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Wild plants with health benefits

Nature is packed with many wild edibles full of nutrients. But besides offering food, these shrubs, weeds and berries that stubbornly grow naturally have power to treat many complex and simple ailments. Evelyn Makena outlines some common wild foods, which contain healing properties

1. Sodom apple (Ndongu, ochok)

When the juice of this fruit is squeezed into a cut, it helps to stop bleeding. The juice also helps relieve pain in wounds and treat toothaches. Some people use the stems as toothbrush as they are believed to have antibacterial properties.

The flowers are used in treatment of asthma. Its roots, which are poisonous, are used in treating snakebites. The twigs help in reliving stomach pains while its stem bark is recommended for treating liver and spleen diseases.

2.  Kei apple (kayaba)

Better known for its thorny protective fences, kei apple plant has numerous health benefits. Its fruit is high in Vitamin C and polyphenols both of which are good antioxidants.

Owing to the high level of antioxidants, consuming the fruit plays a role in preventing diseases caused by free radicals such as cancer, cardiovascular diseases and neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia. Vitamin C helps in healing of wounds, repairing and maintaining bones and enhances absorption of iron from the foods we eat.

3. Aloe

The succulent plant that is 96 per cent water is a medicinal powerhouse. It’s highly effective in cleansing the digestive tract and boosting digestion. Application of aloe vera on wounds has been known to accelerate the healing process.

Extracts from aloe vera are widely used in beauty products as they help prevent wrinkles and skin aging by increasing production of collagen and improving the skin’s elasticity.

Aloe vera can be used in preventing hair loss, boost immune system, treat mouth ulcers and lower blood sugar.

4. Dandelion

It’s known for its little yellow sun-loving flower that brightens any place it grows. The lovely plant has been used for centuries for its nutritive and medicinal qualities. Its roots, leaves and flowers are packed with antioxidants and minerals.

Dandelion leaves are rich in vitamins A,K and C and minerals such as calcium, iron, magnesium and potassium. The weed helps regulate blood sugar, reduces cholesterol, lowers blood pressure and detoxify the liver. Dandelion root is rich in prebiotic fibre, which has strong capacity to aid digestion and reduce constipation.

5. Milk thistle

Milk thistle is both a source of food and medicine. Its roots leaves and stem can all be consumed raw. The starchy root can be cooked and eaten as a tuber while the leaves and stems can be cooked like vegetables. The plant with shiny green leaves and reddish to purplish flowers is used in boosting appetite, aiding digestion and cleansing the liver. 

6. Cactus

Its fruit that resembles a pear is useful in decreasing blood sugar, especially among patients of type 2 diabetes, lowering cholesterol, fighting obesity and treating hangovers. The fruit is said to also have antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties. 

Leaves, flowers, stem and fruit are all edible. Prickly cactus is eaten while boiled and can also be made into juices and jams.

Eating prickly cactus may require some level of patience before one gets used to it. Mild diarrhea, nausea, abdominal fullness and increased stool volumes are some of the side effects different people may have after consuming it.

7. Alfafa

A nutritious herb in the pea family, alfafa is used as a source of Vitamins A, C, E and K4 and minerals including potassium, iron, calcium and phosphorous.

Alfafa is used in treatment of kidney conditions, bladder and prostrate problem and to increase urine flow. It’s also used to treat diabetes, asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, stomach upsets and diabetes.

Owing to its strong detoxifying properties, alfalfa is used in treatment of alcoholism and drug dependency. The leaves and young shoots of alfafa are edible.

8. Stinging nettle (Thabai, aila)

Besides being eaten as vegetables, stinging nettle is used in treatment of many conditions. Its roots is used in treating various urinary problems caused by an enlarged prostrate including nighttime urination, painful urination, frequent urination, inability to urinate and irritable bladder.

Its leaves are used in treatment of allergies and hay fever. They are also used in treating internal bleeding including nose bleeding, boosting blood circulation, treating stomach acid, diarrhoea, asthma, eczema and lung congestion. When applied to the skin, the leaves causes relieve to muscle aches and treat hair loss.

9. Clover (ndabibi, awach)

This weed has triad leaves and whitish flowers. Not only are clovers a delicious snack for cows, but can also be consumed in salads as they are rich in protein, fibre and minerals.

The green leaves of clovers have vitamin C, which helps stimulates production of white blood cells and improve immunity. Clovers are, especially beneficial for women as they contain chemicals that regulate hormone balance and protect the body from negative side effects of oestrogen imbalance.

They are also used to relieve prostrate issues and side effects of menopause. It has anti-inflammatory properties particularly within the cardiovascular system thus prevents coronary hearts disease and other cardiovascular conditions.

10. Mulberries (Ndare, onunga)

Mulberries are small and delicious berries that grow freely in the bushes. They are tasty and also medicinal. The fruits aids in digestion owing to their high level of dietary fibre. The fibre also helps regulate cholesterol levels and improve heart health when regularly incorporated into the diet.

The leaves stem and fruit are packed with antioxidants that help boost longevity and slow ageing.  Furthermore, consuming mulberries has been found to boost memory and reduce oxidative stress.

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