Bitter leaf is botanically known as Vernonia amygdalina Del. of the family Asteraceae. Its synonym is Vernonia senegalensis A Chev. The common name is bitter leaf.
|Ghana||Adangme||Agba, Tatsho, Akpa, Agoaflu|
|Guinea||Fula Pulaar||Bantara Burure|
|Manding Maninka||Kossa Fina|
Bitter leaf is a shrub or small tree which grows to three to eight meters high with striated pubescent branches, becoming glabrous on maturity. The leaves are alternate i.e. only one leaf is produced at each node, obovate-lanceolate in shape, with entire or finely toothed margin, finely pubescent(hairy) beneath. The leaves are green with a characteristic odour and a bitter taste. Its flowers in heads, 6 mm in diameter and in copious corymbose panicles, pappus white or russet and sweet-scented.
It is found in the tropics, in homes and villages as fence posts, medicinal plant, pot-herb. It grows under a range of ecological zones in Africa and is drought tolerant.
Bitter leaf is nutritious and has so many powerful health benefits. Bitter leaf is a highly appreciated vegetable in West and Central Africa and can be consumed in various dishes. The leaves are boiled in soups in Northern part of Ghana. Leaves are sometimes sold in the market after being shredded, parboiled and made into fist-sized balls. In Cameroon the processed leaves are cooked with meat and/or prawns mixed with ground peanuts to make a famous dish called ‘ndole’. Alternatively, whole leaves are cooked together with cassava or yam tubers, whereas the leaves are also dried and ground to powder for use in soups. In Cameroon the leaves are sometimes eaten unprocessed and raw mixed with palm oil and salt. In Nigeria it is a delicacy when it comes to soups.
Vernonia amygdalina is one of the most commonly used plants in Ghanaian traditional medicine. In Ghana, the Leaves are used to treat malaria, dysentery, fever, diarrhoea, hepatitis and cough, ring worm, dermatitis and as a fertility enhancer. They are also used as a medicine for scabies, headache and stomach-ache. The roots are also used in the treatment/management of malaria, loss of appetite, constipation and gastrointestinal disorders. The leaves and roots are used for the management of hypertension. The young leaves are used in treating intestinal helminthiasis. The laves and stalks are used for treatment of psoriasis. It is used traditionally as a mineral supplement. In Nigeria leaves are placed on a wound as a substitute for iodine. One of the most common medicinal uses of Vernonia amygdalina is as a treatment against intestinal worms including nematodes. In Zimbabwe a root infusion is used to treat sexually transmitted diseases. Bark infusions are also taken to treat fever and diarrhoea, dried flowers against stomach disorders. Vernonia amygdalina is also useful as a control agent against diseases in plants. The ash from burnt branches is used to control seed-borne fungi (Curvularia, Aspergillus, Fusarium and Penicillium spp.) thus ameliorating seed viability and germination capacity.
The leaf extract contains Sesquiterpene lactones (vernolepin, vernolide and vernodalol); tannins; flavonoids (luteolins); saponins (vernoniosides); alkaloids; calcium; amino acids; vitamin C (Masaba, 2000; Sayed et al., 1982).
Therapeutic actions include antimalarial, anthelminthic, antidiabetic analgesic; anticancer; antifungal, anti-inflammatory, antipyretic, antitumour, antioxidant diuretic and antibacterial.
Therapeutic indications include:
- Reduce fever,
- As a dewormer,
- Management of scanty urine (oliguria)
- Abdominal pain
- Bacterial and fungal skin disorders
- Management of diabetes
- Treatment of malaria
- Treatment of itching (Pruritis)
- Treatment of ringworm infestation
- Treatment of upper respiratory tract infections
- Management of asthma.
Ghana Herbal Pharmacopoeia (1992), 30-32. The Advent Press: Accra, Ghana.
Mshana, N.R., Abbiw, D.K., Addae-Mensah, I., Ahiyi, M.R.A. et al (2000). Traditional medicine and pharmacopoeia. Contribution to the revision of Ethnobotanical and Floristics Studies of Ghana. Organisation of African Unity/Scientific, technical and research committee.
Masaba SC (2000). The antimalarial activity of Vernonia amygdalina Del (Compositae). Trans. Roy Soc. Trop. Med. Hyg., 94: 694-695.
Sayed MD, Zaki AY, El-Marzabai MM, Doss SL (1987). Med. plants.Phytochem., 21: 944.