Plant defence mechanisms (2)


Some months ago, a message was sent to one of the WhatsApp groups I belong to. It read, “If you know anyone suffering from prostate problem and difficulty to urinate, pls, the above plant just healed my brother of enlarged prostate complications within 3 days! He was bidding for an operation and already carrying urinary bag around. In short, he was already dying…then someone introduced the plant to him and he took a little quantity of the juice extracted from it twice a day and that was it! Within 3 days, the catheter dropped off and he started urinating by himself. All the symptoms disappeared. The plant is called Ogbe ori akuko in Yoruba language. It is called scorpion tail in English. Pls do not continue to suffer when the solution is readily available and affordable”.

While on the medicinal plants series, I talked about this plant. It is botanically known as Heliotropium indicum and called agogo igun or ogbe ori akuko in Yoruba. If it encourages urine flow as it did to the person in this viral message, then it means it has diuretic activity. The reason I will not want us to discard this viral message is that research has shown that the plant has a significant anti-cancer effect on prostate cancer.

I am particularly worried because out of every 10 text messages I get, eight are from men who have prostate enlargement. Prostate enlargement, also known as benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), is on the rise! To the men folk, nature can be put to test by using this plant. It grows around.

Last week, I shared the story of my sibling who got addicted to bitter kola and started having heart palpitations. Some people misconstrued my message. I never said people should stop eating bitter kola. All I was trying to point out is that moderation is the key.

So, let us get back to what we started last week. I mentioned two types of anti-nutrients already. Let us continue:

3: Lectins: Found in all food plants, especially in seeds, legumes and grains. Some lectins may be harmful in high amounts and interfere with the absorption of nutrients.

4: Protease inhibitors: Widely distributed among plants, especially in seeds, grains and legumes. They interfere with protein digestion by inhibiting digestive enzymes.

5:Oxalates: They are one of the few anti-nutrients with mostly negative impacts on the body. They are found in lots of common foods, including legumes, beets, berries, cranberries, oranges, chocolate, tofu, wheat bran, soda, coffee, tea, beer, dark green vegetables and sweet potatoes. The negative impacts of oxalates include binding to calcium in the digestive tract and removing it from the body in bowel movements. Oxalates can also increase the risk of kidney stones in some people.

Man has found different ways to reduce all these anti-nutrients in his food. Let us see the ways:


Beans and other legumes are often soaked in water overnight to improve their nutritional value. Most of the anti-nutrients in these foods are found in the skin. Since many anti-nutrients are water-soluble, they simply dissolve when foods are soaked. In legumes, soaking has been found to decrease phytate, protease inhibitors, lectins, tannins and calcium oxalate. For example, a 12-hour soak reduced the phytate content of peas by up to 9%.

Another study found that soaking pigeon peas for 6-18 hours decreased lectins by 38-50%, tannins by 13-25% and protease inhibitors by 28-30%. Not only is soaking useful for legumes, leafy vegetables can also be soaked to reduce some of their calcium oxalate. Soaking is typically used in combination with other methods such as sprouting, fermenting and cooking.


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Sprouting is a period in the life cycle of plants when they start emerging from the seed. This natural process is also known as germination. This process increases the availability of nutrients in seeds, grains and legumes. During sprouting, changes take place within the seed which leads to the degradation of anti-nutrients such as phytate and protease inhibitors. Sprouting has been shown to reduce phytate by 37-81% in various types of grains and legumes.


Fermentation is an ancient method originally used to preserve food. It is a natural process that occurs when microorganisms such as bacteria or yeasts start digesting carbs in food. Food products that are processed by fermentation include yoghurt, cheese, wine, beer, coffee, cocoa and soy sauce. In various grains and legumes, fermentation effectively degrades phytate and lectins. For example, fermenting pre-soaked brown beans for 48 hours caused an 88% reduction in phytate.


High heat, especially when boiling, can degrade anti-nutrients like lectins, tannins and protease inhibitors. A study showed that boiling pigeon peas for 80 minutes reduced protease inhibitors by 70%, lectin by 79% and tannin by 69%.

Additionally, calcium oxalate is reduced by 19-87% in boiled green leafy vegetables. In contrast, phytate is heat-resistant and not as easily degraded with boiling. The cooking time required depends on the type of antinutrient, food plant and the cooking method. Generally, a longer cooking time results in greater reductions of anti-nutrients.

 Combination of methods

Combining many methods can reduce anti-nutrients substantially, sometimes even completely. For instance, soaking, sprouting and lactic acid fermentation of corn and sorghum degrade phytate almost completely.

Let us look at some foods and ways to remove anti-nutrients in them. I already talked about soybeans on this platform and you all know by now that you must make your soybeans go through fermentation before consumption. If it is the milk you want to make out of it, then soak it overnight. Cassava contains naturally occurring forms of cyanide which is toxic to ingest. This is why it has to be properly fermented before gari is made from it. Almonds contain lectins, but the lectins are in the skin. You can remove the skin. Spinach is loaded with oxalic acid, which blocks the absorption of iron and calcium; you will absorb more calcium and iron if you eat it cooked. Goitrogens are compounds that interfere with the normal function of the thyroid gland. They make it more difficult for the thyroid to produce the hormones your body needs for normal metabolic function. Some goitrogenic foods include cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, kale and cabbage. Cooking limits the impact of goitrogenic foods on your thyroid.

A study titled, ‘Plants’ innate defence mechanisms against phytopathogens’ by Hakeem Olalekan Shittu, concludes that plants do naturally defend and resist pathogen attack and manage to continue to grow and produce yields in appreciable amounts by employing a combination of structural features and biochemical reactions, which may or may not be present in the plants throughout their lifetime.

The part that thrills me the most is when an affected plant sends out warning signals to other plants around it and they all shed leaves. After all, when their predators do not find more leaves to eat, they let them alone. Who would believe that plants can exhibit this kind of trait?

As humans, does self-defence mean anything to you? Let us learn from plants by defending ourselves from any form of bodily harm. We should guard against everything or anyone that poses a threat to our emotional and mental health too. ,

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