Ugu or fluted pumpkin is known scientifically as TelfairiaOccidentalis, a tropical vine plant native to West Africa but occurs mostly in its cultivated form in various parts of southern Nigeria. It is widely cultivated for its palatable and nutritious leaves, which are used mainly as vegetable. The seeds are also nutritious and rich in oil, which may be used for cooking and soap manufacture. Its taxonomy, morphology and potential uses are discussed in relation to its economic importance as a tropical crop. It is one of the vegetables which is very low in calories, providing just 26 cal per 100g and contains no saturated fats or cholesterol. It has long been discovered that when its essential ingredients are not destroyed, it has the capacity to increase the red blood cells within a short time after consumption. The rate at which it increases the red corpuscles can be enhanced further by mixing it with mineral beverages. If you are lacking blood or feeling weak or dizzy, you might like to use this natural method to increase your blood cells.
A study conducted by a team of Nigerian researchers led by Professor OlukemiOdukoya of the University of Lagos atthe Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Idi-Araba,stated that “High consumption of vegetables has been associated with a lowered incidence of degenerative diseases like high blood pressure, diabetes, cancers, arthritis, obesity, stroke, gallstones, hemorrhoids/piles etc. These protective effects are considered to be related to the various antioxidants contained in them. The oxidative stress experienced by a tissue or organ results from the balance between the production and removal of potentially damaging reactive oxygen species (ROS). Since the ROS removal rate is mostly controlled by a variety of low molecular weight antioxidants, there is a great interest in determining their levels and the way they are related to pathological states, and whether they can be controlled by an antioxidant-rich diet or by the ingestion of an antioxidant supplementation.
Therefore, the antioxidant activities of hot water extracts of 21 green leafy vegetables were assessed, among which was fluted pumpkin (ugu) and found highly useful in that regard. The research demonstrated that a meal of fluted pumpkin leaves may be a useful therapy for very high levels of cholesterol in the blood (hypercholesterolemia), high blood sugar levels (diabetes) and heart diseases.
Previous studies have indicated that fluted pumpkin possesses anti-inflammatory (painkiller), antibacterial, erythropoietic (erythropoiesis is the process by which red blood cells – erythrocytes – areproduced), anti-cholesterolemic (preventing the buildup of cholesterol) and anti-diabetic (treating diabetes mellitus by lowering glucose levels in the blood) activities. This humble backyard vegetable is a very rich source of dietary fibre, minerals, vitamins A, B6, C, protein, riboflavin, niacin, thiamin, folate, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and manganese, anti-oxidants and vitamins flavonoid poly-phenolic antioxidants like leutin, xanthins and carotenes.
Pharmanews also spoke withMr. Peter Nwosu, a researcher and food scientist, about this vegetable. Nwosu said the leaves contain essential oils, while the roots contain cucubitacine, sesquiterpene and lactones. The young leaves sliced and mixed with coconut water and salt are stored in a bottle and used for the treatment of convulsion in ethno medicine. The leaf extract is useful in the management of cholesterolemia, liver problems and impaired defense immune systems. The high protein content in leaves of plants such as fluted pumpkin could have supplementary effect for the daily protein requirement of the body.
Symptoms of protein energy malnutrition, such as Kwashiorkor and Marasmus, were rarely observed among dwellers in regions where adequate amount of protein is obtained from fruits/seeds and leaves of plants rich in proteins such as fluted pumpkin. He also noted that some of its medicinal abilities have not yet been scientifically proven, but in the orthodox medicine, especially in Nigeria, it is commonly used and recommended mostly in patients who have lost blood as a result of malaria or typhoid fever.
“Pregnant women and lactating mothers should take in as much as they can of this vegetable and, of course, other green leafy plants (green foods are healthy). Mothers should also incorporate it into their children’s meals because the leaves are rich in iron and play a key role in preventing anemia illnesses; and like I said, not only ugu (fluted pumpkin) but all vegetables.”
Ugu leaves can be eaten cooked or raw. Although the raw form may not be chewed directly, it is usually squeezed and used as a short term blood tonic. For the best results, choose young leaves while they are still tender. If you wait until your pumpkins are huge, the leaves will be tougher, although they are still fine if cooked long enough to become tender.
It can be stored fresh in the refrigerator; not for too long though, so that the essential nutrients are preserved. It can also be dried to be used in seasons when it is scarce, but the drying must not be done directly under the sun, as it will destroy some nutrients, in the process. All vegetables must be properly washed before consumption, in order to avoid contracting other diseases fromdirt.