Waterleaf (Talinum triangulare) is a leafy vegetable that belongs to the Portulacaceae family. It is native to tropical Africa and has many traditional uses. The leaves and stems of the waterleaf are used as food while the roots are used for medicinal purposes.
Waterleaf is a perennial vegetable that grows naturally in Mexico, the Caribbean, West Africa, Central America, and South America. It is cultivated as a leafy vegetable in the tropics. It is a vegetable called by many names, including Ceylon Spinach, Yoruba – Gubre, Philippine Spinach, Potherb Fameflower, Lagos Bologi, Sweetheart, Ghanaian Kutu Bataw, Florida Spinach, Sriname purslane, and Cariru.
Water leaves are crispy, flavourful and nutritious, and grow upright and reach heights of 30 cm to 100 cm (12 to 39 inches), sometimes up to 5 feet, according to some reports. Waterleaf also has a succulent, fleshy texture and a slightly bitter taste. The leaves are dark green and have a broadly triangular shape. The plant grows and produces small, pink and white flowers.
Waterleaf is a rich source of vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A, C and K as well as calcium, iron and magnesium. It is also a good source of dietary fibre and is an excellent source of zinc and molybdenum. This leafy green vegetable has a high water content, which makes it very refreshing and hydrating.
Webmd.com explained that waterleaf is a rich source of the essential nutrient – calcium, phosphorus, iron, and vitamin C.
It is also a good source of:
- Vitamin A
- Nutrients per Serving
- Every 100 grams of waterleaf contains approximately:
- Calories: 25
- Protein: 2.4 grams
- Fat: 0.4 grams
- Carbohydrates: 4.4 grams
- Fibre: 1.0 grams
Ezekwe et al. (2001), also found that it is rich in vitamin E, Omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, magnesium, soluble fibres (pectin), potassium, ?-carotene, proteins and dietary fibre. Additionally, Enete and Okon (2010) found that waterleaf is a rich source of crude protein (22.1 percent), crude fibre (11.12 percent) and ash (33.98 percent). All these vitamins and minerals contribute to the high antioxidant values of waterleaf.
Waterleaf – the science
One study by Aja et al. (2010) found that waterleaf is an excellent source of tannins, alkaloids, saponins and flavonoids. Hence, it has good medicinal and dietary benefits.
Farombi and Fakoya (2005) study revealed that antioxidants also help to prevent and minimise the reactive effects of free radicals, including oxidative damage to membranes and increased enzyme inactivation or susceptibility to lipid peroxidation. Due to this, Liang et al. (2011) introductory study of waterleaf established diverse antioxidant activities in this leaf. Hence, consuming waterleaf could help you fight free radicals, thus preventing aging as well.
Studies have demonstrated the potential benefits of consuming waterleaf in treating liver diseases by lowering the concentration of the enzymes in the blood. One study by Ezekwe et al., (2013) found the leaves to contain bioactive compounds and can be used to treat liver diseases. A previous study by Liang et al., (2011) also found that waterleaf can be used to manage liver diseases.
Ezekwe et al. (2013) recommended that waterleaf should be part of pregnant women’s diet as the vegetable helps to prevent anaemia as well as boosts the blood level. This is because the plant can clear bilirubin from the blood, which suggests that it can help the red cells to remain longer and be effectively utilised by the body.
One study by Ofusori et al. (2008) examined waterleaf aqueous extract on brain function of mice and found that it can improve brain health. These researchers recommend the need for regular intake of waterleaf as it supports the neurons of the cerebrum and enhances cerebral functioning.
Waterleaf has abundant dietary fibre. Hence, it improves constipation. Proper food digestion is essential for preventing gastrointestinal disorders such as indigestion, constipation, flatulence, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Additionally, it is a good source of a natural laxative.
Blood sugar level
For those battling blood sugar, one study by Joshua et al. (2012) found that waterleaf should be part of your diet as it helps to manage your sugar level. After any meal, you can drink the juice or the tea form as the high dietary contents of this vegetable help to slow down the digestion and conversion of starch to simple sugars. This process helps in managing diabetes.
Joshua et al. (2012) study further revealed that waterleaf is paramount in helping to control cholesterol levels. It does this by using the high dietary fibre content to reduce the absorption of cholesterol from the gut, thereby protecting the body from any sicknesses associated with bad cholesterol in the body.
Due to the high antioxidant found in waterleaf, studies reveal that it is suitable for preventing the onset of cancer and tumour growths. Waterleaf has chemo-preventive activity against colon and breast cancers due to its squalene content (Kristine et al. 2015).
High blood pressure
Uncontrolled high blood pressure could lead to stroke and many others. However, one study by Adewunmi et al. (1980) found that waterleaf can be useful for preventing the onset of cardiovascular diseases such as stroke. Also, leaf and root extracts are used for treating asthma, fresh cuts, scabies, anaemia and high blood pressure (hypertension) (Ogunlesi et al. 2010).
Mensah et al., (2008) reveal that the high dietary fiber in waterleaf provides bulk in the diet thus minimizing the intake of starchy foods. This helps to prevent obesity and excess body weight.
Farmers can also use waterleaf as animal feed. Nworgu et al. (2015) study found that using water-leaf meal is a good source of supplements for poultry. Their result shows that waterleaf meal is an ideal protein supplement for broilers, especially for broiler finishers without any detrimental effects on their performance.
Waterleaf can be used as forage for rabbits (Enete and Okon 2010). A component of the plant extract in drinking water boosts the immune response of broiler chicks against the virulent Newcastle disease virus (Sanda 2015). Waterleaf extract serves as an inhibitor of mild steel corrosion in an acidic medium (Ajiwe and Ejike 2020).
Protect the environment
Waterleaf can also be used for ornamental purposes in urban and peri-urban spaces for urban greening and environmental protection (Satterthwaite et al. 2010). Additionally, waterleaf is used in bio-remediation for accumulating heavy metals from soil exposed to anthropogenic activities (Anyalogbu et al. 2017). This crop also helps in minimising the impact of soil erosion.
The leaves are used to treat several diseases, including measles (Oluwole et al. 2003).
Most people may not be versatile with waterleaf juice as it is mainly used in cooking, serving as an important vegetable in many local cuisines in Nigeria. The juice of waterleaf is very beneficial to health and is effective in increasing the blood level and treating many health conditions that have proven successful.
To get the juice;
- Wash the waterleaf thoroughly to remove dirt and sand impurities.
- Don’t pluck the leaves from the stem as both are medicinal and contain various nutrients.
- Cut it into tiny pieces to enable easy squeezing or pounding.
- Then squeeze effectively and strain the juice.
- Alternatively, some grinding machines like a blender can do this work, but the earlier method should be considered if there is none.
Is waterleaf good in pregnancy?
Waterleaf is often called the “blood-pumping machine” as it plays a vital role in the adequate production of blood in the human body. It is suitable for pregnant women as it helps increase their blood levels and supply them with other vital nutrients that the body needs.
Though it has many benefits, it should be limited to people suffering from kidney disorders and gout due to its oxalate content. When cooked, oxalates are reduced by 50 percent and nitrates and nitrites (Willie and Eze 2016) reduce to negligible levels (Agunbiade et al. 2015). Also, when it is eaten in excess, it can cause stomach upset and frequent stooling. Waterleaf should not be incorporated into infant meals because of the anti-nutrients in it (Schippers 2000).
Prof. Nyarkotey has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations to justify his write-ups.
My articles are for educational purposes and do not serve as medical advice for treatment and diagnosis. Hence, does not create any patient-physician relationship. I aim to educate the public about evidence-based scientific naturopathic therapies. Remember to always consult your healthcare provider before making any health-related decisions or for counselling, guidance and treatment about a specific medical condition.
The writer is a Professor of Naturopathic Healthcare, a Medical Journalist, and a science writer. President, Nyarkotey University College of Holistic Medicine & Technology (NUCHMT)/African Naturopathic Foundation, Ashaiman, Ghana. E. mail: [email protected]
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