A practical guide for nutritional and traditional health care.
The herb known as the bitter leaf is a shrub or small tree that can reach twenty three feet in height when fully grown. Bitter leaf has a gray or brown colored bark; the bark has a rough texture and is flaked. The branches of the shrub are brittle and break off easily. The green leaves are oblong to lance like in shape, they are veined, and bear pale soft hairs on the underside. Bitter leaf bears small white flowers, these flowers bloom in clusters during the spring. The plant bears small fruits, which have slightly hairy small nuts inside.
Bitter leaf is obtained from the leaves of a diminutive evergreen shrub called Vernonia, which grows throughout Africa. The genus Vernonia comprises roughly 1,000 species of shrubs as well as forbs which belong to the Asteraceae family. A number of species belonging to this plant family are called ironweed. Moreover, some species of Vernonia can be consumed and have commercial worth. These species are well known for the deep purple flowers borne by them. The genus Vernonia has derived its name from the noted English botanist named William Vernon. This genus comprises several prominent sub-genera as well as sub-sections, which has encouraged a number of botanists to categorize this vast genus into much smaller sections dividing the species into different genera. For example, the Flora of North America identifies just roughly 20 species, and 17 of them are found either in North America or in Mexico, while the remaining two or three are in South America.
A number of Vernonia species, counting V. amygdalina, V. calvoana and V. colorata, are consumed in the form of leaf vegetables. Some of the common names of these species are ewuro, bitterleaf, onugbu and ndole. These species grow extensively in the countries in Central Africa and West Africa. In Cameroon, the leaves of these plants are used extensively as leaf vegetable and form a major constituent of a stew called ndole stew. The leaves of these species have a bitter and sweet flavor and are available commercially both fresh as well as dried and they form a common constituent of egusi soup.
The species called V. amygdalina is a familiar remedial plant that has several therapeutic uses and is employed for treating various conditions like reducing fever, diabetes and, in recent times, a non-pharmaceutical solution has been developed to cure headaches, unrelenting fever and joint aches related to AIDS - in this condition patients take an infusion prepared from the plant internally as per requirements. Many African nations export the leaves of bitter leaf plant and you may purchase them at economic rates from the grocery stores selling products to their African clients. People have been traditionally using V. amygdalina roots to treat toothache and gingivitis, as they possess proven antimicrobial actions.
The 17 species of Vernonia that are found in North America, such as V. altissima, V. flaccidifolia, V. fasciculate and others all possess similar useful therapeutic attributes and work in the form of blood cleanser, and a toner for the uterus. These species enclose a chemical substance called sesquiterpene lactone that also aids in putting off development of atherosclerosis.
Another species, V. galamensis is utilized by people in East Africa for its seeds that yield oil. This species is cultivated in several regions of Ethiopia, particularly in the vicinity of its main city Harar. On average, the plants yield seeds about 2 tons/ ha to 2.5 tons/ ha. It is said that the strains of Vernonia grown in Ethiopia contain the maximum amount of oil - roughly 41.9 per cent, in addition to a maximum of 80 per cent vernolic acid. This oil is employed in formulating paints; coatings plasticizers as well as in the form of a reagent for several chemicals used in industries.
Very dissimilar to many other leaves that only grow in specific locations and at particular temperatures, bitter leaf plant has the aptitude to thrive in any place they start growing. In fact, their growth enhances the beauty of the place. Its bitterness is the most typical characteristic of the bitter plant. Right from its leaves to its roots all parts of this plant have a bitter flavour. In effect, the bitterness of this herb is beneficial for our health and it offers us plenty of health benefits. This plant makes people remember that our life is not sweet all the times and it needs some amount of bitterness before you are able to obtain the sweetness. The bitter leaf herb is extremely helpful for toning some vital body organs, particularly the kidneys and the liver.
As is well known, the liver is a very vital organ of our body and it has lots of major roles that are necessary for the working of the entire system of our body. In the absence of the liver, the entire vital functions of our body would be paralyzed. The liver is also considered to be the largest organ within our body and in any healthy adult, it weighs roughly anything between 1 kg and 3 kg on average. The liver performs many important functions daily, including bile acid production which aids in metabolizing fats.
If we did not have a liver, it would have been impossible to digest the fats and assimilate them into the body for being utilized in the form of energy. It has been found that ingesting bitter leaf can prove to be extremely effective in sustaining the utmost health of our liver to secrete bile acid whenever people consume foods rich in fat content. The liver has another vital function and that is to make glycogen, which is stored in the body and released in the form of energy, when the energy levels in the body are low, especially when people undertake fasting.
Therefore, it is essential that we look after the health of the liver and this can be done by consuming bitter leaf. Remember, if the liver has been damaged once, it is impossible to reinstate its normal functioning. Here is a little piece of advice: people suffering from liver disorder would find it useful if they drink one glass of solution prepared by boiling bitter leaf in water daily.
Apart from the liver, the kidneys are also vital internal organs, because they help us to get rid of all the toxic and waste materials formed and accumulated in our body. In case of malfunctioning of the kidney, it results in multiple problems in our body. Hence, the herb bitter leaf is one of the natural remedies that is very effective in maintaining the health of the liver as well as the kidneys.
People with diabetes may also utilize bitter leaf as a remedy for decreasing their high blood sugar levels. In fact, this herb is not only helpful in reducing the level of blood sugar, but also useful in mending the impaired pancreas. As is well known, the pancreas is a vital organ that produces insulin and ensures that glucose is transported to all the cells of our body for being utilized in the form of energy. When the pancreas is impaired it is not able to make or release enough insulin that is necessary for maintaining the blood sugar levels. Therefore, there is no doubt that the bitter leaf plant is actually a wonder presented by nature. If you wish you may use this herb and take the benefits offered by it by compressing its leaves in about 10 litres of water and drink it daily.
Pith, leaf, root.
Bitter leaf is eaten as a vegetable in many areas of East Africa, it is known as mujonso in Tanzania. Soups and stews are made from the leafy greens of the plant in many countries of east Africa, where the herb is prepared in the same way the spinach is used in the west. An appetizer is made from the “chew sticks" of the plant - the root and the twigs. The bitter leaf is believed to help restore the stamina when consumed in the form of a tonic food called ndole.
Even animals use the plant to cure themselves and chimpanzees inhabiting the Mahale Mountains National Park in Tanzania, have been observed chewing the pith of the bitter leaf possibly due to its ability to ward off parasites and to get at other medicinal properties in the plant. Intestinal parasitic infestations are treated by African people using the bitter leaf. Traditionally, native healers may have come to know of the beneficial properties of this plant by studying the behaviour of sick animals in the wild - many animals eat this plant when they become sick. Some of the principal chemical constituents found in the bitter leaf herb are a class of compounds called steroid glycosides - type vernonioside B1 - these chemical substances possess a potent anti-parasitic, anti-tumor, and bactericidal effects. The bitter leaf is mainly employed as an agent in treating schistosomiasis, which is a disease caused by parasitic worms. At the same time, the bitter leaf also helps bring relief from related problems in the body such as diarrhea and general physical malaise. Remedies made from the bitter leaf are used in treating twenty five common ailments in sub-Saharan Africa, these include common problems such as fever, and different kinds of intestinal complaints, as well as parasite induced diseases like malaria and other vector borne diseases.
The leaves of this herb are consumed by people, but only after rinsing them thoroughly to do away with their bitter taste. Bitter leaf greens are used in the form of a vegetable with a view to promote the digestive system, in addition to reducing fever. In addition, bitter leaf is also applied externally to protect against leech that transmit bilharziose. Chimpanzees living in wild consume the leaves of this plant when they have been invaded by parasites.
Habitat and cultivation
The bitter leaf herb is an indigenous African species; it grows in most parts of sub-Saharan Africa. The east African country of Tanzania is traditionally linked to this plant. The herb is found growing wild along the edges of agricultural fields.
The bitter leaf encloses a number of therapeutic elements, such as saponins, venomygdin and vernodalin - all of them possessing antibacterial properties and are useful for maintaining the health of the liver and kidneys.