Finger millet is a grain or cereal product native to parts of Africa. Unlike many other food products, this grain grows well in dry, arid climate zones and high altitudes. It's hearty nature and long-term storage potential make it an important food crop throughout Africa, Asia, and India. In fact, many of these regions store finger millet to help avert famines, or to help families survive through poor growing seasons. Finger millet may also be known as ragi, African millet, or by its technical name of eleusine caracana.
Experts often refer to finger millet as a famine crop due to its ability to remain in storage for as long as five years. Even under primitive storage conditions, this grain is unlikely to suffer damage from pests, mold, or humidity. The plant itself can survive without water for an extended period, and then quickly grow and mature during a brief period of rain in desert climates. It's very hearty and offers high natural resistance to pests and crop diseases.
While finger millet is rarely eaten in the Americas and Europe, it remains a staple of the African and Asian diets. People in these areas grind the millet to create flour, then mix this flour with water to form cakes or dough. It can also be mixed with milk or other ingredients to form a thick stew or porridge. Some people ferment finger millet to create a type of beer, while others use it to make a flavorful non-alcoholic beverage.
Finger millet grains and parts of the plant itself also serve a number of non-food related needs in developing nations. The millet has long been a part of traditional folk medicine, and may be given to pregnant women during labor. It's also used as a natural diuretic. The grasses and leaves from these plants can be used for animal bedding, or even as materials for constructing huts. Finger millet also serves as a common animal feed in Africa and parts of Asia.
In addition to its heartiness and long-term storage potential, finger millet is also rich in nutrients, making it one of the most important components in many people's diets. It's calorie dense and surprisingly rich in protein for a grain. Finger millet is also easily digestible and full of fiber. It contains important minerals like calcium and iron, and is also one of the few sources of amino acids for people in poor areas of Asia or Africa.