Home herbal medicine Famous African herbs, NO 1 – Bitter leaf

Famous African herbs, NO 1 – Bitter leaf

Bitter leaf as a potent herb in Africa Since pre-historic times, Africa is known to have a vast and successful practice of herbs in traditional health and medicine. Many of their early techniques in the treatment of diseases are currently studied in developed countries in the world. Medicine and treatments with herbs in Africa rest

Bitter leaf as a potent herb in Africa

Since pre-historic times, Africa is known to have a vast and successful practice of herbs in traditional health and medicine. Many of their early techniques in the treatment of diseases are currently studied in developed countries in the world.

Medicine and treatments with herbs in Africa rest with the prerogative of traditional healers (Shamans, Dibia, Babalawo, Sangomas, Inyangas, Boka) Africa, these healers claim to get inspiration from; predecessors, divination with gods, revelation or through the creative acts of observing animals.

The trust in herbal medicine is so great even up till now that more people trust in their efficacy rather than conventional drugs, plus there is a higher ratio of traditional healers to people compared to conventional doctors.

Africa is also home to lots of therapeutic plants due to the various soil conditions and the climate of the regions, and one of such staple plants is the Bitter-leaf plant (Vernonia amygdalina).

What is Bitter-Leaf?

It is a common plant in the Sub-Saharan parts of Africa and has varying local names. In Nigeria, the Yoruba tribes refer to it as (Ewuro), the Igbos (Onugbu), and the Hausas (Shiwaka) the Cameroon (Ndolo) D.R Congo (Congo Bololo).

It is a small leafy green shrub that grows to a height of about 2-5.5m and blooms well during the rainy seasons, and its 20cm length elliptical leaves hang from frail barks.

The leaves of the plants are so bitter that it will ‘throw-off’ anyone who tastes it with his tongue, especially a newbie. Before Africans use it in meals, they rumple and squeeze a lot of bitter juice from the leaves to prevent the excessive bitter tastes from ruining their soups or foods.

Cultivating Bitter-leaf

Bitter-leaf is natural to many West and East African countries like Nigeria, Congo, Ghana, Senegal, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, etc. In many rural communities in Nigeria, it is cultivated in many households in their vegetable gardens.

Bitter-leaf is planted by replanting a cut stem from a previously growing plant (the parent plant develops another stem).

Bitter leaf, the African Ginseng?

There are many world-renowned herbs and plants that are used for many different types of illnesses and conditions. For example, in Arabia, you have the Blackseed, in Indian, there is Ashwagandha, and in China, you will find Ginseng.

Now Bitter-leaf might not be well known outside Africa, but it has varying uses and health benefits;

It is a distinct vegetable and ‘spice’ in cooking and comes with its bitter-sweet taste,
The juice can be extracted for health-related issues,
The leaves can be mashed/pound to get the paste
People also chew the raw leaves.

Health benefits of Bitter-leaf

Here is a quick breakdown of some of the reasons people in Africa use this amazing plant:

For relief from Stomach aches:

It is a common practice in the rural and semi-urban parts of Africa to chew the stem of the bitter-leaf as a reprieve from stomach pains and aches. Similarly, others might mash the fresh leaves in a mortar to extract the juice and add a little salt.

Medical Research shows a lot of anti-toxins present in bitter leaf plants that help them efficient in the cure of stomach aches.

Bitter-leaf and diabetes

Many Nigerians use the bitter leaf plant as a preventive and containment herb for Diabetes; Bitter leaf does not only reduce high sugar levels in the blood, it will also help to repair impaired pancreas in your body. Impaired pancreases are one of the leading causes of diabetes in Nigeria.

For people who smoke

Bitter-leaf also serves as a good anti-pollutant, and most smokers incorporate bitter leaf to their diet as a shield to prevent rising fumes from damaging body organs.

Regulates Blood cholesterol levels

Elevated cholesterol levels can be a high-risk factor for heart attacks, stroke, and other conditions. It is a common sight for the elderly population to take a ‘shot’ of bitter leaf juice regularly as a method of prevention.


There are lots of research that has proven the potency of bitter leaf in ridding the body of harmful toxins and oxidants. It is common to see people drink half glasses of the juice as a way to ‘flush out’ different toxins in the body.

Improve Kidney health

One of the researches carried out on the bitter leaf plant is its efficiency in renal health and functions. African traditional healers have long used Bitter leaf juice as a remedy to renal problems that may plague their patients.

Good source of fatty acids

Bitter leaf plants have a copious supply of polyunsaturated fatty acids and linoleic acids. While these two fatty compounds are essential to the body, the body is incapable of producing them. Many research and study also confirm their role in easy digestion.

Improves the health of the skin

In rural and domestic areas, skin diseases like; ringworm, eczema, warts, and boils are cured by rubbing the paste from the leaves of the bitter-leaf plant on the affected region. Not only does it cure skin disease, but it also leaves a clear and smooth skin.


When suffering from insomnia, people simply drink juice extracts of the bitter leaf. Bitter leaf juice can create a calming effect that results in calm and sleep.

Bitter-Leaf in use with other Herbs

In Africa traditional medicine, it is not uncommon to mix different herbs to treat a particular ailment. Bitter-leaf can be sometimes mixed with Basil leaves, or Moringa leaves in a boiling concoction to treat ailments like; severe stomach aches, pile, and diabetes.

Bitter-leaf used in foods.

Although Bitter-leaf is replete with lots of desirable nutrients and anti-toxins for the body, researchers fear that when used in cooking, some of the nutrients are lost when squeezing or washing of the bitter juice. Also, the excessive heat in the food might be enough to reduce the leaves to mere spices rather than a source of vitamins.

Final words on Bitter leaf

Not only is Bitter-leaf a common herb in Sub-Saharan Africa, but it is also a good vegetable for consumption and making of foods. It is also simple to cultivate the plant, and it can grow on almost most soil types. It is more like a ‘first-aid’ herbs in the rural parts of Africa.

There is no doubt that as the world learns more and more about Bitter leaf, it will soon become much more widely available and used across the globe.

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