VERNONIA AMYGDALINA = GYMNANTHENUM AMYGDALINUM
The asteraceae are an immense family of flowering plants which contains several hundred botanical genera including the genus Vernonia = Gymnanthenum which also includes hundreds of species in Asia , Africa and America (South and North).
Vernonia amygdalina is native to Africa, it is found in the wild or cultivated state in all countries of the African tropical-equatorial zone except areas that are too arid .
This plant is absent or rare in North Africa and southern Africa.
It is a shrubby and bushy plant which can reach 6 to 10 meters, the white or cream flowers are grouped in inflorescences at the end of the branches (terminal), the small seeds are achenes with 10 ribs, 1.5–3, 5 mm long, covered with hairs and glandular, brown to black, topped by the pappus bristles.
It is found in primary forest or in deforested areas, near rivers or in fields where crops have been abandoned.
Vernonia amygdalina is a resistant plant which colonizes deforested or abandoned areas, not very sensitive to the quality of the soil, which prefers moderately humid areas but which also tolerates drought.
THIS VERY USEFUL AND INTERESTING AFRICAN FOOD AND MEDICINAL PLANT has many local names, some examples: NDOLE in Cameroon, onugbu and ewuro in Nigeria, kongo bololo in Congo, kougôpô or anango in Ivory Coast, kilulukunju in Swahili...
Vernonia amygadalina was introduced into Asia where it is mainly a medicinal plant: African bitter leaf in India, pokok Bismillah in Malaysia, Daun pahit Afrika in Indonesia, Umubirizi in the Philippines, vernonie commune in French .
In AFRICA the leaves are consumed despite their bitterness, they are NOURISHING AND DIETARY, ndolé is a traditional dish in Cameroon.
All parts of the plant contain substances of medical interest: leaves, branches, marrow or pith, roots, bark.
It is also a useful plant for reforestation, honey production, and for its wood which is very resistant to termites.
Certain groups of chimpanzees know the medicinal virtues of Vernonia amygdalina and related species; they use the leaves and the pith of the small branches of this plant to eliminate their intestinal parasites (intestinal worms).Leaves of Vernonia amygdalina
CHEMICAL COMPOSITION AND PROPERTIES
THE LEAVES OF VERNONIA AMYGDALINA, BITTER LEAF, NDOLE, EWURO, ONUGBU, KONGO BOLOLO
Fresh leaves contain on average in % of weight:
82% water, 10% carbohydrates, 5% proteins, 1.5% cellulosic fibers, 0.5% lipids, 51 mg per 100g of vitamin C, mineral salts of calcium, phosphorus, iron .
They contain the equivalent of 60 kcal of energy per 100g of fresh plant.
THESE LEAVES ARE NATURALLY VERY BITTER, this is due to:
- the presence of sesquiterpene lactones specific to Vernonia, including vernodalin, vernolepin and vernoamygdalin
- and other carbohydrate compounds with a steroid core, vernoniosides.
LACTONES ARE SOLUBLE IN WATER (water-soluble), a good part of them can therefore be eliminated by soaking the leaves several times in warm or hot water, the bitterness of the leaves is thus considerably reduced.
Similar bitter compounds are found in many other medicinal plants (some examples: artichoke, dandelion, chicory, mugwort, burdock, blessed thistle, etc.).
These are the classic "bitter principles", considered DEPURATIVE, ANTI-INFLAMMATORY, and stimulating the depurative activity of the liver and kidneys.
Some of these lactones have anticancer activity in vitro (induction of apoptosis (death of cancer cells) and possible prevention of metastasis).
Bitter plant compounds can FACILITATE DIGESTION AND PROMOTE APPETITE.
The leaves of vernonia amygdalina contain many other compounds that seem interesting for medicine; they have been described but not yet sufficiently well studied.
According to recent studies, the leaves and young leafy branches of Vernonia amygdalina are potentially:
- General anti-inflammatories,
- Anti-helmintics (intestinal parasites),
- Anti-dysenteric (diarrhea)
- Hepatic (liver) and cardiac (heart) protector
THE ROOTS OF VERNONIA AMYGDALINA, BITTER LEAF, NDOLE, EWURO, ONUGBU, KONGO BOLOLO
Root bark extracts have antimalarial power in mice infected with Plasmodium berghei (an inactive parasite in humans) and only in the laboratory (in vitro) against Plasmodium falciparum (one of the agents of human malaria).
Some studies suggest that extracts of Vernonia amygdalina root have activity against other human parasites: agents of leshmaniasis and bilharzia (= schistosomiasis), two very widespread parasitosis that are difficult to treat in many tropical-equatorial regions. and temperate subtropics including southern Europe
VERNONIA AMYGDALINA, BITTER LEAF NDOLE, EWURO, ONUGBU, KONGO BOLOLO, FOOD PLANT
FRESH OR PREPARED LEAVES ARE APPRECIATED IN AFRICA
They are the subject of intensive cultivation around large cities and many people grow a few plants of vernonia in their garden for family consumption.
The leaves are rarely eaten raw (like a salad) because they are too bitter (unless it is for treatment), several fairly simple processes must be used to eliminate some of the bitter substances:
- soaking in several baths of cold water or lukewarm or boiling,
- crushing with a pestle followed by pressing of the crushed leaves, sometimes adding a little water to eliminate the bitterness present in a kind of slightly green foam with a soapy appearance. Do not add oil which prevents the elimination of bitter principles.
These green leaves do not keep long unless they are frozen. They can be kept in the refrigerator for a few days.
Vernonia leaves are cooked in soups, stews, or accompany meat, vegetable and fish dishes like spinach or other edible leafy plants.
They are offered on the markets fresh or partially prepared (example: in the form of balls of crushed or fragmented leaves).
The leaves can be dried, ground into powder and then incorporated into the diet as needed.
VERNONIA LEAVES ARE DIETARY AND NOURISHING:
- they provide proteins,
- dietary carbohydrates,
- mineral salts (including iron salts)
- and substances which strengthen immunity, reduce the effects of type 2 diabetes, protect the liver, facilitate digestion and help eliminate some intestinal parasites.
VERNONIA AMYGDALINA, BITTER LEAF, NDOLE, EWURO, ONUGBU, KONGO BOLOLO, MEDICINAL PLANT
As we said above, the active substances of Vernonia amydalina have been described but not yet well studied.
However, we can rely on some recent studies and the experience of numerous traditional practitioners in Africa to discuss certain medical applications.
AQUEOUS EXTRACTS OF VERNONIA AMYGDALINA LEAVES: fresh leaves crushed and mixed with a little water, infusion or decoction of leaves are useful:
- in the case of seasonal VIRAL INFECTION such as influenza,
- in the case of GASTRO INTESTINAL DISORDERS (diarrhea, digestive pain),
- in the case of HEPATIC DISORDERS (hepatitis, constipation, difficulty digesting fats),
- in the case of type 2 DIABETES (fatty diabetes or adult-onset diabetes),
- in association with drug treatment for malaria,
- to reduce the quantity of INTESTINAL PARASITES in both adults and children,
- to accompany anticancer chemotherapy, especially that using doxorubicin which can cause heart problems,
- to clean wounds or burns in the absence of modern antiseptics.
THE MARROW OF THE SMALL BRANCHES AND THE ROOTS OF VERNONIA AMYGDALINA;
These parts of the plant contain a higher concentration of active substances but are also very bitter and sometimes difficult to tolerate.
The small branches of vernonia serve as a chewing stick to cleanse the mouth and clean the teeth through a mechanical and antibiotic effect.
USE IN ANIMALS
Veronica leaves can treat SMALL LIVESTOCK INFECTED BY INTESTINAL PARASITES (goats and sheep), experiences in India have been conclusive.
You should give food containing vernonia leaves every month for a few days, for example. Intestinal parasites are largely eliminated, but animals become reinfected through grazing, hence the need for regular treatment.
In Africa, livestock naturally feed on Vernonia leaves when they are accessible to them.
Let us quote this extract from an IRD scientific article on CHIMPANZES of Tanzania by Michael A. Huffman:
<< By ingesting the pith of young shoots of V. amygdalina, chimpanzees meticulously remove the outer bark and leaves to better chew the exposed pith from which they extract an extremely bitter juice and fiber residue. The amount of marrow ingested in a simple attack is relatively small, ranging from 5 to 120 centimeters x 1 centimeter. The entire process, depending on the amount ingested, varies in time, from less than a minute up to 8 minutes. It has been observed that an adult subject, found in the vicinity of an individual busy chewing pith or swallowing Vernonia leaves, does not seem eager to ingest pith. On the other hand, young chimpanzees have occasionally been seen tasting the marrow thrown away by their sick mother. In this way, individuals in the group are exposed to the extremely bitter behavior and taste of the marrow from a very young age.
In Mahale, the use of V. amygdalina has been reported in all months of the year except June and October (end of the dry season), demonstrating that the plant is available all year round. However, use by chimpanzees is highly seasonal, despite being available all year round. They use it most often during the months of the rainy season, in December and January, when parasitic reinfection by intestinal worms is the greatest >> .
OTHER USES OF VERNONIA AMYGDALINA, NDOLE, EWURO, ONUGBU, KONGO BOLOLO
This shrub is a reforestation plant, which can grow even on very damaged land.
They can be made into bushy hedges and Vernonia wooden posts can be used to demarcate plots of land because they are quite resistant to termites.
Vernonia amygdalina is a honey plant that produces very good honey.
CULTIVATION OF VERNONIA AMYGDALINA
IT IS AN EASY PLANT TO CULTIVATE, in warm tropical and equatorial regions, propagation is done by sowing seeds or by cutting small branches when you want to preserve a particularly interesting variety.
Market gardening professionals prefer to renew their plantations every year or two, favoring cuttings which produce good-sized leaves more quickly on plots irrigated and enriched with natural fertilizers.
In the gardens you can let these small trees grow and pick the leaves as you wish.
OTHER SPECIES OF VERNONIA
There are other species and varieties in Africa used as a food and medicinal plant.
Several varieties of Vernonia calvoana present in the highlands of Cameroon are wild and sometimes cultivated.
We can find in the scientific literature other species close to Vernonia amygdalina and used in the same way:
Vernonia hymenolepis or sweet bitter leaf (high plateaus of Cameroon and Nigeria),
Vernonia colorata (South Africa),
Vernonia cinerea (in Kenya),
Vernonia poskeana (in Zimbabwe),
Vernonia appendiculata (in Madagascar),
Vernonia perrottetii (in Sierra Leone).
Vernonia galamensis is native to East Africa, particularly in Ethiopia, its oilseeds are used which give a very drying oil usable in the paint and coatings industry, it contains between 40 and 80% vernolic acid, it is unfit for consumption.
VERNONIA or NDOLE, BITTER LEAF, EWURO, ONUGBU, KONGO BOLOLO, AFRICAN FOOD AND MEDICINAL PLANT
Among the many species of vernonia in Africa, vernonia amygdalina is the most used as a food (NDOLE) and medicinal plant.
It contains very bitter compounds which are eliminated before cooking, or preserved if for medicinal use.
It would have anti-inflammatory, anti-helminthic (intestinal parasites), anti-viral, anti-dysenteric (diarrhea), anti-diabetic properties and would be a hepatic (liver) and cardiac (heart) protector. It is a useful plant, easy to cultivate and already introduced in Asia.
Copyright 2023 : Dr Jean-Michel Hurtel