WATER SPINACH, KANG KONG - RICH SOURCE OF NUTRIENTS: HEALTH BENEFITS AND USES OF WATER SPINACH
Water spinach is indigenous to the Indian subcontinent and can be found all over tropical
Asia. It is related to the sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas), and field bindweed, being a member of the convolvulus family, Convolvulaceae. As its name suggests it is edible, with arrow-shaped leaves which may be green or purple-tinged. The green plant has white flowers, and the purple-tinged plant has lilac flowers, and the trailing vine can grow up to 4 metres long. The plants live in water in canals, ponds and paddy fields and because of pollution in some parts of Asia there is a worry that the metallic elements found in some plants my affect human health.
Water spinach is also known as Water Morning Glory, Water or Swamp convolvulus and kang kong. It also has several Latin names including: - Convolvulus repens Vahl; Ipomoea repens Roth and Ipomoea reptans Poiret.
However it is cultivated in southern
, and can be found in many markets around south-east China Asia. The leaves and young tops and stems are boiled and used as a leafy vegetable. The leaves have a mild flavour and can be eaten raw, boiled or lightly fried as in stir-frying.
The plant is rich in the minerals calcium and iron, as well as containing sodium, magnesium, phosphorous, manganese, copper and zinc. It also contains some of the B-complex vitamins, notably B2 (riboflavin) along with vitamins C and K. The flavonoids such as catechin and phenolic compounds it contains give it potent antioxidant properties and also antiproliferative ones, meaning that it can inhibit the growth (in vitro) of some cancer cells. In a study published on
October 28th 2004 (ejournal sinica edu) “Antioxidant and antiproliferative activities of water spinach (Ipomoea aquatica Forsk) constituents,” Huang et al conclude that the flavonoids and phenolic compounds in the plant “may have a significant effect on antioxidant and anticancer activities.” Extracts from the stems of the plant were more potent than the leaves it was found.
In other studies extracts from the plant decrease cholesterol and triglycoside in rats and are thought to have possible uses in the treatment of diabetes mellitus. However further studies need to be done on humans and more needs to be discovered about how the flavonoids and phenolic compounds work.
Water spinach is used in traditional medicine systems and the tops are known to have mildly laxative properties (not as strong as senna or jamalgota). The milky sap or latex from the plant is dried and used as a purgative, while it is said that the juice of the plant is effective against poisoning from opium and arsenic. Poultices of the leaves are used during fever with delirium and the buds are used to get rid of ringworm.