Locally known as katunkuma, bitter berries or African eggplants, as they are sometimes referred to, are scientifically known as solanum anguivi. They possess numerous benefits, both culinary and medicinal.
Nutritional and medicinal values
According to Dr Hadijah Nakalembe, a nutritionis, bitter berries are low in calories, fat and sodium, but contain essential minerals and dietary fibres. They are rich in antioxidants such as vitamin C, polyphenols and carotenoids.
“Bitter berries help in preventing conditions like diabetes and hypertension,” she says.
Nakalembe says the ability of katunkuma to prevent high blood pressure comes about because the polyphenols in the berries aid the muscle layer of blood vessels around the heart to relax, which, in turn, regulates blood pressure.
She adds that the polyphenols also improve blood supply to the eyes, hence improving vision, impede the proliferation of human cancer cells and generally aid the recovery process of a cancer patient. They also protect those who do not have cancer from getting it.
“Polyphenols are also protective against Parkinson disease,” Nakalembe says.
She adds that the components of bitter berries keep the brain alert and sharp, and improve memory, as well as protecting against memory loss.
Nakalembe says bitter berries are associated with decreased cardiovascular risk factor in overweight women.
They have also been known to aid in weight loss over time. This, Nakalembe explains, is because of the ability of the components contained within them to interfere with lipid digestion or modulation of lipid metabolism.
Since obesity is associated with underlying risks of cardiovascular diseases, metabolic syndrome and diabetes, bitter berries have the ability to add a number of years to your lifespan.
Nakalembe says the effectiveness of bitter berries is limited by their low intake into the bloodstream.
“This, however, should not discourage you from eating them as the polyphenols that are not absorbed into the bloodstream could still have beneficial functions in the gastrointestinal tract. They help prevent formation of oxidation products from food in the stomach and positively influence food digestion, glucose levels and calorie usage.”
Francis Omujal, a researcher in natural plants, says bitter berries cure cough and speed up the healing of wounds. The berries are also used to treat skin conditions like ringworm and skin rashes when applied in their raw form directly onto the skin after pounding the leaves and the fruits together.
He also says bitter berries help with toothaches, worms, dysmenorrhea and inflammation. “There have also been claims that their roots have the ability to cure bronchitis and hepatitis, although this has not been proven.”
Jackie Kamukama, a local consultant with Lipsum Uganda Limited, a farm supply distributor, advises that bitter berries should be eaten in their natural or powder form sprinkled onto sauce at least one meal a day.
She says bitter berries have high energy levels, yet they contain no sugars.
“They even increase appetite, for instance, for people with low appetite Kamukama adds.
However, Carolyn Auma, another nutritionist, emphasises that natural plants are not fully proven to be effective treatments against diseases and one should only rely on them after consulting with their doctor.
In villages, especially Buganda, women pluck the bitter berries around their homes and gardens and wrap them in banana fibres. They then steam and eat them with their families.
However, bitter berries are most popular with women after birth as they are said to boost breast milk production, and increase fertility, according to Mzee Muyiisa Ssewali of Universal Agro Consultants. This, he says, is the reason women in villages bear children more often.