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Medicinal Values of Sorghum Bicolor In African Traditional Medicine

July 16, 2010

Sorghum bicolor belongs to the family of Poaceae plant. The common names of sorghum bicolor include millet, guinea corn, broom corn, sweet sorghum etc. In Nigerian languages, it is called okababa (Yoruba), dawa / jero (Hausa) and sorgum (Igbo). The parts that are commonly used for herbal drugs include leaves, whole plant or grains.


Duke J.A. (1983) in The Handbook of Energy Crops (published) states that sorghum bicolor (okababa) is used in folk medicine as antiabortive, cyanogenetic, demulcent, diuretic, emollient, intoxicant and can be used as poison.

Duke (1983) reports further that sorghum bicolor is used for the treatment of cancer, epilepsy, flux and stomach ache. According to him, the root is used for the treatment of malaria in southern Rhodesia ; the seeds for the treatment of breast diseases and diarrhea; the stem for tubercular swellings. In India , the plant is considered anthelmintic and insecticidal.

In South Africa , sorghum bicolor in combination with Erigeron canadense L. is used for the treatment of eczema. Curacao natives drink the leaf decotion for meascles, grind the seeds with that of the calabash tree (cresentia) for lung ailments. Venezuelans toast and pulverize the seeds for diarrhea. Brazilians decoct the seeds for bronchitis, cough, other chest ailments and even goiter. It is also good for persons suffering from pulmonary congestion, kidney and urinary complaints.

Prof. Odugbemi T. of the University of Lagos, Nigeria, in the book entitled A Textbook of Medicinal Plants from Nigeria (2008) repots that sorghum bicolor (okababa) is good as blood tonic and for treating malaria.

Prof. Sofowora A. of the Department of Pharmacognosy, Obafemi Awolowo University , Ile-Ife , Nigeria , in a book entitled Medicinal Plants and Traditional Medicine in Africa (2008) reports that sorghum bicolor (okababa) has high degree of anti-sickling and anti-oxidant properties.

According to a reputable internet plant data base accessible online at sorghum bicolor when decocted can be used to treat kidney and urinary complaints. The decoction of the seeds of sorghum bicolor is good for demulcent, astringent, haemostatic and diuretic.

Nigerian researchers according to Nigeria Guardian health page report of 2nd April, 2009 use sorghum bicolor to boost blood levels (treat anemia), stop pain and inflammation, reverse cell damage (antioxidant) and increase cellular immunity in persons living with HIV/AIDS. In south Western Nigeria , sorghum bicolor has been used for many generations to treat sickle cell anemia, leukemia, multiple myeloma, headaches, heart and other blood- related disorders.

Aiyeloja A. and O.A. Bello of Department of Forestry and Wildlife, University of Port Harcourt , Nigeria , in a study of ethnobotanical potentials of common herbs in Nigeria reported in Educational Research and Review Vol. 1 (1) pp 16-22 April 2006 state that sorghum bicolor is a good blood tonic.


The seeds are reported to contain 342 calories per 100 grammes; water 12 grammes; protein 10grammes; fat 3.7 grammes; fibre 2.2 grammes; ash 1.5 grammes; calcium 22mg; phosphorus 242mg; iron 3.8mg; sodium 8mg; Thiamine (B1) 0.33mg; riboflavin (B2) 0.18mg; niacin 3.9mg etc.

Sorghum bicolor seeds contain butyric, formic, myristic, palmitic and stearic acids. It also contains maltose and emulsine. Sorghum bicolor contains cyanides, alkaloids, tannins and cyanogenetic glycosides. Cyanogenic glycosides is also called nitrilosides or vitamin B17 and this is believed to fortify sickle cell persons against crisis.

Sorghum bicolor contains high concentration (26 per cent) of P-hydoxybenzaldehde 7, the compound which increase oxygen affinity of Hbs like all aldehydes.


Sorghum bicolor contains hydrocyanic and alkaloid hordenine which are poisonous, if taken in large quantity. Cyanide can become an intoxicant when sorghum bicolor is made to undergo fermentation and this could make the consumer to exhibit neurological syndromes such as Lathyrism, Parkinsonism and Dementia. There is however no evidence that the percentage of cyanide contains in the sorghum bicolor is significant enough to make it poisonous when it is administered but the intake should be with moderation. Too much cyanide can engender goiter disease, can retard growth and can hinder mental development in early childhood especially when the child suffers nutritional deficiencies. Improved or quality nutrition could suppress the likely negative effects of cyanide in little kids.

However, fermentation of sorghum bicolor seeds alone for seven days according to Ogunyemi (2004) can intoxicate and can as well serve as good anti-sickling drug following the report of his M. Phil Thesis at Obafemi Awolowo University , Ile – Ife , Nigeria .

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Onike Rahaman holds masters degree.He is a professional administrator,writer,editorial consultant,linguistic activist,public commentator and a policy analyst.He is also into human rights advocacy and herbal research.