The Medicinal Herb Info site was created to help educate visitors about the often forgotten wisdom of the old ways of treating illnesses. Many of today's drugs and medicines were originally derived from natural ingredients, combinations of plants and other items found in nature.

We are not suggesting that you ignore the help of trained medical professionals, simply that you have additional options available for treating illnesses. Often the most effective treatment involves a responsible blend of both modern and traditional treatments.

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Bitter Leaf

Scientific Names

Bitter Leaf

  • Vernonia Amygdalina
  • V. calvoana
  • V. colorata
  • Gymnanthemum amygdalinum
  • Asteraceae (Compositae) Family

Common Names

 

  • Aluma (Togo)
  • An-gbẻnthσ (Sierra Leone)
  • Awonwono (Ghana)
  • Bantara bururé (Guinea)
  • Bitter Kola
  • Bitterleaf
  • Chusar-doki (Hausa)
  • Dakuna (Guinea)
  • Ebichaa (Ethiopia)
  • Etidot (Cross River State of Nigeria)
  • Ewuro (Ibdan, Nigeria)
  • Fatefata (Nigeria)
  • Gbondutsi (Togo)
  • Grawa (Amharic)
  • Ityuna (Tiv)
  • Kossa fina (Guinea)
  • Labwori (Acholi)
  • Mululuza (Luganda)
  • Ndole (French)
  • Ndoleh (Cameroon)
  • Nje nyani (Sierra Leone)
  • Olusia (Luo)
  • Omubilizi (Tanzania)
  • Omubirizi (Uganda)
  • Onugbu (Igbo)
  • Oriwo (Edo)
  • Pau Fede (Portuguese)
  • South African Leaf
  • Sucumadeira (Portuguese)
  • Umubilizi (Rwanda)
  • Vernonie (French)
  • Vernonie Commune (French)
  • Ying (Cameroon)

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Parts Usually Used

Leaves, flowers, stems, roots
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Description of Plant(s) and Culture

The Bitter Leaf plant is a small tree or shrub that grows up to 5 meters tall. The leaves taste bitter and are green, with a distinctive odor.

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Where Found

Vernonia amygdalina grows wild in most countries of tropical Africa, and in Yemen. It is commonly grown as a vegetable in Cameroon, Benin, DR Congo, Nigeria and Gabon, as well as in their neighboring countries. The Luhya people in western Kenya use this plant as a vegetable.

Bitterleaf requires full sunlight when cultivated. It also naturally occurs along lakes and rivers, in woodlands and grasslands of up to 2,000 meters altitude.

Short days induce flowering of this plant. It is fairly draught tolerant, but thrives more commonly in humid areas, especially those with Humus-rich soil.

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Medicinal Properties

This plant has been shown to possess platelet anti-aggregating properties, cytotoxic activity, be hepatoprotective, anti-leishmanial, antibacterial and antioxidant. It has been shown to inhibit tumor growth and several types of cancer.

Scientific studies have shown that extracts of the leaves retard the growth of human breast cancer cells. Leaf & root bark extracts offer antimalarial activity against Plasmodium berghei and Plasmodium falciparum.

Chewing bitter leaf sticks slow the growth of bacteria that causes periodontal disease. Leaves also work against various bacteria and viruses.
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Biochemical Information

The bitterness is caused by steroid glucosides (vernoniosides) & sesquiterpene lactones (e.g. vernodalin, vernolepin and vernomygdin). Some of these compounds are antiparasitic, especially vernodalin and vernonioside.

Ethnobotanical uses include coumarins, phenolic acids, lignans, saponins, alkaloids, terpenes, flavonoids, steroids, anthraquinone, sesquiterpenes, xanthones and edotides. These compounds have been shown to offer chemoprevention.

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Legends, Myths and Stories

Equatorial Africans cook and eat the leaves in soups and stews as a food staple.

In Uganda, the stems are used for soap.

This plant’s bitter taste is due to anti-nutritional factors such as saponins, alkaloids, glycosides and tannins. Farmers have tired adding molasses to this plant in order to make it more palatable, but with limiited success. Southern Ehtiopian farmers often boil the plant in order to reduce the bitterness for their animals.

Many farmers in Africa feed bitter leaf to their chickens in order to stretch the amount of feed they provide. They report that the chickens don’t show any health issues as a result and it doesn’t seem to affect the chickens’ weight.

Ethiopians use this plant as a substitute for hops to brew local beer.

Northern Nigerian women belive that eating the leaves enhances sexual attractiveness.

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Uses

Professor Ernest Izevbigie from Jackson State University has patented a phytochemotherapeutic compositions produced from the aqueous extracts (and fractions thereof) isolated from V. amygdalina leaves. This formula was shown to inhibit the growth of neoplastic cells, including human breast cancer cells (U.S. Patent 6713098 and Izevbigie, 2004).

The leaves are used to treat hiccups, fever, viral diseases, bacterial infection, urinary tract inflammation, liver diseases, kidney problems, nausea, jaundice, candidiasis, boils, burns, measles, yellow fever, typhoid fever, gingivitis, toothache, eczema, hypertension, convulsions, constipation, and upset stomach.

Many African ethnic groups use cold concoctions or root extracts made of this plant to treat intestinal parasites, helminth, diabetes, schistosomiasis, amoebic dysentery, scabies, headache, malaria, stomach upset, colds, bronchitis, hepatitis, cough, diarrhea, as a laxative and as a fertility inducer.

West and Central Africans consume bitterleaf much as they would any other vegetable, especially in soups. The leaves are sometimes cooked with prawns , meat or peanuts to make a dish called ‘ndole’.

The leaves are also sometimes eaten unprocessed & raw mixed with salt or palm oil.

People often apply the leaves to woulds as a form of antiseptic and to promote wound healing.

In Zimbabwe a root infusion is used to treat sexually transmitted diseases.

Some people use bitterleaf as a substitute for hops in the brewing of beer.

Both humans and chimpanzees eat the bitterleaf plant to eliminate intestinal parasites.

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Formulas or Dosages

In Nigeria, boiled leaves are used to treat diabetes.

Ethiopeans make an infusion from the leaves to use to aid the healing of wounds.

To treat liver diseases, people in Rwanda crush a handful of the leaves and boil in 3 liters of water and 1 glass of banana wine.

In Camaroon and Ethiopia, the leaves are used to make a decoction for treating malaria and jaundice.

An infusion made with the leaves is used in Nigeria and Uganda to treat multiple of malidies. Among them are boils, burns, malaria, measles, yellow fever and hypertension.

In Uganda and Nigeria, both the roots and the stem are used in an infusion to treat convulsions, stomachache, vaginal itching, intestinal worms and as a laxative and an appetizer.

Nigerians make an infusion using the leaves combined with lime and potash to treat candidiasis.

Maceration of the leaves, a cold extraction process, is used in Camaroon to prepare a treatment for diabetes, cancer and viral diseases.

Because of the ability of this plant to help prohibit periodontal disease, the sticks are chewed in Nigeria as part of regular dental hygiene.

In Tanzania, people squeeze the roots and leaves to create a treatment for febrile convulsions, fever or malaria.

There is a preparation process that involves shredding or pounding of the leaves, often adding salt or lime to help the maceration. During this process, foam is developed. The person repeatedly rinses the leaves between pounding in order to remove much of the bitterness. Once the rinse water is no longer green, the leaves are ready for consumption.

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Nutrient Content

Nutritionally, the leaves contain per 100 g edible portion: 52 calories, protein 5.2 g, water 82.6 g, fiber 1.5 g, calcium 145 mg, potassium 67 mg, iron 5.0 mg, ascorbic acid (vitamin C) 51 mg, fat 0.4 g, carbohydrate 10.0 g. This is similar to other dark green leaf vegetables’ nutritional content.

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How Sold

Leaves are usually sold dried or flash frozen. There are reports that the processed leaves fetch up to five time more money than raw leaves.

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Resource Links

Recent Studies Show Seven Herbs Help Stop Cancer Growth

Wikipedia: Vernonia Amygdalina

Futurity.org: These Medicinal Plants Put Brakes on Cancer Growth

Journal of Ethnopharmacology: Evaluation of anti-proliferative activity of medicinal plants used in Asian Traditional Medicine to treat cancer

National University of Singapore: Anti-cancer properties uncovered in plants

Antioxidative and Chemopreventive Properties of Vernonia amygdalina and Garcinia biflavonoid

Beni-Suef University Journal of Basic and Applied Sciences – Vernonia amygdalina: A folkloric herb with anthelminthic properties

Advances in Pharmacological Sciences: Antibacterial and Antioxidant Compounds from the Flower Extracts of Vernonia amygdalina

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations: Vernonia amygdalina

Biorxiv.org: Vernonia Amygdalina Del (Bitter Leaf) extract ameliorates isoniazid (INH) induced liver injury in Swiss Albino Mice

Pl@ntUse: Vernonia amygdalina (PROTA)

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