The bitter melon (Momordica charantia), also known as “bitter gourd”, is related to the fruity and sweet melons we buy at supermarkets. But because of its very bitter taste, it is utilized more like a vegetable. It is in fact, a member of the squash family. It has many other names from other countries; papailla, African cucumber, melao de sao caetano, sorosi, balsam apple, balsam pear, chin li chih, ampalaya, to mention several. It is a slender climbing vine with tendrils and stalked leaves. The fruits of many varieties are often elongated, some are more rounded in shape. These look like a warty cucumber with longitudinal ridges and crevices running along the surface.
This is an annual tropical plant. It is found in many gardens or farms from Asia to East Africa, the Caribbean, and Amazon regions. Fortunately for the urban/condo farmer’, this is an easy plant to grow and harvest. It can be regularly planted and cultivated every year.
The plant is gaining popularity because of its ability to help cure diabetes and its complications. Numerous health products and supplements made with both the fruit and leaves can now be easily bought.
The nutrients we get from eating Bitter Melon
The use of bitter melons is common in daily cooking in eastern states. It has also been a traditionally local medicine. The leaves, fruit and sometimes the roots are prepared in various ways and dishes.
Diseases treated with this herb include diabetics, fever, anemia, and diarrhea. It is also used to heal skin and wound infections, eczema, and itchiness. Other treatments are for liver inflammation, bad breath, insect bites and to expel worms from the bowels. In India and Colombia, people use it for malaria and even snake bites. In Ghana, it is a medicine for dysentery and gonorrhea.
|Nutrient||Unit||1 cup = 93.0g||%RDA|
|Total lipid (fat)||g||0.17||0.21|
|Fiber, total dietary||g||2.8||8.6|
|Vitamin A, RAE||mcg||22||2.45|
|Nutrient||Unit||Per 100g||%RDA||½cup = 24g||%RDA|
|Total lipid (fat)||g||0.69||0.9||0.17||0.22|
Per the above tables. It contains a remarkably high concentration of vitamin C in both parts of the plant. Eating about 100 grams of either fruit or leaves could provide almost the daily requirement for the vitamin. Vitamin C is an immune-boosting nutrient. Which explain the reason bitter melon is used by traditional healers to treat infections and fevers.
Going further through the values in the above tables, other nutrients are present in substantial amounts. Pay attention that the leaves also contain significant nutrients. In some of the nutrients listed, it is even higher amount then of the fruit. Herbalists are prescribing bitter melon leaves for infectious diseases as well as illnesses due to deficiency of nutrients.
The leaves contain a significant amount of Iron. Eating leaves can cure anemia that occurs because of Iron deficiency in the diet.
Other nutrients like magnesium, phosphorus, and zinc are needed for the healthy functioning of our muscles, nerves and other tissues. Regular consumption of the bitter melon leaves will help ensure proper body function.
Scientific Studies on Bitter Melon
Many laboratory studies have been done to identify the chemical substances in the plant. Their analyses identified more than 200 substances which created chemical reactions with possible medicinal effects. These tests gave scientific evidence and bases for the plant’s health benefits,
- reduce sugar levels in the blood
- treatment for intestinal worms
- protection against viral and bacterial infections
- help in weight loss and obesity
- fever and pain relief
- liver protection
- treatment of skin infections
Several studies on lab animals including diabetic mice conducted. Treatment with extracts of bitter melon resulted in significant reductions in fat and cholesterol in the blood. A promising study indicated the potential for preventing or alleviating the effects of stroke and nerve damage.
Much more significant findings were obtained from a number of clinical trials on human patients with diabetes. The plant was shown to be able to greatly reduce the amount of blood sugar, sometimes in short lengths of time. The results here are more conclusive and more applicable to show the potential use of bitter melon as a cure for diabetes and obesity.
The Health Benefits of Phytochemicals in Bitter Melon
Several groups of chemical substances identified in the plant called phytochemicals. They have properties which can help cure a number of deadly illnesses. Some of these substances were first discovered and exist in bitter melon. Lab tests conducted to study these groups. Their results revealed the health benefits they bring to us.
Group of protein-based substances inhibits the replication of viruses and cancerous cells. Because of this property, this group has been classified as “ribosomal inactivating proteins” or RIPs. Ribosomes are the part of the cell where DNA can be found. This implies that RIPs could stop replication at the DNA level. Among the notable RIPs are momordin II, momorcharins, and MAP30. These have been able to stop the spread of cancer cells from the liver. And even the virus causing AIDS.
Another group of phytochemicals has a structure made up of chains of sugar molecules called polysaccharides. These substances are partly the cause for bitter melon’s anti-diabetic benefit. These also function as antioxidants to protect cells in the nerves and the immune system. Some phytochemicals are similar in structure and function to the insulin and act the same way to lower blood glucose. This gives the bitter melon the title: “vegetarian insulin”
A number of substances found in bitter melon belong to a group called saponins. The name “saponins” comes from their soap-like physical structure. These are mostly responsible for bitter melon’s ability to regulate sugars and fat in the blood. Preventing diabetics and obesity.
Recipes using Bitter Melon
Although bitter melons are nutritious, people dislike the bitterness of the fruit (and leaves). So will find it difficult to eat even a small piece.
Many people find bitter melon – ‘bitter’. An interesting survey was done to find proper ways to cook bitter melon. So people will find it tasty. Bitter melon dishes made with sauces like curry, soy, tomato, and garlic. The dishes served to 50 healthy people. The survey author recorded their taste response.
The study found out that most favored the tomato- sauce recipe. (Like those used for pasta). Since it was able to mask the bitterness of the fruit the most. The second favored recipe was those using curry.
The following recipe includes tomatoes for its ingredients.
Broth with bitter melon greens (leaves)
4 cups bitter melon leaves
4 cloves of garlic, finely minced
2-3 whole tomatoes sliced
1 chili sliced
½ onion sliced
1 stalk of lemongrass crushed (optional)
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1.5 cups chicken broth
salt to taste
Put the oil on medium heat. Saute the tomatoes, onions, chili, and garlic with the oil together in a soup pot. Cook for about ten minutes until these have softened. Cook further until the tomatoes have been semi- liquefied and are somewhat pasty. Add the broth and the lemongrass and bring to a boil. Switch to low heat and boil gently for about ten minutes. Add the leaves and simmer until these are wilted.
Serve as a soup appetizer or with rice on the side if desired.
Pickling can actually reduce the bitterness of the fruit and, depending on the ingredients, add other flavors to enhance the eating experience.
Sweet Tangy Bitter Melon Pickles
2 medium-sized bitter melons
2/3 cup distilled white vinegar or cane vinegar
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon table salt or sea salt
½ teaspoon dill spice
- Cut the ends off the melons. Cut in half lengthwise. Scoop out the white pulp and seeds. Then Slice the halves crosswise about 1/4-inch thick to fill about 2 cups.2. Boil about 1 1/2 quarts water and add the bitter melon slices. Stir thoroughly to separate the slices. After 30 seconds when the slices look bright green, drain and cool immediately in ice water. Mix the vinegar, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Add the bitter melon slices. Add the dill spice.
- Cover and let the slices soak in the mixture at room temperature. Leave overnight. On the next day, separate (including the liquid) into smaller containers. Cover and chill, stir it occasionally. Serve after a couple of days when the pickles are crisp, sweet, and tangy. Keep cool in the refrigerator. Makes for a good appetizer, palate cleanser or snack.
This is simply a herbal infusion using the plant leaves or fruit.
- The leaves are steeped in very hot or freshly boiled water for at least 5 minutes.
- If you are going to use the fruit, it is recommended to slice them very thinly to draw out as much of the beneficial nutrients as possible.
- Take out the leaves and fruit pieces and add some honey or other sweeteners to reduce the bitterness.
Why should I grow Bitter Melon?
Many people consume dried bitter melon health supplements. This is to prevent diabetes and obesity. Taken either in capsules or as tea. Which are inexpensive compared to other therapies. However, the drying causes substantial losses in the amounts of nutrients. And phytochemicals found in the fresh herb. We may be able to get the full benefits of bitter melon eating it fresh.
The plant has a relatively short growing period. It could start to fruit in a couple of months. Since it is a vine, it takes little space. You should only need to install support with a trellis some sort. To have it find a way to cling up walls or similar structures. It is a summer plant. During the winter it rots. You can replant it again in the next session.
Even if you are not able to produce a good crop of the fruits. The leaves alone are more than enough to provide all its health-supporting nutrition. An easy way to take it is simply by chewing a few fresh leaves each day. Or make them into teas. This is a lot better than taking daily multivitamin pills. Because of the phytochemicals present in the leaves.
You should be suspicious of the fruits and/or leaves sold in stores. Bitter melon is a vegetable and is many times commercially grown. The fruit is very susceptible to insects such as flies. So it is possible that chemical pesticides used on them. You don’t have this concern if you grow your own bitter melon in your home.
How to grow bitter melon hydroponically
Growing bitter melon in condo-farm is quite easy. It is a vine-like plant that climbs on things it can attach to. You can expect it to climb on walls and trellises or even other plants. Its seeds are several millimeters long. So it is easy to sow using our fingers.
Sow 4-5 seeds in the seedling planter. They should sprout in a week. let them have 2-3 weeks to mature and transplant them to the condo-farm planter. They will rapidly grow in warm weather. Put all the sprouts in one planter and let them climb. You can cut leaves or wait for the fruits to mature.
Use it in your regular diet and enjoy all the benefits that this plant provides us!
Technical Data Report for BITTER MELON (Momordica charantia)
Preprinted from Herbal Secrets of the Rainforest, 2nd edition, by Leslie Taylor
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Basic Report: 11022, Balsam-pear (bitter gourd), leafy tips, raw
National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Legacy Release
Basic Report: 11024, Balsam-pear (bitter gourd), pods, raw
National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Legacy Release
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The Odd Pantry
Burmese broth with bitter melon greens
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The MAP30 protein from bitter gourd (Momordica charantia) seeds promotes apoptosis in liver cancer cells in vitro and in vivo.
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