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Atama Leaf: Health Benefits & Side Effects of Bush Apple Leaves

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Atama, also known as bush apple leaf or editan leaf, is a tropical plant that belongs to the Rubiaceae family. It is native to West Africa, especially Nigeria, where it is widely used as a vegetable and a medicinal herb. The leaves are dark green and oval-shaped, with a distinctive aroma and flavour. They are usually shredded and cooked in soups or stews, such as the famous Abak Atama soup of the Efik and Ibibio people of Akwa Ibom and Cross River states.

This leaf has a long history of use in traditional medicine for ailments such as anaemia, diabetes, hypertension, ulcers, wounds, infections, and infertility. It is also valued for its nutritional and antioxidant properties, containing vitamins A, B, C, E, folic acid, iron, calcium, and other phytochemicals. 

In this article, we will explore some of the health benefits and side effects of Atama leaf. So, if you’re ready to learn everything about these incredible leaves and how to get the best out of them, continue reading!

Atama Leaf: Health Benefits & Side Effects of Bush Apple Leaves

What Is Atama Leaf and Why It Is Important

The Bush Apple leaf is a tropical plant from the Rubiaceae family. It is native to West Africa, especially Nigeria, where it is widely used as a vegetable and a medicinal herb. The leaves are dark green, glossy, and oval-shaped, with a distinctive aroma and flavour. They are usually shredded and cooked in soups or stews, such as the famous Abak Atama soup of the Efik and Ibibio people of Akwa Ibom and Cross River states.

This leaf is important for several reasons. First, it is a source of food and nutrition for many people in West Africa, especially in rural areas where food insecurity is a major challenge. The leaf contains carbohydrates, proteins, fats, fibre, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, which are essential for human health.

Second, it is a source of income and livelihood for many farmers and traders who grow and sell Atama leaves in local markets. Third, it is a source of medicine and healing for many who use the leaf to treat ailments such as anaemia, diabetes, hypertension, ulcers, wounds, infections, and infertility. 

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History and Origin of Atama (Bush Apple) Leaf

Atama leaf traces its origins to the tropical forests of West Africa, where it grows wild and is cultivated. Indigenous groups like the Efik people of Nigeria have long used the leaf as an ingredient in soups and as a medicinal herb.

The name “Atama” originates from the Efik language in southern Nigeria. It is a key ingredient in their signature dish, Abak Atama soup. This soup is flavoured with shredded atama leaves and often served with pounded yam, garri, or other swallow foods.

Beyond the Efik people, the Bush Apple leaf has been embraced by many ethnic groups across Nigeria and West Africa. The Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa, Ghanaian, Cameroonian, and Liberian peoples have incorporated the leaf into their food cultures and traditional medicine. Each group has its own distinct name and preparations for the leaf.

Nutritional facts about Atama leaf

Bush apple leaf is a nutritious vegetable with various nutrients that benefit human health. According to a study, raw and dry Atama leaves provide the following nutritional values:

Fresh:

  • Moisture: 60.32 ppm
  • Ash: 5.31 ppm
  • Protein: 7.21 ppm
  • Fat: 3.65 ppm
  • Fibre: 8.08 ppm
  • Carbohydrate: 24.19 ppm
  • Vitamin: 8.21 ppm
  • Calcium (Ca): 26.73 ppm
  • Iron (Fe): 4.90 ppm
  • Magnesium (Mg): 6.86 ppm
  • Zinc (Zn): 1.58 ppm
  • Sodium (Na): 0.10 ppm
  • Potassium (K): 1.00 ppm

Dried:

  • Moisture: 58.52 ppm
  • Ash: 4.14 ppm
  • Protein: 5.57 ppm
  • Fat: 2.34 ppm
  • Fiber: 7.12 ppm
  • Carbohydrate: 22.86 ppm
  • Vitamin: 7.83 ppm
  • Calcium (Ca): 18.73 ppm
  • Iron (Fe): 2.90 ppm
  • Magnesium (Mg): 4.75 ppm
  • Zinc (Zn): 1.53 ppm
  • Sodium (Na): 0.09 ppm
  • Potassium (K): 0.91 ppm

Health Benefits of Atama Leaf

The Bush apple leaf has been shown to have several health benefits; some of these benefits include:

Atama Leaf for Weight Loss

The leaf is a good source of dietary fibre, which can help to improve digestion, relieve constipation, and promote satiety. Fibre also helps to lower blood cholesterol levels and prevent obesity-related diseases. 

Atama Leaf for Diabetes

Atama has been used traditionally to treat diabetes and its complications. It has been found to have hypoglycemic effects, meaning it can lower blood sugar levels. A study in diabetic rats showed that the extract from the leaf helps to improve glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity. Another study in diabetic patients found that the leaf soup enhanced glycemic control and reduced oxidative stress.

Atama Leaf for Hypertension

The leaf has been reported to have antihypertensive effects, meaning it can lower blood pressure. This may be due to its vasodilatory properties, which can relax the blood vessels and improve blood flow.

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Atama Leaf for Cancer

 In vitro and in vivo studies have shown that the leaf has anticancer effects. It induces apoptosis (cell death) and inhibits the proliferation (cell growth) of various cancer cells, including breast, cervical, colon, leukaemia, liver, ovarian, prostate, and uterine cancer. It also modulates gene expression in cell cycle regulation, DNA repair, inflammation, angiogenesis (blood vessel formation), metastasis (cancer spread), and drug resistance. 

Atama Leaf for Immunity

It has immunomodulatory effects, which can enhance or suppress the immune system depending on the situation. It stimulates the production of antibodies, cytokines, macrophages, natural killer cells, and T cells, essential for fighting infections and diseases. The leaf also inhibits the production of histamine, prostaglandins, and nitric oxide, which are involved in allergic and inflammatory reactions.

Atama Leaf for Skin and Hair

 The leaf has been traditionally used to treat various skin and hair problems, including acne, eczema, psoriasis, dandruff, hair loss, and premature greying. It has antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, antipruritic (anti-itching), antioxidant, and wound-healing effects on the skin and scalp. The leaf also stimulates collagen synthesis and hair growth.

Side effects of Atama (Bush Apple) leaf

Atama leaf is considered safe when consumed as a food or herbal remedy in moderation. However, some people may experience some side effects, such as:

  • Allergic reactions: Some people may be allergic to the leaf or its components, such as eugenol, a chemical compound in the leaves. Symptoms of an allergic reaction may include itching, rash, hives, swelling, difficulty breathing, and anaphylaxis (a severe and potentially life-threatening reaction).
  • Interactions with medications: It may interact with some medicines, especially those that affect blood sugar levels, blood pressure levels, blood clotting, or liver function. For example, the leaf may enhance the effects of antidiabetic drugs, antihypertensive drugs, anticoagulants (blood thinners), and hepatotoxic drugs (liver-damaging drugs). Therefore, people taking these medications should consult their doctor before using the leaf.
  • Atama should be used cautiously by pregnant women, breastfeeding women, children, and people with bleeding disorders or liver diseases. 

Atama Leaf in Igbo

Atama leaf is also known as “Atama in the Igbo language. It is a common ingredient in Igbo soups and dishes, such as ofe akwu (palm nut soup), ofe nsala (white soup), and Abacha (African salad)

Atama Leaves Botanical Name

The botanical name of the Atama leaf is Heinsia crinita. It belongs to the Rubiaceae family, like coffee and gardenia plants. It is a perennial shrub or small tree that grows up to 10 metres tall.

 It has dark green, glossy, and oval-shaped leaves about 15 cm long and 8 cm wide. It produces white or pink flowers that are followed by yellow or orange fruits that are edible. The fruits, also known as bush apples, taste sweet and sour.

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How to Wash Atama Leaves

To wash Atama leaves, you need to remove any dirt or insects from the leaves by rinsing them under running water. Then, you must squeeze the slimy substance from the leaves by rubbing them between your palms or using a colander. The slimy substance is not harmful but may affect the taste and texture of the soup or dish you are preparing. Washing the leaves also helps to reduce the bitterness of the leaves.

Can a Pregnant Woman Eat Atama Leaf?

There is not enough scientific evidence to determine the safety of Atama for pregnant women. Therefore, avoiding eating Atama or using it only under medical supervision if you are pregnant is advisable. Atama contains folic acid, vital for preventing neural tube defects in babies. Still, it may also affect blood sugar, blood pressure, blood clotting, and liver function. 

These effects may interfere with some medications or conditions pregnant women may have. Therefore, it is better to be cautious and consult your doctor before using the leaf if you are pregnant.

Classification of Atama leaf

The Atama leaf can be classified into various categories depending on its botanical, nutritional, medicinal, and culinary aspects. Let’s take a look at some examples of how the leaf can be classified:

  • Botanical classification: The leaf belongs to the plant kingdom, the angiosperm clade, the eudicot clade, the asterid clade, the Gentianales order, the Rubiaceae family, the Heinsia genus, and the Crinita species. 
  • Nutritional classification: The leaf is a vegetable that contains carbohydrates, proteins, fats, fibre, vitamins (A, B, C, and E), minerals (iron, calcium), and phytochemicals (antioxidants, flavonoids). 
  • Culinary classification: The leaf is a spice and a flavouring agent that is commonly used to make soups and dishes such as Abak Atama soup (palm nut soup with shredded Atama leaves) and ofe akwu (palm nut soup with nchuanwu leaves).

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Atama Leaf Called in English?

It is also known as bush apple leaf in English.

Is Atama Leaf Bitter?

No, the leaf is not bitter. It has a distinctive aroma and flavour that is slightly sweet and sour.

Which Tribe Eats Atama Leaves in Nigeria?

Atama leaves are mainly eaten by the Efik and Ibibio tribes of Akwa Ibom and Cross River states in Nigeria. They use them to prepare Abak Atama soup, which is a palm nut soup with shredded Atama leaves.

Can Atama Leaves Be Dried?

Yes, Atama leaves can be dried for preservation or storage. They can be sun-dried until they are crisp and brittle.

How Do You Preserve Fresh Atama Leaves?

Fresh Atama leaves can be preserved by refrigerating them in a plastic bag or container for up to a week. They can also be dired in the sun until crips and brittle, this way they can last longer without getting spoilt..

Conclusion

Atama leaf is a nutritious and delicious vegetable that can enhance your health and well-being. It has many health benefits, such as preventing anaemia, diabetes, high cholesterol, infertility and congenital disabilities. It also has side effects such as causing allergic reactions, drug interactions and digestive problems. 

It is crucial to consume it in moderation and with caution. You can enjoy the leaf in various dishes, such as abak atama soup, a traditional delicacy of the Efik and Ibibio people. Try it today and experience its unique taste and benefits.