Having a good understanding of some important plants, leaves and herbs around us is not only essential for maintaining a friendly atmosphere but as well as for maintaining a healthy body. The fact still remains that we oftentimes fail to come to terms that the plants, leaves and herbs around us are God’s own natural pharmacy to us. It is fundamental to understand why it is important to get acquainted with nature as well as note those important medicinal plants and herbs around us for our own benefits.
To a larger extent, this will save us the stress, time and cost of searching for expensive methods of treatment when we are surrounded by free gifts of nature. Whether this is your first time of hearing about Gongronema latifolium (Utazi) or not, you should know what this leaf is, what it does and how it should be used, under what circumstances.
Gongronema latifolium (Utazi) leaves
Gongronema latifolium is the botanical name for a local leaf/herb called utazi by the Eastern part (Igbo/Ibo) of Nigeria. The Western part of Nigeria call this leaf arokeke and it is a tropical rainforest plant mainly used as vegetable, medicine or spice by the people.
Gongronema latifolium (utazi) is a climbing shrub that reaches up to 5m long with woody base, hollow stems and fleshy roots.
Gongronema latifolium (Utazi) has a characteristics soft/hairy stems with latex. The utazi leaves are broad, heart shaped and slightly oval in appearance with a deeply cordate base. The utazi flowers are originally small and bisexual with a characteristics yellowish-green appearance.
Gongronema latifolium (utazi) is a seasonal shrub that flowers mainly around July and September in Nigeria. This heart-shaped leaf is characterised by a distinguishable bitter taste especially when eaten fresh however the bitter taste tends to slightly disappear if the leaves get dried.
Benefits of Gongronema latifolium leave (Utazi)
Gongronema latifolium (Utazi) belongs to the class of medicinal plants that are beneficial in preventing and treating certain diseases and ailments that are detrimental to human health.
Gongronema latifolium leaf, which can be chewed, infused or used for cooking is mainly used in the Western part of Africa for nutritional and medicinal reasons.
Pharmacological studies speculate that utazi has analgesic, antimicrobial, antibacterial, anti-ulcer, anti-sickling, anti-oxidant, anti-asthmatic, anti-pyretic, hypoglycaemic and anti-inflammatory properties. Despite these impressive speculated abilities of the utazi leaves, future researches are recommended to validate these claims.
Utazi plant is highly medicinal in nature, which suggests why its health benefits cannot be overemphasized. Researchers agree that the fundamental ingredients used for medicinal purposes are stored in the various parts of the utazi plant such as; the fruits, seeds, leaves, root and bark.
The vital medicinal ingredients stored in the various parts of the utazi leaf can be extracted either through blending the fresh leaves, chewing the utazi seeds, leaves or fruits, infusing either the dry or fresh utazi leaves and decoction. However, these various methods of preparing and using utazi leaves for medicinal purposes mainly depends on the part of the utazi plant where the active medicinal ingredients are present.
For example, the utazi roots cannot be chewed rather has to undergo decoction, the leaves can be infused with hot water and allowed to cool down before drinking while the fresh utazi leaves can be chewed.
Other benefits of Gongronema latifolium (Utazi) include;
- The utazi roots can be decocted and mixed with other medicinal plants for the treatment of sickle cell anemia.
- Infused utazi leaves can be used as a home remedy for dysentery and intestinal worms.
- The leaves when chewed raw or infused with hot water can act as a fast relief for catarrh, congested chest, running nose and cough.
- History records that Ghanaian and Senegalese squeeze the utazi leaves and use it to massage the joints of children with difficulty in walking and this practice helps those young children to start walking.
- Lactating mothers can use utazi to control their body weight as well as maintain a healthy body system.
- The utazi leaves can be macerated in alcohol and used for the treatment of viral hepatitis and bilharzia.
- The utazi fruits can be used to cook soup, which can be eaten as a laxative.
- Researchers agree that the decoction of the utazi leaves or stems can be beneficial in treating high blood pressure and diabetes.
- Infused utazi leaves are very helpful in treating malaria.
- The utazi latex from the fruits can be applied on the teeth that are affected by caries.
- Sierra Leone infuses the utazi stems with lime juice before drinking it and this acts as a purgative to treat stomach ache and colic.
- People suffering from asthma can chew utazi leaves or macerated roots to help relieve them from wheezing.
Nutritional Benefits of Gongronema latifolium (Utazi)
Nutritionally, Gongronema. latifolium (utazi) is an excellent source of protein and past studies show that Gongronema. latifolium (utazi) leaves are suitable for use in food production due to its high amino acid contents.
They are bitter-sweet in taste and often used as a local spice and vegetable for food preparations such as;abacha, nkwobi, unripe plantain porridge, ugba, local soups such as nsala (white soup), sauces, salads and isiewu. Africans such as Nigeria, Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, use the stems and fruits as chewing sticks.