HEALTH BENEFITS OF BITTER LEAVES (VERNONIA AMYGDALINA)Reading Time: 4 minutes
Vernonia amygdalina (VA) is a tropical plant that grows in some parts of Africa. It is notorious for its bitter taste and is often referred to as “bitter leaf”. It is known under many names such as onugbu, oriwo, etidot,ewuro, mululuza, ndoleh.
The leaves and stem have been used for centuries in the treatment of several medical conditions in traditional African medicine. It is also consumed as green leafy vegetable in soups (ofe onugbo), porridge and stews in various ways by different cultures across Africa.
All parts of VA plant, the stem, mature leaves and flowers are medicinal and safe to consume.
VA contains more than 30 bioactive compounds including saponins, terpenes, lignans, flavonoids, phenolic acids, steroids, coumarins, anthraquinone, xanthones.
How to Extract VA Juice
The mature leaves need to be washed thoroughly and blended using a blender or a juicer with adequate amount of purified room temperature water. Then, using a tight mesh strainer or cheesecloth, strain the juice and it is ready for consumption.
Note: Heat denatures and reduces the nutritive value of liquid VA extract, as a result, it is best to prepare it cold.
Health Benefits of Bitter Leaves
VA extract is highly effective against several bacterial infections and diseases, including those that cause pneumonia, dental caries.7
Vernolide, and isorhamnetin found in VA extract are responsible for its antibacterial activity. A study by Habtamu et al compared the efficacy of VA extract with chloramphenicol (a prescription antibiotic) and found VA to show higher antibacterial activity.1
It is a known remedy for fever and contains quinine which is a potent treatment for malaria fever.9 It is strongly recommended that you take prescription anti malaria medication if you already have malaria as the dosing of these drugs are more standardized.
Some experts suggest it should be taken from time to time to prevent malaria and not as the only treatment for malaria after illness has started.
Remedy for Amoebic Dysentery
Amoebic dysentery is an infection caused by the parasite, Entamoeba histolytica. It affects the intestine and may sometimes extend to the liver. It is contracted by ingesting food or water contaminated by feces of an infected person or practising oral sex with an infected person.
The symptoms of amebic dysentery include; abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, severe diarrhea with mucus, pus and blood alternating with constipation. It may extend to the liver causing severe liver disease or even death. 3
Cancer occurs when there is abnormal growth of some cells in the body. Cancer cells grow rapidly and have the potential to spread to other parts of the body.
It may even induce cancer cells to become more responsive to chemotherapy, in people with cancer who are undergoing treatment.5
VA contains flavonoids such as luteolin, luteolin 7-O-β-glucuronoside, and luteolin 7-O-β-glucoside that are responsible for its antioxidant and detoxification benefits. The natural antioxidant properties of VA are similar to those of Vitamin C.7
VA (bitter leaves) may lower blood sugar by inducing the body to increase the use of glucose and also by preventing the production of glucose from other means in the body through a process called gluconeogenesis. 10
In uncontrolled diabetes, blood glucose is unusually high, this high sugar state cause damage to the kidneys and other organs of the body. Individuals living with diabetes may benefit from regular consumption of VA, as it can prevent kidney damage and restore kidney functions in diabetics.10
It has been used for centuries across Africa as a laxative. Taking bitter leaves or extracts may help soften your stool and relieve constipation.11
Parasitic worm infections (also known as helminths) affect nearly 1 billion people each year especially those living in the tropics, among the world’s poorest population and travelers to these areas.
Parasitic worms need living hosts to survive. They receive nourishment and protection at the expense of the host causing disease in the process.They are able to evade the immune response of the body and will survive for years if not treated.
There are several known human parasitic worms for example, tapeworm, roundworms, pinworms, flatworms, liver and blood flukes. Parasitic worms have specific areas of the body they colonize including the intestines, brain, lungs, liver urinary bladder.
The antiparasitic effect of liquid extract of VA has been studied extensively. It is effective against human and livestock parasitic worms in their different stages of development. VA extract kills parasites by paralysing and making them unable to feed and consequently, they die off. 2,3,4
A study comparing the efficacy of 3 commonly prescribed anti-parasitic medications (ivermectin, levamisole, and albendazole) and liquid VA extract, found VA extract to offer higher efficacy against livestock and human parasites.4
Mature VA (Bitter leaves) is considered safe for consumption by humans either boiled or prepared fresh.
Young, immature leaves of VA contain relatively high levels of cyanide and some other antinutrients. Therefore, immature leaves should be properly cooked, squeeze-washed to remove these antinutrients. To be on the safe side, consume only mature leaves.12
Mature leaves are often dark green in colour and grow farther away from the flowers. The mature leaves and stem are edible and considered safe.
To remove the bitter taste, squeeze-wash or boil the leaves. Washed VA can be preserved by freezing or drying, however, it may lose some of the nutrients.