluble and insoluble) not only for improved digestion and elimination but also as food for the good gut bacteria (probiotics). For this article and looking from a wide perspective, I make no distinction between roots and tubers (potatoes, yams) since they both grow underground.

Nutritional/Vegetable Roots

cassava root

Sweet potatoes, yams, cassava, beet, carrot, radish, eddoes, onions, garlic and other edible root crops provide vitamins and minerals that enable our bodies to operate properly and healthily when we eat and digest them. These are nature’s complex carbohydrates that provide energy and vitality, bulk us up due to the fibre they contain and as a result, reduce the risk of us contracting a degenerative disease. These vegetables were the staple foods of our ancestors and are rooted in our culture. A recent report suggested that with global warming, wheat production will drop off and cassava and plantain will become the staple foods of the world. Many of these roots are now considered to be some of the healthiest foods on the planet with sweet potato being regarded as the best food of all, replacing spinach. Unfortunately, our young men and women, some of whom were born into cultures where the diet consists mainly of processed foods and dairy products, have drifted away from our traditional fare and seem to be hooked on unhealthy fast foods. This drift away from healthy foods is also apparent on the African continent where indigenous people are being introduced to a western style diet with the adverse health ramifications thereof. We now hear of diabetes rampaging through the black communities in South Africa, Tanzania and Kenya as the locals move away from their natural foods in pursuit of highly marketed, highly hyped and low nutritional “junk”.



Some roots are used solely for medicinal purposes and their uses and efficacy have been passed down verbally from generation to generation. Some have strange names like Joe-Pie-Weed from Jamaica which is used in the treatment of bladder and prostate problems and gall stones, pincushion root from Africa used as a pain killer, goat’s rue for diabetes and Chaney root also known as medina or God’s bush which is used for arthritis, rheumatism, blood cleansing and as a general tonic, in a similar way to ginseng and maca, the latter also known as Peruvian ginseng and is very much like a radish. There is also arrowroot, which has many applications these days but was originally used to wean children from liquids to solids and by the elderly for bowel complaints. It is also a good substitute for wheat flour for those who are intolerant to gluten and it may also lower cholesterol. Roots can be cleansing to the blood, nourishing to the liver and can improve your overall digestion with some of their bitter components. They also support the body during seasonal changes and are nearly always featured in winter remedies. They will also keep for three years if stored in a cool, dry, dark place.

Turmeric, ginger, ginseng, maca and licorice are all potent roots and with the exception of turmeric and ginger (used also in cooking) are used mainly for their medicinal properties. Turmeric and ginger not only spice up food but are considered to be anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and beneficial in the fight against dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Our forefathers have been using them as traditional remedies for a host of aliments for thousands of years. Burdock root treats cancer while sassafras root tea is used as a blood cleanser and of course, there are other aspects of “roots” that must be considered.

Cultural Roots


Roots not only apply to the physical part of plants that keep them anchored into the ground. They also apply to one’s groundings, heritage and culture. We all know of the uprooting of our ancestors from their native lands and the physical and psychological ordeals they faced but perhaps we have seldom looked at the health impact of the forced migration to the West. Fortunately, some of our ancestors who underwent the ordeal of the “middle passage” brought their native seeds and natural cures with them and were able to keep this aspect of their culture alive, despite attempts to eradicate it. It has also been recorded that sea captains used the native roots to treat fevers that broke out on the slave ships. Your diet is one of the elements that constitute your culture and since weakening your culture weakens your identity any removal of any strand or element weakens you the individual, in every regard, physically, mentally, constitutionally, spiritually and psychologically. Being well rooted in your culture (music, food, arts, customs and traditions) gives you emotional security that enables you to cope with some of the vicissitudes of life. Being rooted in your culture maintains your identity, individually and collectively and is your salvation and future.

Sankofa is a concept derived from King Adinkera of Ghana, the basic principle of which is “you must go back to your roots in order to move forward. We should reach back and gather the best of what our past has to teach us so that we can achieve our full potential as we move forward. Whatever we have lost or forgotten or been stripped of can be reclaimed, revived, preserved and perpetuated”. In western societies one very evident aspect of this stripping is the destruction of the extended family structure which formed the base, the very backbone, of traditional African/African-Caribbean and African-American life. The extended family was more than just grandparents, aunts and uncles. It was a complete support mechanism by which individuals within that extended family learnt its values, traditions and culture that supported the individual and the family in challenging times. The extended family was many types of root, tap roots, buffer roots and interlinking roots supplying nourishment to the tree (family) and support to new branches and leaves (children) and of course fruit from the seeds of which new saplings/siblings grow.

95242-004-B876EDF2.jpg African family

Studies report that people of African descent who eat traditional foods are healthier than those who eat a Western diet. A recent study has shown that sodium levels in the foods of blacks decreased the further east you went. Starting in the USA, levels were shown to be particularly high but were lower as you moved east to Jamaica and the reduction was even more pronounced further east in Nigeria. High sodium levels in foods being a major contributary factor for high blood pressure and its many degenerative offshoots, kidney failure and strokes to name only two. What is now being acknowledged by western scientists is that tropical roots, of almost all types, are more potent medicinally and culinarily than those from temperate climates and since our bodies evolved with these tropical foods it is only natural that continuing with these foods as an integral part of our diet is the way to maintain good health. The British Prime Minister, David Cameron recently said that “multiculturalism is not working”. The implication here is that only British culture will be promoted so if you are ethnic you should abandon every aspect of your culture and become totally British, just as the British do when the reside in our countries? So for our own sanity and that of our children and grandchildren let us get back to grass roots.