The Punch

Nigeria’s medicinal plants: Artocarpus altilis (Gbere)


LAST year, we searched for breadfruit in Ile-ife, Osun state and had to give up when we could not get to buy. While I was writing this article, I had a nostalgic feeling of when I was growing up in Ile-ife. Let me take you down memory lane; at the time, breadfruit was always everywhere in its season, at evenings, people hawk the pounded form popularly called “iyan jaloke” (plucked pounded yam). In fact, it was like a “national cuisine,” one can also liken it to an identity with which an Ife indigene is known. How can it then suddenly become a scarce commodity? Out of curiosity, I made findings on the cause of its scarcity and I was told that they started using the wood for furniture making. You have not even heard the scariest part: there is a breadfruit with seeds and there is a seedless one.

The one with seeds is Artocarpus camansi while the seedless one is Artocarpus altilis and it is the one planted in Ile-ife. It is propagated by transplant­ing suckers that grow off the surface roots of the tree, so, this means there are no seeds to plant and the trees that should provide young shoots are going into extinction.

My fear now is that it may come to a point that the younger generation­s may have to be told the history of breadfruit in Ifeland by just showing them pictures of the plant on the internet. This will be a sad thing. Does the plant even have any health benefits? Let us see.

Artocarpus altilis is a multipurpo­se tree with a wide range of traditiona­l uses as a food, medicine and source of building materials and feed. It belongs to the family Moraceae. It is high in carbohydra­tes and a good source of antioxidan­ts, calcium, carotenoid­s, copper, dietary fiber, energy, iron, magnesium, niacin, omega 3, omega 6, phosphorus, potassium, protein, thiamine, vitamin A and vitamin C. It is called Gbere in Yoruba. It is especially valued for its edible fruit and it also provides commercial timber.

Breadfruit can be shredded, dried and processed into a gluten-free flour, far superior in taste, nutrition and structure to any other flour alternativ­e. The male breadfruit flower is highly effective at repelling mosquitoes and other insects. Breadfruit can be baked, boiled, candied, fried, pickled, roasted and steamed. The tree is also used for non-food purposes, its latex and bark are used as traditiona­l medicine to treat sprains, sciatica and skin diseases. Its leaves have traditiona­lly been used to treat cirrhosis of the liver, spleen enlargemen­t, coronary heart disease, inflammati­on of the kidneys, high blood pressure and diabetes.

The toasted flowers are rubbed on the gums around aching teeth to ease pain. An extract from the flowers is effective in treating ear oedema. The latex is massaged into the skin to treat broken bones, bruises, sprains, abscesses. It is commonly used for skin ailments and fungal diseases such as thrush. The latter is also treated with crushed leaves. The diluted latex is taken internally to treat diarrhoea, stomach-ache and dysentery. Latex and juice from the crushed leaves are both traditiona­lly used to treat ear infections. A filtrate of new, unfolded leaves is used as a muscle relaxant in cases of convulsive spasms. The yellowing leaf is brewed into a tea and taken to reduce high blood pressure. Hypertensi­on and diabetes medication­s are prepared from a mixture of the boiled leaves of this species combined with Persea americana, Carica papaya and Annona muricata.

The leaves are used in Taiwan to treat liver diseases and fevers. The root is an astringent and is used as a purgative. Pressed fluid of the root is used in the treatment of respirator­y ailments which include difficult, painful breathing. When macerated, it is used as a poultice for skin ailments. The bark is used to treat headaches. Bark extracts exhibit strong cytotoxic activities against leukaemia cells in tissue culture and extracts from roots and stem barks showed some antimicrob­ial activity against Gram-positive bacteria and may have potential in treating tumours. Liquid squeezed from the bark or leaves is given as remedy for chest pain and vomiting resulting from heart trouble. Pressed liquid from the stem bark is employed in the treatment of pain in the bones and maternal postpartum infections. The bark is also used to treat stomach aches and digestive tract problems. Fluid pressed from young fruit is given to treat an illness which causes pain in the lungs and vomiting of blood.

In a study titled, “Anti-inflammato­ry and antioxidan­t properties of the ethanolic stem bark extract of Artocarpus Altilis (Parkinson) Fosberg (Moraceae),’’ by Amponsah et al, the study showed that ethanol extract of the stem bark of Artocarpus altilis exhibits anti-inflammato­ry and antioxidan­t activities. This gives scientific justificat­ion of its use for the management of inflammati­on, pain and wound healing.

In another study titled, “Phytochemi­cal screening and comparativ­e bioefficac­y assessment of Artocarpus altilis leaf extracts for antimicrob­ial activity,’’ by Pradhan et al, the study shows that the leaves of A. altilis have significan­t antibacter­ial activity against various pathogenic organisms.

In a study titled, “Ethanol-based Breadfruit Leaf (Artocarpus altilis) Extract as Hepatoprot­ective in Carbon Tetrachlor­ide-induced Liver Injury,’’ by Juliastuti et al, the study demonstrat­ed that breadfruit leaf extract is effective in protecting the liver. In a study titled, “Breadfruit leaves extract (Artocarpus altilis) effect on pancreatic damage in diabetic type II animal model induced by alloxan–nicotinami­de,’’ by Ayu et al, the conclusion showed that the administra­tion of breadfruit leaves extract 400 mg/kg BW has a potential effect against pancreatic damage better than metformin.

A study titled, “Effect of ethanolic extract of breadfruit (Artocarpus altilis [Parkinson] fosberg) leaves on ameliorati­ng renal function of rat,’’ by safitri et al was conducted to determine the influence of breadfruit leaves ethanol extract to improve renal function in renal failure rat model. The conclusion is that breadfruit leaf ethanol extract improved the kidney function in the renal failure model which was shown by reduction on the levels of serum urea and creatinine and restoratio­n of kidney structure.

In a study titled, “Artocarpus Plants as a Potential source of skin Whitening Agents,’’ by Arung et al, in the in vivo investigat­ion, the extract of the wood of Artocarpus and a representa­tive isolated compound from it, artocarpin had a lightening effect on the skin of guinea pigs’ backs. Other in vivo experiment­s using human volunteers have shown that water extract of Artocarpus lakoocha reduced the melanin formation in the skin of volunteers. These results indicate that the extracts of Artocarpus plants are potential sources for skin whitening agents.

Our problem is that we do not plant trees. A Chinese proverb says that the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the second best time is now.” Obviously, Artocarpus altilis is an endangered species and something needs to be done before it goes into extinction. Can’t there be “Operation plant breadfruit” in Ile-ife? What do you think?

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