ON December 10 last year, I was a guest speaker at a training programme in Lagos for women who wished to improve the health of members of their families, using herbs and medicinal food crops which grow in their gardens.

These women are called URBAN GROWERS. The group is the brainchild of Mrs Sola Sowemimo, of Ope Farms, and her friend, Mrs Yinka Odukoya, of Dasyooh Farms.

I remembered them all this morning while writing the introduction to this column. Two women had come to ask for permission to harvest some bitter leaves, which have overgrown their bounds in my flower beds, growing taller than the storey-building. Beside the Bitter leaf garden is a section where we grow plantain. The plantain, too, was due for a harvest. They were so big that everyone wondered how they came about. I have found myself explaining that we deposit all food wastes, including fish gills, at the flower bed. After a plantain plant has fruited, it replaces itself with many suckers. Then, we cut down the fruited plantain, cut the leaves and stem to pieces and leave them to form compost for the young suckers.

I hope that you, too, would become an URBAN GROWER after you read this series…

WOMEN are central figures in any home. Their husbands and children mill around them for about everything. When a man wishes to propose marriage to a woman, he wonders secretly or aloud if his life would be safe in her hands, and if she would be able to bring up their children the way he would like them brought up, if she would be a good manager of his finances, especially if they are small, if their home would be clean or tidy, if she would not cast out his friends and relations, if his marriage would not be a cage in which he is trapped…

Deep thinking men think often about the creature that woman is. I believe that deep-thinking women wonder, also, about this subject. When my male friends and I get together, say, over drinks or a meal, and our discussions enter the mode of men’s talk and some of them begin to say a man holds the last card or the joker card over a woman, I quickly remind them of the mighty power a woman wields over a man… as a foetus, the future man lived in her womb for about nine months, as a baby he sucked her breasts for goodness knows how long, as a baby she strapped him on her back and, as a man she passed him on to another woman who would now look after him as an overgrown baby. That usually ends our men’s talk discussion about this subject. For those among my friends who share with me deep beliefs about life, I quickly add: haven’t we been educated enough that woman is the deciding factor in Creation?

What I have just said is a huge concept which is not the subject of this gathering. I leave it in the hands of the organiser of this meeting, Mrs Olusola Sowemimo.

But in a way, we cannot separate it from why we are here today. We are here to discuss how women can take better care of the health of their families with plant medicines that grow on the grounds of their homes, or that they can plant in their gardens for this purpose.

I wish to strengthen your interest in the work which, by now, you should have recognised was given to you by the Almighty Creator by briefly telling you about four women whose pictures keep flashing in my mind as I look at you and think about what you would do with this discussion when you return to your homes. The first woman is my maternal grandmother of blessed memory. She raised me from the age of nine when my mother died at childbirth to about the age of thirty when she herself left the flesh. If I was sick anywhere, anytime, I was sure to become well whenever I got home. Behind her earthen-pot of drinking water was always a bottle of gbogbonse epa Ijebu ( Ijebu-made all-purpose healing herbal potion). She taught us her grandchildren about REREN, that shiny, smallish green plant with small leaves which grows in the village around out-door bathrooms.  When a child develops high temperature, squeeze the leaves and rub the juice on the body. The heat is almost certain to subside immediately. As an adult, I used to eat these plant with banana or parboil it in a pot of rice on the stove after the heat has been turned off.

The second woman is Mrs Michelle Obama, wife of the outgoing American President. What she did at the White House, official residence of the American President, seems to me to be the opposite of what Mrs Hillary Clinton did when her husband was President. President Clinton left the white House suffering from coronary artery blockages. This meant that the arteries which supply his heart with blood were blocked by cholesterol or some other matter. His heart was almost failing, falling apart. The blockage was about 90percent.  He had to undergo a by-pass surgery to be able to continue to live. Today, he looks much, much older than his age. He made a remarkable statement after the surgery which touched me deep down my bones till this day. He said his regrets about his health when he was in the White House was that he didn’t “eat well”. His diet was largely meat pies, hamburgers, hotdogs and, of course, tea or coffee or soft drinks.

President Obama cuts a different picture from former President Clinton. Mrs Obama turned the flower gardens and lawns of the White House into gardens where she grew organic foods and herbs. She gave her husband organic foods. She got school children to participate in the cultivation of these gardens. Her goal in doing this was to inculcate in the young Americans the need to eat well. She believed that if this culture caught on, these children would take the message back home to their parents and, in due course, Americans would emerge from junk food eaters and a sickly people to a health-eating population and a healthy people. This is the role I believe our Creator gave to you women, which Mrs Sowemimo, through this programme,  is trying to remind you about.

Holda

You may not have heard about this woman, the fourth of four women i said earlier i would talk about. She was the wife of a leader of mankind in the early days of human existence on earth. The reports we have of her is that, while her husband went hunting for animals and fruits for food for his family and household, she spent her own time gathering herbs for the strengthening of their bodies and health. Her work suggests the back-up roles of caring and tending to which women should devote their time and energy.

So, which plants do I wish to suggest you grow in the garden and around the house for the health of your families health? One of them is…Carica Papaya.

Carica Papaya

The popular name for it in Nigeria is Pawpaw. Many years ago, I used to go out with my friends to enjoy goat meat or fish pepper soup. Goat meat or whole fish is a load of protein on the digestive system. We drank lots of beer which diluted the digestive enzymes, making it difficult for the protein to digest. Undigested protein ended up in sludges on which micro-organisms fed, producing gas, toxins, bloating, abdominal distention and pain, if not diseases of the digestive tract such as constipation, diverticulosis, colitis (inflammation) or piles. Some unlucky people end up with colon cancer. With all these possibilities at the back of my mind, I went out with the boys with pawpaw leaves in my pocket. These leaves, like the seeds of the pawpaw fruit or the sap from the unripe fruit or the tree trunk, contains an enzyme known as Papain. Papain chemically resembles Pepsin, the digestive enzyme in our stomachs which digests proteins there. So, eating pawpaw leaves with the goat meat or fish helped to digest the protein in them and keep my system clear.

American Indians discovered the power in pawpaw leaves a long time ago. If they killed some animals for food while hunting, they cut the body into pieces, pick pawpaw leaves and beat them to pulp to get them to ooze juice,  and then wrap the animal meat in these bruised and bleeding pawpaw leaves. The result was that the meat became tenderized or pre-cooked before they got home. Since the papain oozed digested proteins, it also digested any germ or micro-organism present in the meat because they, too, are made of proteins. With this knowledge, the food and other industries began to use papain as a tenderizer. About 80percent of the beer brewed in the United States is said to be treated with papain to keep it clear and germ-free. In your kitchens,  you can tenderize tough meat, if you still eat meat, with the sap of the unripe fruit,  or grind the seeds, which also contain papain,  and add the juice or paste to your cooking. This papain-rich paste can be added to honey or Blackstrap molasses and, added to water, taken with a meal or on empty stomach or in-between meals (the space between two meals) to aid digestion or kill germs, such as those of typhoid. In Europe, this sap is dried and sold as Papain tablets for these purposes.

There is no part of the pawpaw plant that is useless. When I was younger and had the energy for it, I grew plenty of carica papayas and harvested them all young before fruiting. I ground the leaves, flowers, stalk, trunk and roots to paste along with unripe pawpaw fruits from other sources. I dried the paste in a machine and made it all into a powder product called CARIPARLS, an acronym for Carica papaya roots, leaves and seeds. We are helped to understand the medicinal uses of this plant more by the website www.drugs.com:

“Papaya has been used widely in folk medicine for many ailments…the juice for warts, corns, cancers, tumors, and thickened skin. The roots or their extracts for cancers of the uterus, syphilis, the tropical infection, hemorrhoids, and to remove mineral concretions in the urine; the unripe fruit as a mild laxative or diuretic, and to stimulate lactation, labour. The ripe fruit for rheumatism and alkalinising the urine; the seeds for intestinal worms or to stimulate lactation, the leaves as a poultice for nervous pains and elephantoid growth, or smoked for asthma relief; and the latex for psoriasis, ring worm, indigestion or applied externally as an antiseptic or to heal burns and scalds, or applied to the cervix to contract the uterus.

The unripe fruit and the latex are contraindicated for pregnant women as they may induce abortion.”

The website adds:

“In developing countries, the traditional use of papaya is being investigated as an alternative treatment for a range of ailments. Carica papaya has a wide range of porported medicinal properties for treatment of diabetes,  as birth control, as an antiseptic,  anti-microbial, or diuretic,  to control parasite, reduce inflammation, lower blood pressure, and lower Cholesterol. While there are limited data to support most of these uses, there is some evidence for healing bed sores and other wounds and in treating intestinal worms in womans”.

Banana peel

Lately, I have found myself encouraging people to eat banana peel for its health benefits. One woman was complaining at a local food store that #300 plantain could feed only her three children with nothing left for herself and her husband. Another thought the change economy was too harsh on the pocket and the kitchen. I remembered that, in the United States and some European countries now, plantain and banana peels have been recognised to be nutritionally superior to the fruits they protect and are being eaten as such.

Every woman can grow banana sucker in a small space at the back of the house. I started with five suckers of banana and plantain which, over 10years, have not stopped regenerating themselves to provide me food and medicine.

The website www.stylecraze.com educates us:

“The flesh of the banana is rich in many nutrients and carbohydrates.  It is high in Vitamin B6, B12, Magnesium and Potassium. The sugar content is the highest when the banana peel turns black. Let us quickly see the top benefits of this gift of Nature.

“ONE…Sparkling teeth. Rub the banana peel everyday for a week on your teeth for about a minute. This actually results in teeth whitening, which can cost a lot of money otherwise.

“TWO…Removes warts. The banana peel helps in removing warts and eliminates the occurrence of new ones. For this, simply rub the peel on the affected area or tie the peel overnight on it. This is one of the simplest ways to use a banana peel for the skin.

“THREE…Eat them. Banana peels can also be eaten. You can find amazing Indian recipes that use banana peels. They are also used to tender chicken.

“FOUR…Cures pimples. Just massage banana peels on your face and body for five minutes everyday to cure pimples. The result should be visible within a week. Keep applying the peels until the acne disappears.

“FIVE…Reduces wrinkles. The banana peel helps to keep your skin hydrated. Add an egg yolk to a mashed banana peel. Apply this mixture on your face and leave it for five minutes. Wash off after five minutes.

“SIX…Pain reliever. Apply the banana peel directly on the painful area. Leave it for 30 minutes till the pain is gone. A mixture of vegetable oil and banana peel also helps in pain relief.

“SEVEN…Heals psoriasis. Apply the pell on the psoriasis-affected area. The banana peel has moisturizing properties and also reduces itchiness. It will quickly heal psoriasis and you will quickly see results within no time.

“EIGHT…Heals bites by bugs. Massage the peel on the mosquito bite to get instant relief from the itching and pain.

“NINE… Shoes, leather, silver polish. Rub the banana peel on shoes, leather and silver articles to make them shine instantly.

“TEN…UV protection. Banana peel helps in protecting the eyes from the harmful UV rays. Make sure you leave the peel under the sun before rubbing the banana peel on your eyes. It is also proven to reduce the risk of cataract.”

What interests me most is the food value of the banana peel. The website www.treehugger.com says of this:

“Americans eat 12 billion bananas a year: The most widely consumed food in America is the beloved banana-it is also a fruit that comes with a rather significant peel. And just imagine, billions of those banana peels end up in the trash…when they could be eaten instead. While that may come strange to those of us in the United States, people in other parts of the world have been eating banana peels all along. Yes, they are fibrous and a bit bitter but there are easy ways to get around that. And aside from sidestep ping some of that prodigious waste, banana peels also have nutritional appeal.  (The skin) contains high amounts of Vitamin B6 and B12, as well as Magnesium and Potassium. It also contains some fiber and protein.

‘Sandego-based nutritionist Laura Flores tells live Science.

‘Banana peel is eaten in many parts of the world, though it is not common in the West,’ she adds.

“An article in the Journal of APPLIED BIOCHEMISTRY AND BIOTECHNOLOGY,  also noted that banana peels have various bioactive compounds like Polyphenols, carotenoids, and others.”