Is Mucuna Pruriens Better Than Medication?

Mucuna pruriens is like no other plant. This legume—also known by the names velvet bean, cowitch, cowage, agbara and karara—boasts of multiple health benefits. Unsurprisingly, it is sought to make different kinds of dietary supplement.

Plant Overview

mucuna plant

A mucuna plant in blossom

Mucuna pruriens is an annual plant that grows in tropical and subtropical regions. Originally from eastern India and southern China, it is now cultivated in other parts of Asia as well as in Africa, America, and Pacific Islands. It was introduced to the Pacific Islands and America through Mauritius. Though widespread, the plant doesn’t grow well in cold areas. It prefers warm areas with lots of rainfall.

Aside from the medicinal properties of its derivatives, the plant itself is already noteworthy. It might have low tolerance against coldness; however, the plant has strong resistance against drought, high soil acidity, and low soil fertility. It also has properties that discourage weeds from growing near it. As a result, there is little to no competition when it comes to sunlight, water, and other basic needs of plants. Additionally, Mucuna pruriens is less prone to insect infestation.

Its young stem and leaves are usually covered in small hairs. The hairs are too itchy due to their mucunain content. As it gets a few months older, such hairs disappear almost completely. This climbing plant can grow up to 15 meters.

Though hated for its itchiness, Mucuna pruriens is adored for its clusters of white, purple or lavender flowers. The flowers then turn into leguminous fruits. The young fruits are also covered in small, itchy hairs which give them the velvety look. The severe itchiness from these hairs also prompted people in Nigeria to refer to the beans as devil beans while locals in northern Mozambique call them mad beans. The fruits then become seed pods. Each seed pod contains 4 to 6 brown or black dirft seeds.

Notable Contents

The leaves and seeds of Mucuna pruriens contain fiber and protein. Aside from those two, the seeds also have potassium, phosphorus, calcium and vitamin A. Just like other legumes, the plant is rich in nitrogen, but velvet bean is best known for its levodopa (L-dopa) content.

Velvet beans as used in modern agriculture

Mucuna pruriens serves three main uses in mainstream agriculture: animal consumption, cover crop, and plant cultivation. Before, many farmers disliked this plant for its invasiveness and itchiness. However, information about its traditional and modern uses spread and prompted further cultivation.

Mucuna pruriens as Green Manure

In agriculture, farmers have to make sure that the soil is rich in nutrients to help ensure high yield. Soil nutrients lessen after several cropping. The intensive use of fertilizers and other chemicals in the soil also decreases soil nutrients. A lot of farmers take advantage of animal manure in tilling their lands. However, lots of consumers and health professionals frown upon such practice. As a result, farmers have to resort to alternatives; one of which is the use of green manure.

Green manure is composed of sown and uprooted plants left to dry in a field. Not all plants are fit to serve as green manure. Mucuna pruriens belongs to the few that are best suited as green manure.

Mucuna pruriens is suitable as green manure because of its nitrogen content. The nitrogen-fixing bacteria are concentrated on the root nodules of Mucuna pruriens as well as other legumes such as hairy vetch, crimson clover, berseem clover and sweet clover. The nitrogen transfers into the plants grown in the fields where green manure is applied. The element forms part of chlorophyll, a pigment that is vital in the food-making processes of plants.

Mucuna pruriens as Weed Control Solution

In Vietnam and Benin, Mucuna pruriens are propagated to block the invasion of the Imperata cylindrical weed. Such weed is notorious for its flammability especially when dried. It doesn’t just harm the crops but also humans and animals near it. The leaves can also cause minor cuts. Just like other weeds, they compete with crops for sunlight, water and soil nutrients. The worst thing about this weed is that it grows and spreads so easily. Therefore, weed control solutions like Mucuna pruriens are necessary to prevent the growth of the said weed.

Mucuna pruriens as Feeds

The stems, leaves and seeds of Mucuna pruriens are also sought for feeding some animals. The dried seeds contain up to 35% crude protein while the silage carries up to 40% crude fiber and 23% crude protein. Crude protein strengthens the muscle tissues and immune system of animals. On the other hand, crude fiber aids in digestion.

Some fresh stems and leaves are fed directly to animals like cows and goats. The rest of the harvest are dried and stored for winter consumption.

Health Benefits of Mucuna pruriens

mucuna beans

A bowl of mucuna beans.

In Java, Indonesia, the beans of Mucuna pruriens—known locally as benguk—are consumed. The beans are even fermented to form bean cakes, just like what they do with soybeans, arguably the most popular legume in the world. Indonesians call their fermented Mucuna pruriens beans as tempeh benguk. The term tempeh refers to the fermented food made from soy. It is also one of the soy cuisines that didn’t originate in China.

Aside from the beans, the fresh shoots of Mucuna pruriens are also used as a cooking ingredient. However, some prefer using the beans alone as food because the fresh shoots require a more tedious preparation. When not cleansed and boiled properly, they might contain anti-nutrients and other disadvantageous chemicals.

A Coffee Substitute

Coffee is a breakfast and break-time staple across different cultures and environments. However, there are still people who stay away from the beverage because of its bitter taste and caffeine content. Too much caffeine may lead to anxiety, restlessness, irritability, insomnia and muscle spasms. Decaffeinated coffee is introduced as an alternative to the traditional coffee. Nevertheless, coffee substitute remain a healthier way to combat drowsiness compared to coffee. Coffee substitute is a good choice for the following:

  • those who have to trim down their caffeine intake/coffee addiction
  • those who didn’t like coffee’s bitter taste
  • those who can’t take coffee due to religious reasons
  • those who could hardly afford the price of quality coffee

For several years now, the beans of Mucuna pruriens have been used as coffee substitute in Mexico and Guatemala. Just like coffee beans, the beans of Mucuna pruriens are roasted and ground. The best thing about velvet beans as coffee substitute is that it isn’t as addictive as coffee. It is also effective in preventing drowsiness.

Relief for Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s disease is a form of degenerative condition that targets the nerve cells in the brain. The symptoms for this disease include drooling, slurring, tremors, speech impairment, and muscle rigidity. As of now, there is still no treatment for this condition.

People with Parkinson’s disease have low dopamine levels. To counter some of the symptoms of the condition, Mucuna pruriens medications are sought for their L-dopa content. The amino acid L-dopa is one of the building blocks for dopamine. This chemical is difficult to synthesize due to the limitations of ingredients that can be used and the corresponding expensive price for the said ingredients. Mucuna pruriens provide a more economical source for L-dopa.

The use of Mucuna pruriens medications for Parkinson’s disease is supported by various researches. However, this isn’t a new discovery as the practice has long been employed in some parts of India. In Ayurveda, a collection of traditional Indian medicine, the plant is utilized to treat symptoms of the degenerative condition as well as other conditions triggered by low dopamine levels.

In modern medicine, the use of velvet beans is combined with carbidopa intake. This chemical helps in extending the effects of Mucuna pruriens.

Antidote to Venoms

In tropical regions, snakebites are quite a common health emergency. In some tribal communities in Asia and Africa, people resort to Mucuna pruriens as antidote to the venoms from snakes such as cobra, krait, Malayan pit viper, and saw scaled viper. There are scientific studies that prove that the plant has anti-venom properties.

There are claims that the plant can also be used to treat scorpion bites. However, those claims are yet to be proven by scientific researches.

Stress Reliever

Those who suffer from chronic stress can depend on Mucuna pruriens for relief. The consumption of food and supplements made from the said plant has been proven to trim down the cortisol level in the body. The body needs cortisol, also dubbed as stress hormone, to respond to a variety of stressors around. However, high cortisol levels may lead to striae, thin skin, brittle bones, muscle weakness, and Cushing’s syndrome. It is also a risk factor for diabetes and obesity.

Supplement for Diabetes

Mucuna pruriens are usually used differently from one country to another. However, an exception is when it is sought for the alleviation of type II diabetes. High blood sugar level is one of the characteristics of the said chronic condition. As a remedy, Mucuna pruriens is used in Brazil, India and Germany as a way to lower down blood sugar levels.

Mood Enhancer

Moods are affected by external and internal factors. There are even times when gloominess and irritability kick in for seemingly no apparent reason. In these instances, the chemical imbalance in the body is usually the culprit. The chemical imbalance may be triggered by insufficient rest and poor diet.

Mucuna pruriens acts like a mood enhancer thanks to its L-dopa content. This improves the production of dopamine, serotonin and other chemicals that influence the mood of an individual. Unlike other mood enhancers out there, the supplement made with velvet beans is safe and non-addictive.

Nootropic

Brain supplements made with Mucuna pruriens boast their neuroprotective properties. These properties helps ensure healthy nerve cells in the brain. This entails that the cells are able to function and communicate well for a long time. Improved cell-to-cell communication in the brain facilitates faster recall and better concentration.

Mucuna pruriens nootropics are ideal for students who have poor recall. The elderlies may take advantage of these supplements as well. These help them counter age-related memory loss. Professionals who find it hard to concentrate may also rely on these brain foods.

Testosterone Supplement

Many testosterone supplements on the market feature Mucuna pruriens as one of the main ingredients. The dopamine boost that the plant provides is also the reason behind the increase in testosterone in men. An increase in testosterone levels in men offers the following benefits:

  • healthier sperm cells
  • better erections
  • improved sex drive
  • less facial fats
  • improved blood circulation
  • better sex appeal

A Effective Mass Gainer

Millions of people may be regarded as obese or overweight; however, there are also those who need to gain weight. Anorexic individuals are a classic example. They should gain weight not just for better figure; it is also for a stronger immune system. Some weight gain supplements on the market contain Mucuna pruriens. Aside from boosting testosterone, the said plant stimulates the growth hormone as well. Both hormones can increase muscle mass, and therefore, increase a person’s overall weight.

Weight gain supplements are mostly used by athletes who are regarded as underweight. Nevertheless, anyone who is considered as underweight may take advantage of the said supplements.

Aphrodisiac

In Brazil and India, Mucuna pruriens are traditionally used as aphrodisiacs for both men and women. In men, the increase in testosterone is the cause for the boost in libido. Aside from improving sexual drive, the plant also helps improve orgasm and fertility for both men and women.

Secondary Uses

Mucuna pruriens is also valued for its viscosity. It is often processed to create industrial starch. This starch acts as adhesive for paper and textile products.  It serves as thickening agent for processed foods as well.

Safety

Five Mucuna Pruriens

5 Mucuna Prurien Beans

Taking dietary supplements made from Mucuna pruriens isn’t advisable to women who are nursing. In men, increasing testosterone levels is a good thing, but for lactating women, such boost is a big disadvantage. Testosterone increase results to lower estrogen levels. Low estrogen levels make it hard for lactating women to produce milk. Those who have (or had) skin lesions, melanoma, glaucoma, hypoglycemia, hypotension, cardiovascular diseases, liver problems, and mental disorders are also discouraged from taking food and dietary supplements from Mucuna pruriens.

Side Effects of Mucuna Pruriens

Mucuna pruriens is useful in many ways. However, it is still isn’t free from side effects. Aside from itchiness, other possible negative effects of consuming the plant and its derivatives are as follows:

  • cramping
  • vomiting
  • nausea
  • low blood pressure
  • arrhythmia (abnormal heart rhythm)

Conclusion

Mucuna pruriens is one of most useful medicinal plants out there. Aside from its medical and nutritional benefits, the legume is also sought for plant cultivation, animal consumption, and industrial processes. The food and supplements from the plant may cause some side effects. However, proper preparation lessens the likelihood of such effects. Additionally, people with certain medical conditions should not consume it.

If you have any doubts about its medicinal and nutritional value, there are plenty of studies you can find that support the use of the plant in treating and improving various health conditions. To gain optimal results, the supplements must be taken along with a healthy diet.

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