Aframomum melegueta - a member of the ginger family that grows well in the swamps along the coast -has long been known in African folklore as a medicine that aids digestion.
The finding was made after Ilya Raskin, a plant biologist at Rutgers University in New Jersey, tested an extract of A. melegueta on diabetic mice and found that it produced a significant drop in their blood sugar levels, reports New Scientist.
According to Raskin, the extract could help to prevent the onset of diabetes in people at high risk and could be given prophylactically to individuals who have a family history of diabetes, or have other risk factors for developing such disease.
In Africa, the plant seeds are chewed on cold days to "promote" body warmth and are used extensively as a food spice.
Raskin is patenting the technique for producing the extract, but offers no word on its effectiveness in humans.