Thoughts that I could get a massive backlash for encouraging people to drink palm wine almost stopped me from writing this. Here we are now, let us have an open mind and see what this gift of nature can do to our health.
There are two major species of palm in Nigeria: the oil palm (Elaeis guineensis) and the raffia palm (Raphia hookeri). Both species produce palm wine. Both species are cultivated; oil palm is mainly for palm oil production on commercial scales but raffia is essentially for palm wine. The quality of wine is similar in both species but there are cultural preferences for each of the species for wine.
Palm wine is a ready brew of nature; it is ready for use in real time and without any embellishments.
It is usually consumed in homes and at social events. The use of palm wine in traditional ceremonies is popular in many cultures; it is poured during libations as an offering to a deity or god, traditionalists spill it on the ground as a mark of respect to their dead ancestors. It plays a significant role in many traditional events in Africa. For example, it is served as a special drink to guests during celebrations like naming and weddings ceremonies.
During traditional weddings in Igboland, palm wine is given to the bride by the head of the family. The bride confirms who her husband is by serving him the palm wine after searching for him among the crowd.
There is more to this drink. It’s loaded with nutrients and has a bevy of health benefits. It is often added to various herbal medicines or products and said to be a nourishing drink which promotes lactation and improves eyesight due to its yeast content.
The yeast contained in palm wine has been reportedly used for industrial purposes such as baking and production of alcoholic drinks or potable ethanol.
When it is tapped, it is fresh and sweet, but in 24 hours, it can become sour and alcoholic, due to fermentation.
Palm wine has many health benefits especially when consumed fresh. It is good for our health if it is taken in pure form. The point needs to be made that commercial palm wine is regularly adulterated with narcotic agents obtained from regular herbal source. Preservatives and sweeteners distort the originality of the wine, therefore making it not good for our health.
There is a good news for men who have diabetes, Prof. Shahidul Islam of UKZN’s School of Life Sciences, together with two postgraduate students of the Federal Institute of Industrial Research Oshodi, Lagos, Nigeria, have collaborated on a research showing that the consumption of raffia palm wine could guard against complications stemming from Type 2 diabetes which affects male sexual organs.
The researchers indicated that a common complication of Type 2 diabetes among men is testicular damage, which if left untreated, could result in low libido, erectile dysfunction and eventually infertility. The research, undertaken in Islam’s laboratory at UKZN and at FIIRO involved administering palm wine and distilled water to two groups of diabetic rats under the strict guidelines and approval of UKZN’s Animal Ethics Committee.
The results showed that treatment with raffia palm wine resulted in lower blood glucose levels and less evidence of oxidative stress on testicular tissue. They concluded that raffia palm wine has therapeutic potential to protect against erectile dysfunction or impotence in men with Type 2 diabetes, giving credence to its use in folkloric medicine.
The researchers however cautioned that excessive consumption of the alcoholic beverage could be detrimental to health.
Let us look at some of the health benefits of palm wine
It improves eyesight: Optometrists confirm that yeast is good for the eyes because of the presence of yeast. Some school of thought argued that our grandparents in the village have better eyesight than us because palm wine is their beverage.
Reduced risk of cardiovascular diseases: Research has shown that drinking moderate amounts of palm wine has been associated with a reduced risk of developing cardiovascular diseases such as heart failure. This study was conducted by Lindberg and Ezra in 2008. Palm wine contains potassium which has been proven by research to improve heart health and reduce hypertension.
It can help fight cancer: Palm wine contains vitamin B2, also known as riboflavin. Riboflavin helps in the fight against free radicals.
Palm wine helps in maintaining healthy hair, skin and nails: The iron and vitamin B complex found in palm wine are needed for a healthy skin, hair and nail. Iron is essential for the development, growth and functioning of some cells in our body. This property of palm wine makes it helpful in promoting wound healing by repairing our tissues and promoting the growth of healthy cells.
It promotes lactation: When nursing mothers include coconut oil in their diet, it induces breast milk production. But it has also been said that palm wine is used by many natural healers in Cameroon, Nigeria, Ghana and other parts of Africa to help lactating mothers when they have limited breast milk production.
It boosts sperm production: In West African tradition, palm wine is credited for increasing sperm count in men.
It helps in swallowing herbal powders: African traditional healers often infuse palm wine with medicinal herbs to produce a wide variety of remedies.
Bakery and preservative use of palm wine: Indians are known to use fermentation due to the wild yeast content of palm wine to produce special local bread.
Knowledge from this practice could be instrumental in improving the art of baking in Africa. The extra cost of importation of baking yeast could be avoided if specially- cultured palm wine yeast are produced in commercial quantities. The yeast could also be combined with other locally-sourced materials and used to develop other baked foods.
Malaria treatment: Palm wine can be combined with other local herbs for consumption during malaria attacks.
Nutritionally it is a power-house: Palm wine is nutritionally important because it is an excellent source of probiotics, nicotinic acid, thiamin, vitamin C, protein and riboflavin. It contains sugar, protein, carbohydrate, amino acid, Vitamin C, yeast, potassium zinc, magnesium, iron, vitamins B3 and B6.
Treatment of stomach problems: In folk medicines, palm wine is mixed with other herbs and used for treating stomach disorders.
Treatment of skin rashes: Palm wine can be applied on the skin for treating skin rashes especially in children. It is used in Nigerian rural communities for treating measles in children.
These days, people do a lot of unspeakable things in the name of commercialisation. Many harmful things are added to food items to maximise profit. So, if you want to reap the benefits that palm wine has to offer, it must be fresh, unadulterated and devoid of artificial sweeteners. It must be taken in moderation too.
Faluyi writes on healthy eating, nutrition and herbal medicine