By Reinhard Fichtl
Also known as Bitter Leaf
Description: Small tree or shrub, growing up to 10 m tall.
Bark: rusty to dark-brown, slightly fissured and sometimes much branched: the young branches have numerous white breathing pores (lenticels).
Leaves: somewhat coarse and rough, alternate, simple, green above and pale below, ovatelanceolate, up to 20 cm long with regularly toothed margins.
Flowers: white, tinged purple or pink and sweetly scented particularly in the evening; arranged in numerous heads at the ends of the branches.
Flowering: Throughout the year. In Ethiopia the main flowering period is from January to February.
Distribution: Found in a wide range of bushland, often associated with termite mounds, woodland, river fringes, and forest habitats at altitudes from sea level up to 2800 m, it is also often found around houses. Its rainfall range is from 750 to 2000 mm per year. Occurring in Angola, Burundi. Cameroon, Central African Republic, Congo, Cote d'ivoire, Eritrea, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Mali. Nigeria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Yemen, Zaire, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Uses: Vernonia is widely used as a hedge-forming shrub or tree and as a boundary marker. The wood is used for fuel and is also termite resistant.
In Ethiopia the leaves are used to scour pots used for making Tela, the local beer, and Tei, honey wine.
The leaves and bark are bitter and in Ethiopian local medicine they are used against menstruation pain, as a purgative and worm remover, in wound dressing, and against urinary inflammations. Together with roots they are used against malaria. Leaves can also be browsed and the stems used as toothbrushes.
In some parts of Africa the leaves, although rather bitter, are commonly used as a vegetable and the bark and roots are used as a tonic by people suffering from fevers. A cold infusion of root bark is sometimes used to treat bilharzia. Small stems are commonly used as "chew sticks" and regarded as an appetiser.