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USES OF BITTER LEAF IN TRADITIONAL MEDICINE

By Godwin Ihesie

 

Bitter leaf is known botanically as Vernonia amygdalina. The igbos call it “Olugbu” while the Yorubas know it as “Ewuro”. After washing the leaves to remove the bitterness, bitter leaf is popular for “Bitter leaf soup” preparation in most southern parts of Nigeria where it grows luxuriantly.

Like most bitter-tasting herbs, bitter leaf contains “Bitter principles” which are a combination of alkaloids, glycosides, tannins, essential oils, etc.

Generally speaking, bitter-tasting herbs:

  1. Act as stimulating tonics for the digestive system.
  2. Stimulate the flow of bile and appetite for food.
  3. Enhance the activities of the pancreas and regulate blood sugar.
  4. Promote the detoxification actions of the liver.

Herbs like bitter leaf, utazi (gongronema latifolia), phyllanthus, etc. are the most important bitter-tasting herbs that generally enhance the activity of the liver.

In herbal medicine, the leaves, the stems and the roots of bitter leaf are used in the preparation of herbal remedies. But in most cases, the fresh juice extracted from the leaves is more potent than any other part of the plant.

Experience has shown that the whole plant exhibits the following herbal actions:

Antitumor (anti-neoplatic), broad spectrum antimicrobial (antibacterial,

antifungal, antiparasitic and antiviral), digestive tonic and mild expectorant.

 

  1. THE ANTI-TUMOR ACTIVITIES OF BITTER LEAF:

Studies have shown that most women develop breast lumps as a result of:

(i) Chronic stress – internalized or retained negative thoughts (arising from suppressed anger, frustration in love matters, unforgiving attitude etc.).

(ii) Chronic systemic pollution arising from toxins (poor bowel movement).

(iii) Poor dietary habits that may lead to nutritional deficiencies.

These factors are known to give rise to what is referred to as TOXEMIA, and chronic toxemia overstresses the liver and the immune system.

Over burdening the liver often results in its insufficient functioning that may also lead to the establishment of cancerous growth centres in the body – including the breasts.

Some research works have shown that the fresh extract of bitter leaf reduces the progression of breast cancer. This antineoplastic action of bitter leaf was well known among the practitioners of herbal medicine many years ago.

The sap extracted from the fresh leaves taken up to 5 times daily in small doses (up to 2 desertspoonful) is particularly useful in the treatment of breast lump at the early stages – when the lump has not really taken a firm root in the breast.

The sap of Bitter Leaf works synergistically with a combination of green lime fruit and raw garlic cold extract in water.

During the therapy which may last up 2-3 months, other bitter-tasting herbs like “utazi” phyllanthus, and also mistletoe cold extracts are equally given. These combined therapies help to cleanse the liver and strengthen its detoxifying activities, and equally help in breaking down the tumor.

These therapies usually bring relief from fear and anxiety that are associated with the detection of breast lumps. They have indeed brought smiles and happiness to the faces of many women. with this problem. These therapies are useful, however, only when the lump is detected early.

 

  1. THE BROAD-SPECTRUM ANTIMICROBIAL ACTIVITES OF BITTER LEAF:

The fresh sap from the leaves is very helpful in the treatment of all kinds of infectious diseases:

(i) The juice extracted in palm wine is taken daily for the treatment of viral infections such as smallpox, measles and chickenpox.

The bitter leaf sap in wine is also applied externally all over the body to help reduce itching conditions.

(ii) The sap extracted from the fresh leaves of bitter leaf is used among the rural people in the treatment of:

(a) Blood in urine caused by schistosoma (blood flukes) or a condition known as schistosomiasis.

(b) Malaria (it is often regarded as quinine substitute).

(c) Amoebic dysentery

(d) Intestinal worms.

  1. BITTER LEAF EXTRACT AS DIGESTIVE TONIC:

The sap extracted from the leaves, taken daily; or chewing the root stimulates the appetite for food and promotes good digestion. Taking the fresh sap with a pinch of salt helps in relieving:

  • Gastrointestinal upset.
  • Enteritis.
  • Diarrhea.

The juices extract from the fresh leaves, when taking at bedtime, helps in promoting bowel movement in cases of mild constipation.

The fresh sap taken with lime juice helps in the treatment of hemorrhoids (pile).

 

  1. OTHER USES OF BITTER LEAF SAP OR DECOCTION INCLUDE:

– Diabetes mellitus management

– Premenstrual syndrome (PMS).

– Coughing and Pneumonia.

– Rheumatism and analgesic.

– Restoration of stamina.

 

  1. EXTERNAL USES OF BITTER LEAF:

(i) The root is used as chewing stick not only for oral hygienic but also to help prevent dental caries.

(ii) Mixing the pulp made from the fresh leaves with palm oil is locally applied on boils or on abscess to mature and draw out pus. This also helps to reduce pain.

(iii) The sap is rubbed directly on the body to help reduce itching and to treat skin infections like ring worms and eczema. It is an effective antifungal agent.