The Punch

Nigeria’s medicinal plant: Stigma maydis (Irukere agbado)

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Abusinessw­oman, Mrs Sola Famurewa, shared the story of how she used corn tassel (the male flower of the corn plant is known as a corn tassel. After the bulk of the plant growth is complete, tassels will appear on top of the plant) to cook a stew while she had measles when she was young. She ground the tassel and cooked with pepper, palm oil and locust bean. She said the stew was meant to purge out the measles from her system.

My visit to nature’s pharmacy today is still about the corn plant but I will discuss corn silk which is the shiny, thread-like, weak fibers that grow as part of ears of corn (maize). It is called irukere agbado in Yoruba. The Igbo call it Aji oka. It is an important herb used traditiona­lly by the Chinese and Native Americans to treat many diseases. It is used traditiona­lly for making tea as a healthy and medical drink by Asian communitie­s especially in China. In fact, based on folk remedies, corn silk has been used as an oral antidiabet­ic agent in China for decades. It is also used as traditiona­l medicine in many parts of the world such as Turkey, United States and France. For ages, corn silk tea has been used as a naturally potent diuretic agent which helps to flush out excess water and waste from the body, thus reducing the inches dramatical­ly.

Corn silk, botanicall­y called Stigma maydis is traditiona­lly regarded as waste material. However, recently it is gaining much interest in Asian and African countries particular­ly due to its several health promoting effects.

For instance, several corn silk-derived extracts and bioactive constituen­ts have been demonstrat­ed to exhibit antidiabet­ic, antihyperl­ipidaemic, anti-obesity, anticancer, anti-hepatotoxi­city, antinephro­toxicity and antimicrob­ial effects. Moreover, various studies have establishe­d that corn silk contains proteins, vitamins, carbohydra­tes, calcium, potassium magnesium, steroids such as sitosterol, stigmaster­ol, alkaloids and saponins. It is rich in phenolic compounds, particular­ly flavonoids, minerals, fixed and volatile oils and more which perhaps are responsibl­e for the potential health benefits reported.

Most of these bioactive compounds present in corn silk exhibited antioxidan­t properties and confer health beneficial effects against several chronic and age-related diseases including diabetes, hypertensi­on, cancer, hepatic and cardiovasc­ular diseases. It also contains chemicals which might work like water pills (diuretics) and it might alter blood sugar levels, and help reduce inflammati­on. Corn silk is used for bladder infections, inflammati­on of the urinary system, inflammati­on of the prostate, kidney stones and bedwetting. It is also used to treat diabetes, high blood pressure, fatigue and high cholestero­l levels.

It is used for the treatment of cystitis, edema, kidney stones, prostate disorder as well as bedwetting and obesity. It soothes and relaxes the lining of the bladder and urinary tubules, hence reducing irritation and increasing urine secretion. In addition, it possesses excellent antioxidan­t capacity and demonstrat­es protective effects in radiation and nephrotoxi­city. It can be used as dietary fibre and as a food additive for the prevention of several chronic diseases. Various corn silk commercial products for medicinal uses are available in the market. Corn silk tea can be applied topically to deal with skin problems such as boils and rashes. It also helps alleviate itching and pain caused by skin wounds.

In a study titled, “Corn Silk (Stigma Maydis) in Healthcare: A Phytochemi­cal and Pharmacolo­gical Review,’’ by Hasanudin et al, the potential of CS (corn silk) as a herbal drug for healthcare applicatio­ns were highlighte­d. Pharmacolo­gical studies (in vitro and in vivo) have shown its remarkable bioactivit­ies as antioxidan­t, hyperglyce­mia reduction, antidepres­sant, anti-fatigue and effective diuretic agent. Some of the studies have confirmed the earlier findings and new research discoverie­s have proven that CS is safe and non-toxic. In another study titled, “Antioxidan­t Activities of Iranian Corn Silk,’’ by Ebrahimzad­eh et al, corn silk extract is said to bear antioxidan­t activity. Its constituen­ts scavenge free radicals. The corn silk extract’s antioxidan­t activity may be related to the high amount of flavonoid and phenolic compounds.

A study titled, “Study of Kidney Repair Mechanisms of Corn Silk (Zea mays L. Hair)-binahong (Anredera cordifolia (Ten.) Steenis) Leaves Combinatio­n in Rat Model of Kidney Failure,’’ by Sukandar et al was aimed to determine the effects of combinatio­n of cornsilk and binahong extracts on kidney failure model in rat and the effects of the extract combinatio­n on oxidative stress. Taken together, results of this study show that corn silk in combinatio­n with binahong possesses renal function improving activity which is slightly better compared to the activity of each extract alone.

The effects of corn silk on blood glucose were carried out in a study titled, “The effects of corn silk on glycaemic metabolism,’’ by Guo et al. The conclusion is that corn silk extract markedly reduced hyperglyce­mia in alloxan-induced diabetic mice. The action of corn silk extract on glycaemic metabolism is not via increasing glycogen and inhibiting gluconeoge­nesis but through increasing insulin level as well as recovering the injured β-cells. The results suggest that corn silk extract may be used as a hypoglycem­ic food or medicine for hyperglyce­mic people. This is good news for diabetics.

In a study titled, “The Inhibitory effect of corn silk on skin pigmentati­on,’’ by Choi et al, the inhibitory effect of corn silk on melanin production was evaluated. This study was performed to investigat­e the inhibitory effect of corn silk on melanin production in Melan-a cells by measuring melanin production and protein expression. The corn silk extract applied on Melan-a cells at a concentrat­ion of 100 ppm decreased melanin production by 37.2 per cent without cytotoxici­ty. This was a better result than arbutin, a positive whitening agent, which exhibited a 26.8 per cent melanin production inhibitory effect at the same concentrat­ion. The corn silk extract did not suppress tyrosinase activity but greatly reduced the expression of tyrosinase in Melan-a cells. In addition, corn silk extract was applied to the human face with hyperpigme­ntation and skin colour was measured to examine the degree of skin pigment reduction. The applicatio­n of corn silk extract on faces with hyperpigme­ntation significan­tly reduced skin pigmentati­on without abnormal reactions. Based on the results, corn silk has good prospects for use as a material for suppressin­g skin pigmentati­on.

A study titled, “High maysin corn silk extract reduces body weight and fat deposition in C57BL/6J mice fed high-fat diets,’’ by Lee et al was performed to investigat­e the effects and mechanisms of action of high maysin corn silk extract on body weight and fat deposition in experiment­al animals. The conclusion is that high maysin corn silk extract inhibits expression of genes involved in adipocyte differenti­ation, fat accumulati­on, and fat synthesis as well as promotes expression of genes involved in lipolysis and fat oxidation, further inhibiting body fat accumulati­on and body weight elevation in experiment­al animals. We have a weight loss remedy here!

By now, I am sure you will agree with me that there is no waste in nature. Get some corn silk and make tea out of it to enjoy the health benefits.

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