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Gymnanthemum amygdalinum - (Delile) Sch.Bip.

Common Name Bitterleaf
Family Asteraceae
USDA hardiness 10-12
Known Hazards None known
Habitats Along rivers and lakes, in forest margins, woodland and grassland, at elevations up to 2,000 metres. Often found in disturbed localities such as abandoned farmland and in secondary woodland[299 ].
Range Tropical Africa - widespread, in most countries from Guinea to Mali and south to Angola, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique.
Edibility Rating    (4 of 5)
Other Uses    (2 of 5)
Weed Potential No
Medicinal Rating    (3 of 5)
Care
Tender Well drained soil Moist Soil Full sun
Gymnanthemum amygdalinum Bitterleaf


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Gymnanthemum amygdalinum Bitterleaf
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Summary

Gymnathemum amygdalinum or commonly known as Bitterleaf is an evergreen shrub or small tree that is much-branched and grows up to 10 m tall with trunk diameter of about 40 cm. It can be found in tropical Africa. Established plants are drought-tolerant. Young leafy shoots are edible, eaten as a potherb or added to soups. Leaf decoctions are used in the treatment of fever, malaria, scabies, diarrhea, cough, dysentery, headache, stomach pains, and hepatitis. It is also a laxative and fertility inducer. Young twigs are chewed as a stomachic tonic and appetite stimulant. Root extracts are used for malaria, gastrointestinal disorders, and sexually transmitted diseases. Bark infusions are used against fever and diarrhea while dried flowers are for stomach disorders. Bitterleaf is sometimes grown as a hedge or to prevent soil erosion. It is a useful control agent against plant diseases. Young twigs are used as toothpicks or chew sticks. The wood is used for timber, fuel, and charcoal.


Physical Characteristics

 icon of manicon of shrub
Gymnanthemum amygdalinum is an evergreen Shrub growing to 8 m (26ft) by 7 m (23ft) at a medium rate.
It is hardy to zone (UK) 10.
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and prefers well-drained soil. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It cannot grow in the shade. It prefers dry or moist soil and can tolerate drought.

UK Hardiness Map US Hardiness Map

Synonyms

Bracheilema paniculatum R.Br. Cacalia amygdalina Kuntze Cheliusia abyssinica Sch.Bip. ex A.Rich. Dec

Habitats

Edible Uses

Edible Parts: Leaves  Shoots
Edible Uses:

Young leafy shoots - cooked[299 , 301 ]. Eaten as a potherb or added to soups[301 ]. The leaves often have an intensely bitter flavour, but forms exist that are nearly free of bitterness[301 ]. The plant should be harvested by trimming off the ends of whole shoots[299 ]. This encourages new growth whereas simply removing leaves can slow down growth[299 ].

Medicinal Uses

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Bitterleaf is commonly used in traditional medicine in Africa. Leaf decoctions are used to treat fever, malaria, diarrhoea, dysentery, hepatitis and cough, as a laxative and as a fertility inducer[299 ]. They are also used as a medicine for scabies, headache and stomach-ache. Leaves are placed on a wound as a substitute for iodine[299 ]. The bitterness in the leaves is caused by sesquiterpene lactones and steroid glucosides. Some of these compounds have significant antiparasitic activity, especially vernodalin and vernonioside B1. Vernolepin showed platelet anti-aggregating properties. Vernodalin and vernomygdin have cytotoxic activity[299 ]. Young twigs are chewed as a stomachic tonic and appetite stimulant[301 ]. One of the most common medicinal uses of Vernonia amygdalina is as a treatment against intestinal worms including nematodes[299 ]. Not only humans but also chimpanzees ingest the bitter pith of Vernonia amygdalina for the control of intestinal nematode infections[299 ]. Root extracts are used as treatment against malaria and gastrointestinal disorders[299 ]. In Zimbabwe a root infusion is used to treat sexually transmitted diseases[299 ]. Bark infusions are also taken to treat fever and diarrhoea, dried flowers against stomach disorders[299 ]

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Other Uses

Agroforestry Uses: The plant is sometimes grown as a hedge[299 ]. The branches are termite resistant and are used as stakes to line out fields and as a live fence[299 , 418 ]. The tree is sometimes planted to prevent soil erosion[418 ]. Other Uses: Bitterleaf is useful as a control agent against diseases in plants[299 ]. The ash from burnt branches is used to control seed-borne fungi, thus ameliorating seed viability and germination capacity[299 ]. Young twigs are used as toothpicks or chewing sticks[299 ]. They have been shown to contain substances that have a marked activity against bacteria that cause gum diseases[299 ]. They also act to stimulate the appetite[418 ]. The wood is used for timber[418 ]. The wood is used for fuel and to make charcoal[303 , 418 ]. Dry stems and branches provide fuel[299 ].

Special Uses

Cultivation details

A plant of the tropics, where it is found at elevations from 600 - 2,800 metres. It grows best in areas where annual daytime temperatures are within the range 20 - 26°c, but can tolerate 16 - 35°c[418 ]. It prefers a mean annual rainfall in the range 750 - 2,000mm, but tolerates 600 - 2,400mm[418 ]. Requires a position in full sun[299 ]. Succeeds on most soil types, though it grows best in well-drained, humus-rich soils[299 , 418 ]. Plants prefer a moist environment, though they are fairly drought tolerant once established[299 ]. Prefers a pH in the range 5.5 - 7, tolerating 5 - 7.5[418 ]. Plants can be coppiced[303 ]. Cultivated forms have been selected that are less bitter than the wild plant[299 ]. Flowering is induced by short days[299 ].

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Propagation

Seed - takes 2 - 3 weeks to germinate[299 ]. Cuttings of mature wood.

Other Names

If available other names are mentioned here

Bitterleaf, alumã, boldo

Found In

Countries where the plant has been found are listed here if the information is available

Weed Potential

Right plant wrong place. We are currently updating this section. Please note that a plant may be invasive in one area but may not in your area so it’s worth checking.

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants Status : This taxon has not yet been assessed

Related Plants
Latin NameCommon NameHabitHeightHardinessGrowthSoilShadeMoistureEdibleMedicinalOther

 

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Expert comment

Author

(Delile) Sch.Bip.

Botanical References

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Links / References

For a list of references used on this page please go here
A special thanks to Ken Fern for some of the information used on this page.

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