Do you know that the common African plant, bitter leaf, which you can conveniently grow in your backyard, can cure a lot of ailments? In Nigeria, the Yorubas call it ewuro, Igbo, onugbu, Hausa, chusar doki (a horse tonic food containing the leaves), Ibibio atidot, Tiv, ityuna and Edo, oriwo.
The botanical name for bitter leaf is Vernonia which is a genus of about 1000 species of forbs and shrubs in the family Asteraceae. Some species are known as Ironweed. Some species of Vernonia, including V. Calvoana, V.amygdalina, and V. Colorata, are eaten as leaf vegetables and are of economic value. They are known for having intense purple flowers. They are common in most West African and Central African countries. The leaves have a sweet and bitter taste. They are sold fresh or dried, and are a typical ingredient in egusi soup. They are also one of the most widely consumed leaf vegetables of Cameroon, where they are a key ingredient of ndole stew. V. Galamensis is used as an oilseed in east Africa.
The genus is named after English botanist, William Vernon. There are numerous distinct subgenera and subsections in this genus. This has led some botanists to divide this large genus into smaller groups which separate the species into distinct genera. For instance, the Flora of North America only recognizes about 20 species, 17 of which are in North America or in Mexico, with the other two or three being found in South America. These leaves are exposed from several African countries and can be purchased inexpensively in grocery stores aiming to serve African clients for about $1.50/225gm pkg. Frozen. The roots of bitter leaf have been used for gingivitis and toothache due to its proven antimicrobial activity.
Bitter leaf is well known as a medicinal plant with several uses attributed to it. Its culinary importance is such that it can be used to prepare a special soup and a variety of sauces which calm stomach pains. It becomes handy in reducing the body’s sugar level. It is said to cure diabetes, diarrhoea, constipation. In combination with other local materials, it can cure poison intake by inducing vomiting. It has been recently discovered as a non- pharmaceutical solution to persistent fever, headache, and joint pain associated with AIDS (an infusion of the plant is taken as needed). In North America, of the 17 species of Vernonia (eg., V. Altissima, V. Fasciculate, V. Flaccidifolia) all have the same effective properties as blood purifier and uterus toner, containing sesquiterpene lactone, which helps also to prevent atherosclerosis. Vernonia species are used as food plants by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species including Coleophora vernoniaeella (which feeds exclusively on the genus) Schinia regia (which feeds exclusively on V.Texana).