People & Herbs. Brassica oleracea (“Sukuma wiki”)

Scientifically known as Brassica oleracea, collard greens is very similar to kale plant and does not have the usual close-knit core of leaves (a “head”) like cabbage.

Collards have been eaten for over 2,000 years and are enjoyed worldwide as a staple part of different cuisines in some parts of South America, southern Europe, South Asia, United States and across East Africa. In fact, in Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya, the vegetable is commonly known by its Swahili name, Sukuma wiki; the phrase which literally translates to “push the week” without getting spoiled! It is a vegetable that is generally affordable and available all-year round in this region. Sukuma wiki is mainly lightly sauteed in oil until tender, flavoured with onions and seasoned with salt then served either as the main dish or as a side dish alongside meat, fish or chicken among other sauces.

One of the most amazing things about collard greens is their ability to lower the body cholesterol level when eaten regularly more than any other crucifer such as kale and broccoli. This is due to the fact that they have the ability to bind to bile acids in the digestive system and enhance their exit from the body. This super greens are endowed with vitamin C which is important for keeping a myriad of diseases away.

Its vitamin A content is legendary which is crucial for the growth of all bodily tissues, including skin and hair, supports the immune system and enhances good eyesight. It contains iron which is important in preventing anaemia and enhancing the body to efficiently utilise the body energy.  The high fibre and water in the collard greens are very important in preventing constipation and maintenance of a healthy digestive tract.

The cancer protection is one of the unique health benefits that we get from collard greens. In fact, the cancer-preventive properties of collard greens may be largely related to the glucosinolates and phytochemicals found in it which lower the cancer risk by supporting our body’s detox and anti-inflammatory systems. Indeed, it has been observed that regular intake of collard greens can be very beneficial in preventing a number of cancers including bladder cancer, breast cancer, colon cancer, lung cancer, prostate cancer and ovarian cancer.

Furthermore, caffeic acid, ferulic acid, quercetin and kaempferol are among the key antioxidant phytonutrients provided by collard greens. These broad spectrum antioxidants are important for warding off chronic and unwanted oxidative stress. The presence of antioxidant alpha-lipoic acid which is believed to lower glucose levels, increase insulin sensitivity and prevent changes related to oxidative stress in people with diabetes and also decreases the symptoms of peripheral neuropathy (numbness, tingling or burning sensation that occurs in the hands, feet or legs) in people with diabetes. Collard greens also contains folic acids which is vital for the development of a healthy nervous system and helps close the neural tubes of unborn babies, reduces the risk of certain birth defects such as spina bifida and anencephaly and has the ability to reduce the risk of heart defects and cleft lip development.

In addition, collard greens also contain choline which is credited with our mood (prevent depression), sleep, muscle movement, learning, memory functions and reduction of chronic inflammation. It also reduces the appearance of wrinkles and age-related sunspots including keeping the body healthy and young from within to prevent the degeneration of muscles and cells. (Richard Komakech)