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What is bitter leaf?

The bitter leaf is a green leafy plant of African origin known scientifically as Vernonia amygdalina.

When young, the bitter leaf plant is a shrub with tender green stem and elliptical bitter-tasting green leaves which later grows into a small tree with grey or brown rough-surfaced bark of up to 5 metres in height when fully grown.

Vernonia amygdalina  is called bitter leaf in English because of its bitter taste. Its  common African names include ewuro (Yoruba), Congo Bololo( D. R. Congo) , etidot (Efik), onugbu (Igbo), ityuna (Tiv), oriwo (Edo), Awɔnwono (Akan),  shuwaka (Hausa)

What makes bitter leaf bitter?

The leaves and stems of bitter leaf taste bitter because these vegetable parts are rich in chemicals that are bitter to taste.

These bitter chemicals found in significant quantities to make bitter leaf taste bitter are alkaloids (lactucopicrin, lactucin, augustamine and crinamidine in decreasing order of concentration) and tannins( tannic acid and acertannin).

The bitter-tasting chemicals dissolve in water so you will taste the bitter taste when it touches your tongue. If the leaf or stem of bitter leaf is placed in water , it can make the water or any other object it touches around it taste bitter.

Research has shown that these bitter chemicals like the alkaloids are responsible for the errectogenic effect of bitter leaf. 

What nutrients are in bitter leaf?

According to results from credible research, the results of the screening for nutrients in bitter leaf  showed that: 

▪Carbohydrates, saponins, alkaloids, tannins, proteins and steroid occurred in very high concentration, 

▪Flavonoids and glycosides occurred in high concentration, 

 ▪Resins in low concentration.

 ▪Oils were not observed and therefore reported to be absent in bitter leaf.  

These nutrients in bitter leaf makes its consumption useful for human growth and development as well as herb found useful in ethnomedicine.

What are the uses of bitter leaf?

Bitter leaf as food

Bitter leaf is used as an important ingredient in cooking meals, especially some delicious traditional African soups.

This is because bitter leaf is rich in nutrients and it gives great taste and aroma to meals. Bitter leaf is rich in minerals like Magnesium, Potassium and iron the body needs for its growth ,development and proper functioning .

Bitter leaf for treating minor skin infections

The leaves of bitter leaf plant is used as home remedy for treating some minor skin infections like eczema.

Bitter leaf chewing stick to counter bitter taste malaria symptom and boost appetite

The stem of the bitter leaf plant is used as chewing stick for tooth brushing to neutralise the bitter taste symptoms in malaria in order to stimulate appetite. 

Bitter leaf as anti-pyrexia in malaria and typhoid fever

Bitter leaf is rich in substances that have antipyrretic effect on the body so can be used to treat fever at home . This role makes it an important part of herbal formulation for treatment of malaria and typhoid fever. 

Bitter leaf has errectogenic effect

Bitter leaf holds a promising prospect as choice of medicine for treating erectile dysfunction.

Bitter leaf is good for lowering blood sugar and high blood pressure.

It has a positive effect on cardiovascular diseases such as high blood pressure and diabetes because it’s consumption help lower blood sugar levels and high blood pressure.

Bitter leaf helps prevent premature aging of body cells

Bitter leaf is very rich in antioxidants. These antioxidants present in bitter leaf  helps the body to mop up free radicals that attack the cells and lead to premature aging of cells. Therefore, consumption of bitter leaf helps prevent premature aging. 

Bitter leaf as anti-cancer properties used in prostrate cancer treatment

Some chemicals found in bitter leaf have proven to be effect anticancer agents. That’s why use of bitter leaf in treatment of cancer diseases like prostrate cancer is popular.

Bitter leaf helps improve the quality of sperm cells

The nutrients present in bitter leaf helps improve the quality of sperm cells and help reduce the chances of male infertility.

What are the side effects of bitter leaf?

Dried bitter leaf has no reported side effect and it’s highly regarded as a vegetable used as a tasty and healthy ingredient in cooking delicious meals.

However,  some side effects may be considered when you are taking the juice or eating the freshly cut leaves.

The strong bitter taste of the juice extract or fresh leaves can make you very uncomfortable and develop a phobia for the taste subsequently.

You need to be sure that you are not allergic to bitter leaf or any of the natural substances present in bitter leaf.

It can have an additive effect when it’s juice extract or  fresh leaf is taken with cardiovascular diseases medications for managing high blood pressure and diabetes thereby capable of crashing BP and Sugar levels below the minimum normal level.

There are concerns about the likelihood of abortifacient effect of the juice extract of fresh bitter leaves.

So drinking of concentrated bitter leaf juice extract is not recommended in pregnancy.

Bitter leaf juice extract has a diuretic effect so it should not be taken just before you go to bed so you won’t be waking up several times to urinate.

Can bitter leaf spoil?

Dried bitter leaf has a long half life if stored in well seal containers keep in dey cool place.

However, the fresh vegetable parts, especially the leaves can go bad especially after 2 days if not preserved.

This is because the leaves have a high moisture content of  73.38% which provides adequate moisture for spoilage microorganism to thrive and spoil the fresh leaves over time.

The leaves can be dried and stored as dry leaf powder. Bitter leaf parts can be processed; leaves are rinsed to remove stones or debris on the leaves, then sliced and washed vigorously in salty water to wash out most of the bitter taste and make them soft and edible enough for cooking .

In this form, the washed bitter leaves can be stored in salty water for up to 1-2 weeks or cold- stored in the fridge or frozen in freezer for months.

What is the fastest way to remove the bitterness from bitter leaves?

Rinse thoroughly the fresh bitter leaves to remove traces of stone or sand residue.

Add some edible potash ( also known aa Kaun in Yoruba ,limestone in English) to warm water in a bowl and leave for 2 minutes. Remove any kaun yet to dissolve after 2 minutes. The kaun acts as a catalyst to quickly soften the leaves , burst the stores where the bitter substances are stored in the leaves and help with the washing process.

Transfer the clean leaves into the bowl and wash the leaves in the warm solution by scrubbing, smashing against the surface of the bowl and squeezing the leaves for 2 minutes. It produces a thick pale green whitish froth.

Add clean water to the content of the bowl and strain to remove the leaves. Squeeze the washed leaves to completely remove the froth. Discard the frothy water and transfer the washes leaves back into the empty bowl and repeat the waahing by scrubbing, smashing and squeezing for 2 minutes, add some clean water and drain to drain the frothy liquid liquid completely and repeat process 3 more times to make up 5 washes.

Taste to confirm. If the taste is now mildly bitter and no more green frothy liquid is released when you squeeze the now dark green shrivelled leaves , stop further washing and transfer the washed shrivelled softened bitter leaf pieces into your soup or inside a sealable plastic container for storage.

Is dried bitter leaf good?

Yes. Dried bitter leaf enhances cleansing of vital organs of the body like the liver and the kidney. Bitter leaf can be used in the treatment of infections of the skin such as ringworm, rashes and eczema.

What do you need to prepare a dried bitter leaf?

📌 Dry Bitter Leaves

📌 Food Tenderiser

📌 Water

📌 Plastic Bags

📌 Sieve

📌 Big Pot

📌 Stove/Cooker

How do you cook a dried Bitter leaf?

📍 Wash the dried Bitter leaves and put in a titanium plastic bag. Use more than one plastic bag if you are tenderizing in large quantity as it will enable the leaves to get softer very quickly.

The plastic bag is used to give pressure to the dried bitter leaves when cooking but why a titanium plastic bag is best is because it helps it to withstand the heat and not make the plastic bag have an hole. The more airtight the plastic bags are, the faster the dried bitter leaf will soften.

📍 Put in a powdered food tenderiser in the dried bitter leaves and ruffle the bag so as to evenly distributed it on the leaves. Then tie the handles of the bag(s) in such a way that the bag(s) are air-tight.

📍 Place the filled plastic bags in a big pot filled with some water and start to cook. Allow to boil for about 1 hour, turn off the heat and leave to cool.

📍 Transfer the bitter leaves into a bowl, add cold water and start to wash, rubbing the bitter leaves together just as though you are handwashing a cloth so as to remove every form of bitterness and the tenderiser as much as possible.

At first the washing water will turn dark but keep on changing the water often till you have clean leaves with as little foam as possible.

📍 Squeeze the bitter leaves to drain as much water as possible after thorough washing of the bitter leaves.

📍 It can then be used but it can also be placed on plastic bags or containers and store in the freezer for future purpose.

Can bitter leaf be dried?

Bitter leaf can be air dried but there are some days you might just need to dry bitter leaf in a faster especially a small quantity, this is where the microwave oven comes in.

What’s the best way to dry bitter leaf?

There are 4 major methods of drying fresh bitter leaves.

These methods of drying are; air- drying, oven-drying, Sun-drying and solar-drying.

According to research, the most effective method of drying when compared is solar- drying.

The result of a research comparing the 4 different  drying methods show  solar-dried (12.80%), sun-dried (15.25%), oven-dried (13.07%) and air-dried (20.40) when compared to the fresh bitter leaves (73.38%).

What soups can bitter leaf be used for?

Bitter leaf is used as ingredient in the preparation of Egusi soup, Ogbona and bitter leaf soup.

What is the best brand of dried bitter leaves?

Dried Bitter Leaf by DIFL Foods

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