Multipurpose plants enhance the garden and our lives. Bitter leaf vegetable is one such plant. What is bitter leaf? It is a shrub of African origin that has uses as a pesticide, timber tree, food, and medicine, and its blooms produce a light colored honey. This very useful plant is cultivated and sometimes processed for trade internationally.
Growing Bitter Leaf
If you live in a warm climate you might try growing bitter leaf. The leaves are found in markets in west and central Africa, usually in dried form, but sometimes fresh on branches. The locals use them as a vegetable, added to soups and stews or eaten raw. The twigs and roots are also chewed on. The uses of bitter leaf plant are broad and diverse.
What is Bitter Leaf?
Natives of parts of Africa are very familiar with bitter leaf, or Vernonia amygdalina. It grow wild along water ways, in grassland or at the edges of forests. The plant needs full sun and grows best in a humid site. It can grow as a tree but is usually pruned to a shrub. Without pruning it can get up to 32 feet (10m.). It has fissured grayish brown bark and oblong, lance shaped green leaves with red veins. The flower heads are white and have numerous petals. A yellow fruit is produced called an achene, which is surrounded by short, brownish bristles. When it’s ripe it turns brown. Growing bitter leaf from the seed is possible but is a slow process. In processing situations, it is most often grown from stem cuttings for faster plants.
Uses of Bitter Leaf Plant
The bitter leaf vegetable can be used in many dishes or just chewed raw. It tends to have a bitter taste and must be washed thoroughly to minimize that flavor. It is this bitterness that makes it an excellent pest repellent. As a natural pesticide it repels a wide range of insects. The twigs are chewed and have periodontal benefits. As a medicine it can treat stomach problems, hepatitis, nausea, malaria, and fever. It is also widely used as an anti-parasitic. The wood is used as firewood and made into charcoal. The branches are naturally resistant to termites and used as fence stakes.
Bitter Leaf Plant Care
To try growing bitter leaf, it is best to have a cutting. Once this has rooted, bitter leaf plant care is minimal because it repels most insects and has few disease issues. Although it prefers a humid environment it is also moderately drought tolerant once established. Young plants should receive protection from full sun but older plants like a full sun location. The shoots and leaves may be harvested for 7 years but consistent harvesting will prevent flowering and fruiting. The young leaves are very bitter but tender, while the older leaves have less astringency and are best for drying.