Cassava Leaf: The source of survival

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By: Stephen McGill

Cassava (Manihot esculenta), called yuca in Spanish, is a crop plant with roots (tuber) and leaves good for consumption. The roots are rich in carbohydrate while the leaves are rich in proteins and vitamins. Yuca originates from South America, precisely, Brazil and taken to West Africa in the sixteenth century by Portuguese traders.

Except contemporary historians and some academicians, most of the folks in West Africa do not believe cassava was transported to the continent, but rather one of those crops associated with cultural substance. Despite, the historical and cultural analysis pointed out by Researchers and historians; there are still individuals in West Africa and other parts of the world, who believe that the variety introduced to West Africans centuries back is different from that of the native variety.

Among West Africans, there is a popular recipe called “Abacha,” nicknamed the African Salad. This tells the mindset of the people concerning the nativity of cassava. Some are not aware that cassava grows on another continent.

Cassava grows in the tropical and subtropical regions of the world. This is why South Americans, West and Central Africans and part of Asia find it easy to cultivate. Nigeria, West Africa, is the largest producer of cassava.  Apart from the traditional consumption of cassava tuber products in form of dried cassava granules (garri in West Africa but called farinha in Brazil and other parts of South America), boiled roots from sweet cassava after peeling like yams  (in addition, half boiled sweet cassava tuber, grated and then soaking overnight is the recipe called Abacha), processed ground ones rolled smoothly in hot cooking pot till it is done (fufu, akpu, ebiripo) and so on, cassava is now being used for bread flour and also commercial production of starch for many other uses. This makes cassava the highest consumed crop in many countries, including West Africa.

As good and nutritious cassava is, it is important to know how to prepare cassava before being consumed in order to avoid loss of nutrient and also food poisoning. It is widely recommended that cassava must not be eaten raw, primarily because, in its raw form, it contains cyanide, which is enough to kill rats.

Studies have also shown that cyanide causes diseases that could possibly lead to death, especially in children. Hence, at the point of purchase ask for guidelines if you do not know how to prepare cassava in order to gain what you need and avoid what you do not need.

This research should not in any form and manner instill fear in anyone wishing to consume this famous crop, as millions  are consuming it daily without any form of harm.

What is important to note is the progressive form in which cassava can sustain the nutrient need of the family and cheaply too without any axle. Cyanide, in Cassava, is usually removed in two different ways, either by soaking for days or by boiling. Whether soaked or boiled, the water should not be consumed.

As was mentioned earlier, it is equally important to emphasize that cassava leaves contain proteinous materials and vitamins but one must also know how to prepare it so that the nutritious content will not be lost. In addition, it is forbidden to consume cassava leaves raw too.

There are health benefits associated with cassava. In Ghana, there is an ongoing campaign among the local residents, where it is widely believe that cassava is curing cancer.  The process, according to the locals, cassava must be boiled in an opened pot (no top) after which it is ready for consumption. So far, there has been no scientific evidence to this belief, but the locals strongly believe that eating such boiled cassava daily help to kill the cells of the cancer within three weeks.

 Generally, cassava leaves is used to cure anemic individuals in a case where the blood shortage does not require urgent blood transfusion. If there is a noticeable low blood count, cassava leaves are used by Africans to increase blood counts.

The fiber in cassava leaf evidently helps boosts immunity and alleviates constipation. The fiber content of cassava leaf is comparable to that of beans and lentils, according to research. The vitamin content of cassava leaf can also be compared to that of carrots.

Cassava leaf contains protein, carbs, vitamins, fibers and is also low in calories. The protein content of the leaf is equivalent to eggs, sweet potato greens (leaf), peanut leaf and soybeans. The carb content of the leaf is about the same as snap and soy beans.

Cassava leaf contains Vitamin B and C. Good for the prevention of cardiovascular diseases such as strokes and cancer.

The leaf contains Beta Carotene for repair of DNA damage, potassium for water regulation and cardiovascular health, phosphorus and calcium for strong bones, iron and copper for anemia, zinc for a strong immune system, and magnesium and manganese for strong bones and enzyme production.

Nigeria and most of the developing nations depend on cassava to feed their teeming population because cassava has high adaptability and you do not need to worry about its survival. Cassava can survive among weeds and other crops can be grown along with it. Hence, it is very cheap for farmers to maintain the cultivation of cassava crop. Being a perennial crop, it can be harvested over a long period of time. It is so economical and so important to human survival.

References: wikipedia.com, britannica.com, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (iita.org), organic.ng, africanbites.com

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