Bitter leaf is an herb that grows naturally in Africa and provides various food uses and health benefits. The plant grows as a shrub or small tree and thrives around rivers and lakes or forested regions.
People in West and Central Africa often harvest bitter leaf, and use it in various recipes. A person may boil the leaves or dry and crush them for seasoning. The leaves have many of the same nutritional properties as other leafy greens, such as mustard greens, collard greens or spinach. Some people use the dried stems for fuel or as chewing sticks. The plant can also act as a substitute for hops during beer brewing.
Bitter leaf is commonly regarded for its medicinal properties in Nigeria and other places in the world. People use the leaves to treat conditions, such as malaria, fever, diarrhea or hepatitis. Extract from the roots also treats various disorders, and people in Nigeria use it as an iodine substitute. Dried flowers of the plant help ease gastrointestinal discomfort.
Besides treating health conditions, bitter leaf is useful to guard other plants against disease. Burning the branches forms ashes that help control seed-borne fungi. This helps increase the quantity of viable seeds for germination and planting.