By: Denise van Wissen
Published: 2003-01-20


Denise van Wissen read what we wrote about drying and eating green leaves in EDN 73. She wrote to tell us about another product made with leaves, called green leaf extract (also written about in our book Amaranth to Zai Holes, available on ECHOcommunity.org). Green leaf extract has an extremely high protein content and has an intense green color.

Denise wrote, “The Nicaraguan NGO, SOYNICA, was introduced to Green Leaf Extract (‘extracto foliar’ in Spanish) in 1987 by Engineer David Kennedy of Leaf for Life.

“We first used cowpea (Vigna unguiculata) leaves to make leaf extract, and now use a wide variety of edible leaves, ranging from squash, spinach and carrot leaves to fruit tree leaves such as lemon, jocote and guava, and bean leaves. Everyone has their own favorite!

“Leaf extract is very rich in vitamins and minerals, especially the two micronutrients most deficient in the Nicaraguan diet: vitamin A and iron. Leaf extract also provides high quality protein (essential amino acids), folic acid, vitamin E, and other minerals including calcium, zinc, magnesium, and copper.

“The technique David Kennedy taught us to extract this nutritious concentrate from leaves is simple, and can be done easily in the home. These are the steps:

  1. Collect leaves, wash them, chop them up fine or grind them with a grinding stone (or blender).
  2. Put the leaves with some water in cheesecloth (or similar fabric) and squeeze out the green liquid, leaving the leaf fiber in the cheesecloth.
  3. Heat up this green ‘juice’ at high temperature, without letting it boil. Remove from heat when a greenish-yellow foamy substance rises to the top–this is the leaf extract!
  4. Skim off the extract with a spoon and pour it through a clean piece of cheesecloth. Squeeze until it’s dry.

“Children love this fresh extract mixed with honey (sugar water). It is good to add leaf extract to lemonade or other citrus juices, because the vitamin C aids the body’s absorption of the iron in the extract. In dried form, women incorporate the leaf extract into their family’s daily meals by adding it to the masa (dough) for tortillas, to beans, or even to the rice.

“Note: Use the leaf fiber from step 2 for animal food and the remaining liquid from step 3 as plant fertilizer–nothing is wasted in this process!

“Fresh leaf extract is very tasty and is highly accepted in our area, especially by the children, as mentioned above. We show mostly rural and semi-rural women how to make it, since urban families don’t have access to fresh green leaves (they can purchase a dry form). We produced leaf extract in two women’s cooperatives from 1995-1999. Since Hurricane Mitch, we’ve received donations of dried leaf extract from overseas, and distributed 16,500 kg last year (2001) directly to the families, barrios and communities we work with, and through other NGO’s, preschools, and government programs.

“We estimate that approximately 30,000 Nicaraguans consume leaf extract with some degree of regularity (this includes 20,000 children who consume it in snacks provided in the state preschools). Families of higher incomes in Managua purchase leaf extract in the form of drink mixes (pinol from ground corn and oat drink) in supermarkets, or [it] may even be prescribed by homeopathic doctors.

“The Nicaraguan people have almost lost the healthy habit of incorporating greens into their daily meals, and this fact has made the promotion of green leaf extract a difficult task! Here in northern Nicaragua (departments of Nueva Segovia and Madriz) SOYNICA has been teaching the women how to make leaf extract since 1997. We have found that it is difficult at first for them to acquire the habit of making it, because of their own poor health and lack of energy and because we do provide it ready-made at a highly subsidized price. However, once these women begin to consume leaf extract, they feel more energetic (due to their increased iron levels), and are more likely to try preparing it themselves for their families.

“We’ve always insisted that leaf extract is a food supplement, but most people think of it as a medicine because of its curative effects. Dozens of women say that leaf extract has cured their children’s asthma, for example.”