Scientific name: Momordica charantia
Family name: Cucurbitaceae
Momordica charantia often called bitter melon, bitter gourd or bitter squash in English, has many other local names. Goyafrom the indigenous language of Okinawa where there is a large US military presence and karavellafrom Sanskrit are also used by English-language speakers. It is a tropical and subtropical vine of the family Cucurbitaceae, widely grown in Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean for its edible fruit, which is among the most bitter of all fruits. Its many varieties differ substantially in the shape and bitterness of the fruit. This is a plant of the tropics. Bitter melon comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. The Chinese variety is 20–30 cm long, oblong with bluntly tapering ends and pale green in color, with a gently undulating, warty surface. The bitter melon more typical of India has a narrower shape with pointed ends, and a surface covered with jagged, triangular “teeth” and ridges. Bitter gourd is a popular vegetable in some Asian countries, where the health benefits of the plant are well-known—particularly, its ability to lower blood glucose in diabetics.
Health Benefits of Bitter Gourd
Bitter gourd is used as herbal medicine for diabetes. The extracts of bitter gourd (or bitter melon) have been found to have a reparative effect on the cells of the pancreas while helping the organ increase the secretion of insulin as well as increasing the tolerance of the body to sugar6, and so being beneficial in the treatment of diabetes.
It is effective in treating skin diseases or skin infections, eczema, and even skin sores. The ripe fruit of bitter melon (which is orange-red), when mashed in olive oil with or without seeds, is effective when applied to wounds, burns, itching skin, chilblains as well as for leprosy. In addition, bitter melon can also benefit in reducing the skin itching that often accompanies these infections.
It is widely used for its anti-inflammatory properties like piles. A paste can also be made from the root of a bitter gourd plant that can be applied externally to piles for pain relief and reduction of inflammation. An infusion of the ripe fruit can also be used as a remedy for hemorrhoids.
Bitter melon has proven to have benefit in treating respiratory disorders such as asthma, bronchitis, pharygitis, and rhinitis. Regular consumption of two ounces of fresh bitter melon juice, mix with a cup of honey diluted in water may help respiratory problems like asthma and bronchitis. When used for respiratory benefits, bitter melon should be taken at night before bedtime.
The seeds of the fruit are powerful antihelminthics and help to expel intestinal and parasitic worms by stunning or killing them. Bitter melon is helpful in the treatment of intestinal worms and diarrhea.
Bitter gourd has numerous vital vitamins and minerals including vitamin A, Vitamin B1, Vitamin B2, Vitamin C, Iron, Calcium, Phosphorous, Copper and Potassium. There are many health reasons why you should take this bitter vegetable seriously. A teaspoonful of its juice is given to children for coughs, since the extracts of the leaf exhibit antibiotic and anti-viral properties. Bitter melon can cause severe low blood sugar effects, leading to a coma, in children. If exposed to the seeds that children can also experience vomiting, diarrhea and possibly death. So it must be taken after consulting your physician if it has to be taken for medicinal use.