The Good Old Bitter Leaf

Bitter leaf is derived from the leaves of a small ever-green shrub found all over Africa called Vernonia, belonging to the family Asteraceace.

There are over a thousand species of this crop. Vernonia amygdaline is commonly found in West Africa, and Vernonia galamensis in East Africa.

True to its name, this leaf is bitter to taste, but surprisingly delicious in meals.

Other names with which this plant is known include: 

• Orugbo (amongst the Itsekiri and Urobo tribes in Nigeria)

• Onugbu

• Ewuro

• Mojunso (East Africa – especially Tanzania)

The leaf can be eaten fresh like spinach is soup or dried too. African cuisines featuring this leaf as ingredients include:

• Egusi soup

• Ogbono soup

• Okra and bitter leaf soup

• Pepper soup

• Bitter leaf soup (Ndole in Cameroon)

• Banga soup

In many parts of West Africa, the leaves are used to wash slime off fish and snail before been cooked.

The roots and twigs are eaten as appetizer too.

Medicinal Value of Bitter Leaf

Bitter leaf has numerous medicinal values and benefits to human health and lifestyle. The leaf exhibit some anti-bacterial and antifungal properties that make it a good home remedy to several health issues such as dysentery, diarrhoea, high blood pressure and many others.

Some people may not find bitter leaf so fantastic due to bitter taste but the health benefits of bitter leaf highlighted in the sections below will go a long way to change some people's perspectives about the leaf.

Bitter leaf contains flavonoid and other plant compounds that have nutritional values which promote overall health. In general, bitter herbs help to tone vital organs of the body like the kidney and liver. The liver is the largest organ in the body and is responsible for the secretion of bile and formation of glycogen. It is also responsible for the metabolism of protein and fats, in fact it’s an organ any one would want to keep intact cause once there is a defect it is very hard to correct, alcohol, sugar and over processed foods should be avoided. The Kidney helps expel waste materials from the body; a breakdown of the kidney is a general disorder of the entire body. The bitter leaf contains vernodalin , venomygdin and saponin which are antibacterials that help keep these vital organs (kidney and liver) in order. It also reduces the sugar level of the body drastically and repairs the pancreas, a wonder cure for diabetes, squeeze ten handful of the leaves in ten litres of water and take 2glasses 3times daily (6glasses daily) for one month.

The bitter leaf has great nutritional, herbal and medicinal value.

It contains very high amount of zinc, important in many enzyme function and keeping the skin fresh.

Some have claimed that this leaf may be dangerous to eat. There are however , no convincing studies to proof this.

As a general guide, washing your leaf very well and by so doing, you remove saponins to concentrations that are okay for the body to handle.

They also contain saponins and tannins (glycosides), as well as alkaloids. At least 13 other new compounds or vital ingredients have been found in these leaves, after a 40 years study, and have the following benefits:

• Ant-imalaria

• Anti-bacteria

• Anti-parasite

• Anti-cancer.

It is also effective in preventing indigestion, scurvy, sciatica, and rheumatism.

At least 30 different illnesses have been suggested to be curable with the use of bitter leaf herbs.Nigerians eat a lot of bitter leaf, but they often squeeze out the bitterness from the leaves before eating it.  What is left then is mere chaff, with little or no medicinal value.  The following are some of the uses of bitter leaf. 

•    Stomach Ache

Chew the tender stem of the plant like chewing stick and swallow the bitterness.  This is a well known remedy for stomachaches.  In some cases, the ache stops within a few minutes.  An alternative is to pound the fresh leaves in a mortar and press out the juice.  Add a pinch of salt to three tablespoons of the undiluted juice and drink.  This brings immediate relief.

•    Skin Infection

For skin infections such as ringworm, itching, rashes and eczema, the pure, undiluted extract of bitter leaf is excellent. Simply apply it to the affected part daily.

It also works for:

•    Diabetes

•    Loss Of Memory

•    Prostate Cancer

•    General Weakness

•    Stroke

•    Pneumonia

•    Insomia

•    Arthritis  Nutrition and Health Benefits of Bitter Leaf

1.  Helps To Clear Fever

Bitter leaves contain flavonoids which have powerful antioxidant effects in treating several health issues such as feverish conditions.

Other elements like andrographolide lactones, glucosides, diterpene are also present in the leaves and work together to treat and trim down fever and its symptoms.

A glass of bitter leaf juice is a strong herbal medicine that helps to combat malarial symptoms and reduce fever effects.

 2.  Lowers High Blood Pressure

Chewing fresh bitter leaves or drinking the juice extracted from the leaves are commonly known to reduce the level of sugar in the blood and control blood pressure due to the bitterness.

This is true because bitter leave has andrographolide content that contributes to sugar reduction in the blood and as reducing the risk of resulting diabetes.

There is also a trace of potassium in bitter leaf which is another good remedy for hypertension.

This mineral helps to flush out the accumulation of salt which spikes the amount of sodium in the bloodstream and causes delicate blood pressure (high blood pressure).

 3.  Treats Stomach Upset

They are eaten raw or mashed to get the juice which is used in treating abdominal difficulties such as diarrhoea, stomach upset and gastrointestinal tract diseases like dysentery and related other issues.

Bitter leaves are the major agents that are recommended as a natural remedy for intestinal problems and stomach cramps.

Get a handful of fresh bitter leaves. Wash very well with little quantity of salt and water.

Squeeze very well to extract the juice then take a glass of this juice twice a day to flush off stomach problems.

4.  Good For the Bones & Teeth

Vitamin C is a strong antioxidant mineral found in bitter leaves that has a special role in the body which is the maintenance of bones and teeth as well as prevention of deficiencies associated with this essential vitamin.

It also contains a trace of vitamin K. The functions of this vitamin extend outside blood clotting as it includes maintaining healthy bones and prevention of bone tissues weakness called osteoporosis.

 5.  Improves Body Metabolism

Vitamin B1 called thiamine, in other words, plays important role in the metabolism of lipids, amino acids and glucose in the human body.

Thiamine is an important dietary supplement occurring naturally in a bitter leaf that helps to oxidize fatty acids in other to produce the synthesis of lipids.

Metabolism of lipids is commonly associated with that of carbohydrate which can be converted into fats by known processes.

Bitter leaf is very effective in this chemical synthesis known as metabolism because it contains the mineral that plays the key role.

 6.  Fights Free Radicals

Another nutrient in bitter leaf, which is vitamins E serves as an antioxidant that fights against free radicals which have harmful effects on the body system.

Bitter leaf contains also anti-bacterial compound known as sesquiterpenoids that give the property of bitter taste.

The major function of this plant compound is to scavenge free radicals from the body system as well as terminate their activities.

7.  Prevents Cancer Risks

Presence of anti-cancer properties in bitter leaves makes it effective in preventing and management of hydatidiform mole, trophoblastic tumour and lung tumour which are signs of cancer.

Bitter leaf has also been mixed with other herbal preparations in an alternative medicine experiment on breast cancer and was found effective.

Andrographolide, labdane diterpenoid present in bitter leaf is a plant compound and a powerful cancer curative agent that has been studied scientifically and found effective in the treatment of gastric cancer, colon and prostate cancers.

 8.  Treats Diabetes

In fact, bitter leaves have versatile curative and medicinal properties which can treat and manage certain health conditions.

Scientifically, it has been proven that bitter leaf contains plant compounds which contribute to its bitter taste and play a pivotal role in moderating the blood sugar level and promoting normal insulin function.

This compound in bitter leaf hinders the rising of glucose in the blood which leads to the risks of diabetes.

 9.  Improve Fertility in Women

Bitter leaf has the ability to improve a very important female sex hormone that contributes to reproductive development and regulation.

It helps to improve quality hormone profile and as well prevents the toxification of immunoglobulin that fights an important female sex hormone, estrogen and reproduction.

Bitter leaf is very effective in women reproductive life for its capability of providing balance in the genital hormone.

 10. Detoxifies The BodyThe juice extracted from bitter leaf has detoxifying properties that help in mopping off impurities from the body.

This effect also helps to get rid of toxins in the liver, kidney as well as the lungs and entire human body. In such a manner prevents liver and kidney problems such as stone development in such areas.

11. Helps in Weight Loss

Most of the properties of the bitter leaf have a direct association with weight loss.

To start with, incorporating bitter leaf as a vegetable in daily meals or eating just a few fresh leaves a day or drinking the juice helps to reduce excess calories which can cause weight gain.

It also helps to ward off excess fat in the body which is the bad cholesterol as mentioned earlier in this article.

The fibre content in it and all the properties associated with weight loss that is found in bitter leaf make it a good weight loss diet. 

12. Helps in Treating Several Infections

Aside all the health benefits pin-pointed above, bitter leaf has the properties to treat skin wounds, it can also help in treating mouth inflammations, skin infections, toothache, typhoid, ear inflammation, tuberculosis and respiratory tract diseases.