Ugwu is not just a food or vegetable, it is the holy grail of healthy living. But how much do you know about this leafy green of wonders?
Widely eaten and popularly grown across the southern part of Nigeria, the African pumpkin leaf needs no introduction. It is used in many Nigerian cuisines such as: Egusi, Ogbono, Efo-riro and so many more. What it used it for is only limited by your imagination and your knowledge of the vegetable.
It is predominantly cultivated in eastern Nigeria; this is probably why its Igbo name has been the most widely used today. Even non Igbos call it “Ugwu” or what do you call it?
It is known as the fluted pumpkin leaf in English. The botanical name you asked? … Well this is not a biology class, this page is about food, not Botany.
Does it have other Nigerian names?
Absolutely, the Yoruba name is Eweroko, the Efik/Ibibio name is Ikong-Ubong, and the Edo name is Ebuvhenhen. These are obviously not exhaustive, so kindly permit us to carry on.
Although Ugwu can grow in many parts of West Africa, it has largely been cultivated in Igbo and Calabar land.
It has been estimated that some 30-35million people in Nigeria make use of Ugwu in their meals. This is almost like the populations of Ghana and Benin put together. It is a massive number, wouldn’t you agree?
Different stories have been told about the healing properties of Ugwu. It has even been used as a blood tonic usually administered on the weak and ill.
If you have had this cocktail made from the mixture of Ugwu juice with malt drink and milk, kindly raise your hands for recognition we want to take a roll call.
Components of Ugwu and their Health Benefits
- The leaf contains a high quantity of potassium and iron.
Agreed, but why should this matter to you?
Women need to consume 18mg of iron, while men require about 8mg daily.
This means that as a woman, you need twice as much iron as a man for you to function optimally. It is therefore important to make deliberate effort to eat foods that are rich in iron. Ugwu is a sure bet to get you substantial quantities of iron. Although it is worthy of note that the irons found in plants are not as easily absorb-able the as the ones found in animals. So, you may want to augment with some animal protein sources like meat, fish and so on.
- Iron ensures your body cells are able to save energy from the food you ate, and to release the same energy when needed.
- It promotes good circulation of blood as well as good brain function by ensuring that adequate oxygen gets to your brain tissues.
If you don’t get enough iron, so what?
Low iron level;
- Brings down the amount of oxygen in your blood stream, thereby causing fatigue.
- Causes difficulty in concentration, because of a reduced brain function
- Causes rapid heartbeats and pale complexion.
- Iron deficiency is also one of the leading causes of anemia.
Potassium, so what about it?
Your body requires potassium in large quantities. According to the University Of Maryland Medical Center, you need around 4700mg everyday. Ugwu is a rich source of potassium.
What does Potassium do exactly?
- Potassium ensures that you have a healthy heart function.
- Potassium is so important to your heart function that its deficiencies can prove dangerous; thereby, causing irregular heartbeats.
- Low levels of potassium will also disrupt muscle function, causing cramping and muscle weaknesses.
- This leaf contains a high amount of substances that ensure your liver functions optimally they are known as (hepatoprotective antimicrobial substances).
- It has a good quantity of vitamin A which gives you acute vision and a glowing skin.
- Its rich Vitamin C content means it is helpful in healing wounds and forming scar tissues. Vitamin C also improves your immune system’s ability to fight off diseases.
- Ugwu contains anti-cancer properties, preventing cancer.
- It contains anti-diabetic compounds which help in reducing blood sugar level.
- Ugwu has been used in the past to treat convulsion. Also, its anti-oxidant properties make it ideal for the treatment of infertility.
How to plant Ugwu?
Pumpkins can be grown vertically on a trestle-like structure. Sometimes, it is allowed to spread on the field. You may want to plant some in your garden or backyard if you have the space. All you need is the dried seed , a fertile piece of land and a consistent source of water to augment the rains. in no time, you will be selling some Ugwu to your neighbors.
Ugwu seeds are planted in April or May when the rains are just starting. The leaves or shoots can be harvested after a month and can be collected every 2-4weeks thereafter.
The fruits are harvested between October and December. The seeds are collected, some are consumed while the rest are dried and stored for the next planting season.
How to Store Ugwu?
Generally, Leaves can lose Nutrients and water pretty fast when they are not properly stored. In order to preserve Ugwu leaves for longer, you may want to store them in a seal-able polythene bag, at a temperature of about 2-4 degrees Celsius.
What can you do With Pumpkin Leaf or it Seeds?
- Obviously, the shoots of the plant are plucked and enjoyed as vegetables.
- The dark red seeds which can be found in the fruits are rich in protein and fats. The edible seed can be boiled and eaten whole or ground to make a kind of soup or a fermented porridge.
- It can be fermented and added to ogili or Ogiri.
- The seeds have been used as blood tonic due to its high protein content. It has also been used to treat convulsion malaria and anemia; it also keeps the heart very healthy as it helps in preventing cardiovascular health diseases.
You have most likely been taking ugwu for granted because you didn’t fully appreciate its significance. Our hope is that you have picked up a few things about the vegetable and should be better placed to maximize the untold secrets of these gift of nature to improve your health and those others.
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