Ashitaba plants have been consumed as food and medicine for centuries in Japan. Samurai warriors are famously known to have used Ashitaba to maintain optimum physical and mental health. There is growing scientific evidence supporting the traditional use of Ashitaba for a range of health and medical purposes.
Ashitaba (Angelica keiskei) is an evergreen, perennial shrub from Japan. The leaves, roots, and stem sap of ashitaba plants produce over 100 phytochemicals, many of which have high nutritional and medicinal value. Ashitaba has anti-tumor, anti-oxidant, anti-microbial, and other powerful benefits.
Ashitaba contains powerful medicinal phytochemicals. These valuable compounds include chalcones, flavonoids, terpenes, phenolics, acetylenes, and coumarins. Ashitaba is also rich in nutrients such as folic acid, beta-carotene, riboflavin, vitamin E, ascorbic acid, calcium, iron, and protein. Let’s consider the benefits of Ashitaba more closely.
Ashitaba has been used traditionally as a nutritious food product, a potent medicine, and a general tonic and immune system booster. Here are seven scientifically-validated benefits of the ashitaba plant.
1. Anti-Tumor Properties
Ashitaba plants contain several bioactive phytochemicals that potentially inhibit the growth of tumors. Clinical research shows that extracts from Ashitaba roots and stems have potential anti-tumor effects. The chalcones in Ashitaba plants play a central role in inhibiting tumor growth.
One study found that xanthoangelol and isobavachalcone promoted the apoptosis of neuroblastoma tumor cells, and that may promote the apoptosis of neuroblastoma cells. Xanthoangelol has also been shown to potentially induce the apoptosis of leukemia tumor cells.
Clinical research provides compelling evidence suggesting that hydroxyderricin and xanthoangelol is derived from ashitaba plants induce apoptosis of stomach cancer cells. This activity means that that ashitaba may inhibit the growth of cancerous stomach tumors.
Ashitaba plants are known to have anti-inflammatory properties. Scientific research suggests that xanthoangelol and hydroxyderricin contained in Ashitaba plants may reduce inflammation induced by lipopolysaccharides. This class of polysaccharides is the cause of many common inflammatory conditions.
The anti-inflammatory effects of Ashitaba plants are partly explained by the fact that chalcones attenuate the production of inflammatory cytokines and nitric oxide in cells activated by lipopolysaccharides.
The compounds in Ashitaba plants also reduce inflammation by scavenging free radicals and inhibiting the release of histamine. These anti-inflammatory compounds are found primarily in the leaves and roots of Ashitaba.
Ashitaba plants are known to have anti-oxidant effects. They inhibit the oxidation of cells, suppressing the subsequent release of free radicals in the body. Chalcones are the principal phytochemicals in Ashitaba that exhibit anti-oxidative activity.
Scientific research into the anti-oxidant properties of Ashitaba indicates that chalcones suppress xanthine oxidase. The suppression of xanthine oxidase is significant because this enzyme is involved in the production of free radicals.
Interestingly, the bark of Ashitaba roots contains the highest concentration of potentially anti-oxidative chalcones. Ashitaba stems have slightly lower concentrations of chalcones. The leaves and root cores of Ashitaba plants have the lowest concentrations of these beneficial phytochemicals.
Some of the primary phytochemicals produced by Ashitaba plants have anti-microbial properties. Chalcones in Ashitaba plants inhibit a wide range of harmful bacteria. Clinical research indicates that hydroxyderricin inhibits the enzyme pathways of pathogenic bacteria like Staphylococcus aureus.
Chalcones, flavonoids, coumarins, terpenes, and other phytochemicals in Ashitaba plants have anti-viral activities. Ashitaba-derived chalcones inhibit the influenza virus. This appears to support the traditional use of Ashitaba as a tonic for boosting the immune system.
Due to ashitaba’s anti-viral and immune system-boosting properties, it is effective at combating coronaviruses. Chalcones isolated from Ashitaba plants inhibit the ability of coronaviruses to enter cells. For this reason, some scientists called for further research into Ashitaba as a potential treatment for COVID-19.
Ashitaba contains numerous compounds that are effective for the prevention and treatment of diabetes. Diabetes is a condition relating to disordered blood-sugar metabolism and insulin resistance. The chalcones hydroxyderricin and xanthoangelol significantly improve insulin actions like glucose uptake.
Hydroxyderricin and xanthoangelol contained ashitaba plants also have anti-diabetic benefits because they promote glucose uptake in skeletal muscles. This activity is critically important, the uptake of glucose by the skeletal muscle tissue facilitates the maintenance of balanced blood sugar levels.
Chalcones extracted from ashitaba plants may also be effective as an anti-diabetic treatment because they attenuate the production and release of tyrosine phosphatase. This is significant because tyrosine phosphatase is involved in the dis-regulation of insulin’s signaling pathway.
Ashitaba plant compounds may be effective in the prevention and treatment of thrombosis. The potentially anti-thrombotic effects of Ashitaba plants are attributed, in part, to their anti-coagulant actions and their inhibition of inflammation induced by lipopolysaccharides.
Clinical research also demonstrates that chalcones in Ashitaba have a potent suppressant activity on platelet-active compounds associated with thrombosis. These platelets, otherwise known as thrombocytes, are involved in the formation of blood clots.
Other compounds produced by Ashitaba plants like coumarins and flavanones also have anti-thrombotic properties. The regular consumption of Ashitaba may be effective for preventing thrombosis-related conditions.
Ashitaba contains chemopreventive compounds that are known to prevent the development of cancer. Ashitaba has chemopreventive effects due to the chalcones and other anti-tumor and anti-mutagenic phytochemicals contained in the plant’s stems, leaves, and roots.
The chemo preventive properties of Ashitaba are also attributable to the broad range of health-promoting nutrients contained in this plant species. The nutrients in Ashitaba potentially lower the risk of developing cancer because they support healthy cellular functioning and robust immune systems.
Ashitaba contains phytochemicals that are known to stimulate anti-carcinogenic processes in the body. One study, for instance, found that Ashitaba extract strongly promoted the activity of quinone reductase, an enzyme with potent anti-carcinogenic effects.
How To Consume Ashitaba
There are many ways to consume ashitaba. The leaves and stems of ashitaba plants can be consumed raw in freshly-squeezed juice and salads. Ashitaba leaves and stems can also be cooked in stir-fries, soups, and stews.
Dried and powdered ashitaba leaves can also be consumed in teas, wine, and baking flour. Ashitaba roots are also edible, but they must be cooked or fermented to make them palatable and easier to digest.
Consuming ashitaba as a nutritional supplement is a less traditional but increasingly common way to consume ashitaba for its potential health and medicinal benefits.