Ugu leaf and ugu seeds are very popular in Nigeria as Ugu leaf farming is heavily practised in this part of the world. Ugu is the Igbo language for fluted pumpkin leaves and the botanical name for ugu is Telfairia occidentalis. The ugu plant is a tropical vine grown in West Africa as a leaf vegetable of for its seeds. Also referred to as ikong-ubong in Efik/Ibibio language, ugu is a member of Cucurbitaceae and is indigenous to Southern Nigeria. The ugu leaf is cultivated in numerous West African nations but is mainly grown in Igbo and Calabar lands. Ugu leaf health benefits are also very important to note.
Ugu leaf farming in Nigeria as previously stated is majorly done in Southern Nigeria. It is cultivated largely because it is used by over 30 million people in the country. The ugu plant grows vertically on a trestle-like structure, however, it can be spread flat on a field. ugu seeds are planted directly into the soil, with two or three seeds planted together to yield better results. Seeds are planted between the months of April and May and the first leaves and shoots are harvested in a months’ time. Thereafter, the collection can be done every two to four weeks. The fruit of the ugu plan is harvested between October and December. It is from this inedible fruit, ugu seeds are extracted and dried.
Ugu has a lot of benefits, ranging from nutritional, to medicinal and culinary benefits. Ugu leaves and seeds have been tied to disease treatment, infertility treatment, mineral and protein sourcing, vitamins, pregnancy and more. Ugu leaves and seeds are used in the preparation of African delicacies of many kinds, egusi soup being the most popular.
Ugu Leaf Nutritional Benefits
Rich in Protein
Ugu is rich in protein which is good for the body. Protein is essential for cell repair and building new cells. It is a major growth agent. Protein also aids neurological functions and hormonal balance. Protein is good for weight-related issues and can also function as an antibody to specific viruses and diseases.
Rich in Calcium
Calcium is a mineral that provides key support to the body. Ugu is a good source of calcium as calcium is needed for strong bones and teeth. Having strong bones and teeth will support the skeletal structure and function. calcium in your body plays key roles in cell signalling, blood clotting, muscle contraction and nerve function. As an electrolyte, a particle that helps conduct electricity in the body, Calcium is a key component that helps to maintain a steady heartbeat.
Rich in Potassium
Ugu is rich in potassium. Potassium takes part in preventing and maintaining the blood pressure, cardiovascular health and promoting bone and muscle building. As an electrolyte, potassium is vital to the healthy functioning of all your body’s cells, tissues, and organs. It also helps to control the amount of water in your body and maintain a healthy blood pH level
Rich in Magnesium
Ugu is a great source of magnesium. Magnesium is needed for over 300 biochemical reactions taking place in the body. It helps to maintain normal nerve and muscle function, supports a healthy immune system, keeps the heartbeat steady, and helps bones remain strong. It also helps to regulate blood glucose levels and aid in the production of energy and protein.
Source of Dietary Fibre
Dietary fibre is essential when dealing with weight loss. Fibre prevents you from overeating because it fills the stomach faster. Fibre is also a key agent of digestive help as it aids bowel movement. Fibre aids the digestion process. Ugu is a great source of dietary fibre, hence, its consumption will benefit your health.
Source of Fat and Carbohydrate
Ugu is also a great source of fats and carbohydrates. Carbohydrates and fat promote the body’s energy level. Energy is needed for the body to carry out daily activities.
Source of Iron
Ugu provides an essential amount of iron to the body. Iron is an important component of haemoglobin, the substance in red blood cells that carries oxygen from your lungs to transport it throughout your body. Iron helps to balance hormones naturally and prevent weakness and dizziness. Lack of iron will lead to anaemia and poor concentration.
Ugu Leaf Medicinal Benefits
The oily ugu seeds are known to have lactating properties. This is beneficial to nursing mothers as its consumption will aid the production of milk to feed infants.
Ugu contains analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties, these properties inhibit the neurogenic, non-neurogenic and narcotic pains affecting inflamed body parts.
The antibacterial properties of ugu leaves inhibit the growth of intestinal pathogens such as such as Escherichia coli, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, S. faecalis, Salmonella typhi. Pathogens are viruses, bacterium or other microorganisms that cause diseases in the body.
The high iron content of ugu leaves help in the treatment of anaemia. Also, due to the presence of haematinic properties of ugu leaves, it will result in positive effects to treat anaemia.
Reduces chances of kidney disease
Ugu has a high phosphorus level thus preventing the formation of kidney stones which can eventually lead to kidney disease.
Ugu seeds contain anticancer, antioxidative and superoxide properties, which help to prevent oxidative burst in the blood. The ugu leaves contain chlorophyll, phenolic compounds, saponins, tannins, flavonoids, glycosides, and phytosterols, which possess chemo-suppressive properties, essential for combating cancer.
Ugu is rich in saponins, glycosides, phytic acid, tannin, flavonoids, alkaloids, resins, hydrocyanic acid and oxalic acids, which are valuable to promote antioxidant nutrients in the body. Antioxidants help to fight free radicals that way cause harm to the body.
The presence of antioxidants like tocopherol, dismutase, catalase, glutathione reductase and ascorbic acid in ugu protect the body from free radicals and in turn, reduce stress.
Ugu seed oil is an active agent in treating infertility in men. This is because ugu seed oil boosts the functionality of the testicles for an increased sperm count. This is as a result of the high level of anti-oxidative properties such as oleic acid, vitamin A, alkaloids, tannins and linoleic acid in the oil that restrains the lipid peroxidation activities thereby boosting fertility. Vitamin A is also a key component that protects the testes.
Prevent Alzheimer’s disease and dementia
The antioxidant properties in ugu leaves inhibit the enzyme responsible for the development of Alzheimer’s disease.
Boost immune system
Rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, the ugu plant has numerous components which strengthen the immune system.