The part of the plant that is used for consumption and for various medicinal purposes is the fruit of the bitter squash.
Momordica charantia (colloquial: bitter melon; bitter apple; bitter gourd; bitter squash; balsam-pear) is a tropical and subtropical vine of the family Cucurbitaceae, widely grown in Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean for its edible fruit. Its many varieties differ substantially in the shape and bitterness of the fruit.
Bitter melon originated in India and was introduced into China in the 14th century. It is widely used in East Asian, South Asian, and Southeast Asian cuisine.
This herbaceous, tendril-bearing vine grows up to 5 m (16 ft) in length. It bears simple, alternate leaves 4–12 cm (1.6–4.7 in) across, with three to seven deeply separated lobes. Each plant bears separate yellow male and female flowers. In the Northern Hemisphere, flowering occurs during June to July and fruiting during September to November.
Bitter melon comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. The cultivar common in China is 20–30 cm (7.9–11.8 in) 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. It is green to white in color. Between these two extremes are any number of intermediate forms. Some bear miniature fruit of only 6–10 cm (2.4–3.9 in) in length, which may be served individually as stuffed vegetables. These miniature fruit are popular in Bangladesh, India (common name ‘Karela’), Pakistan, Nepal and other countries in South Asia. The sub-continent variety is most popular in Bangladesh and India.
The fruit has a distinct warty exterior and an oblong shape. It is hollow in cross-section, with a relatively thin layer of flesh surrounding a central seed cavity filled with large, flat seeds and pith. The fruit is most often eaten green, or as it is beginning to turn yellow. At this stage, the fruit’s flesh is crunchy and watery in texture, similar to cucumber, chayote or green bell pepper, but bitter. The skin is tender and edible. Seeds and pith appear white in unripe fruits; they are not intensely bitter and can be removed before cooking.
Some sources claim the flesh (rind) becomes somewhat tougher and more bitter with age, but other sources claim that at least for the common Chinese variety the skin does not change and bitterness decreases with age. The Chinese variety are best harvested light green possibly with a slight yellow tinge or just before. The pith becomes sweet and intensely red; it can be eaten uncooked in this state, and is a popular ingredient in some Southeast Asian salads.
When the fruit is fully ripe, it turns orange and mushy, and splits into segments which curl back dramatically to expose seeds covered in bright red pulp.
While we’ve been so busy condemning its bitter taste, we’ve not only overlooked this fact but also the wide range of benefits that drinking bitter gourd juice offers. Bitter gourd juice contains a train of important nutrients ranging from iron, magnesium and vitamin to potassium and vitamin C. An excellent source of dietary fiber, it also contains twice the calcium of spinach, beta-carotene of broccoli, and the potassium of a banana. Here are some crucial benefits of drinking bitter gourd juice. A quick tip to reduce the bitterness of the drink is to add some honey or jaggery to it or pair it with sweet fruits like apple or pears. You can even add lemon juice to lessen the harsh taste of bitter melon juice. A pinch of black pepper and ginger can also decrease the tartness. The taste however, needs to be developed because contrary to its name bitter gourd is in fact sweet for your health.
11 Amazing Benefits
1. Diabetes Treatment And Blood Sugar Management
Momordica charantia is used primarily as an alternative therapy for lowering blood sugar levels in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus. Considerably it is the most potent and popular fruit in terms of managing diabetes through alternative medicine. In fact, drinking bitter melon decoctions is a common practice of diabetes management in Asian countries.
Certain elements of the bitter melon, particularly polypeptide-P, have structural compositions akin to animal insulin. The overall phytochemical composition of the bitter melon consists of charantin, steroidal saponins, and alkaloids. Charantin specifically augments glycogen synthesis within liver and muscle cells. Together, these compounds greatly contribute to the fruit’s hypoglycemic effects.
Regular consumption of bitter melon- be it fruit, juice, or dried powder can provide additive effects when taken with conventional hypoglycemic medication.
2. Immunity Enhancer
Adding bitter melon fruit or juice to your diet helps you recover from common illnesses much quicker and decreases your susceptibility to infections. Bitter melon is abundant in antioxidants that constitute an impregnable line of defense against viruses. The fruit is rich in Vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant. A hundred-gram serving of bitter melon provides over 80 mg of vitamin C.
Antioxidants attack free radicals within the body and eliminate other harmful compounds that may cause a number of ailments.
3. Hemorrhoid Relief
Bitter melon contains anti-inflammatory properties beneficial to individuals who have a condition called piles, or most commonly known as hemorrhoids. Simply make a salve using the plant’s roots and apply it topically to the venous swelling to alleviate pain and to stop bleeding. You can also treat sores and other skin conditions using this salve.
4. Sharper Vision
Bitter melon notably contains eye-health improving flavonoids such as α-carotene, β-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin. Together, these compounds enhance eyesight and night vision as well as decelerate macular degeneration. These compounds play a crucial role in fighting the effects of aging, eliminating oxygen-derived free radicals and reactive oxygen species that may lead to numerous complications.
5. Asthma Relief
Bitter melon can help reduce symptoms brought on by certain respiratory conditions such as asthma, bronchitis, and hay fever. Bitter melon has anti-histaminic, anti-inflammatory, and anti-viral properties, which makes it an ideal supplementary food in maintaining good respiratory health. It also helps promote sound sleep.
6. Bitter Melon Consumption Can Help To Address Skin Conditions
Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine has been using bitter melon as treatment for skin conditions for centuries.
The antifungal and antibacterial compounds present in the bitter melon fight off numerous skin infections including ringworm, scabies, and even the auto-immune condition psoriasis. Bitter melon stops guanylate cyclase activity that is responsible for worsening psoriasis.
Apply extracted juice or salve to the affected areas to reduce swelling and irritation.
7. Inhibits Cancer Cell Proliferation
Free radicals seek out and destroy healthy cells, which accelerate aging and lead to numerous complications including cancer. Bitter melon is abundant in antioxidants that combat free radical effects as well as creating a strong defense against common diseases. Along with its abundance of antioxidant are its anti-tumor and anti-carcinogenic attributes. Recent clinical trials and pharmacologic studies show a link between eating bitter melon and the reduction of tumors in individuals with breast, cervical, and prostate cancer. There has been a significant body of studies conducted for its role on cancer prevention, which is promising as an alternative to potent chemotherapy agents.
8. Help Treat HIV and Herpes
A laboratory test, published in the Journal of Naturopathic Medicine, suggests that the phytochemical composition of bitter melon inhibits the activity of the human immunodeficiency virus. Bitter melon provides additive effects in combination with AIDS treatment.
Likewise, early studies suggest that bitter melon, with its antiviral properties, treat patients with herpes simplex virus-1 (HSV-1), and prevent the spread of herpetic plaques to other persons.
9. Reduce Cholesterol Levels
Bitter melon is also widely consumed to help lower bad cholesterol levels, which in turn prevents atherosclerotic plaque buildup in arterial walls. Decongested arteries reduce the risk of heart attack, heart disease, and stroke.
10. Promotes Bone Health and Fast Wound Healing
It is also rich in Vitamin K, an essential nutrient that plays a key role in regulating normal blood clotting. Vitamin K also assists in calcium distribution throughout the body; thus, increasing bone density and reduces your risk of experiencing a bone fracture. Individuals with osteoporosis should consider eating foods rich in vitamin K such as the bitter melon.
Otherwise, the lack of this vitamin may cause bone fractures, easy bruising, defective blood clotting and excessive menstrual bleeding to name a few.
11. Promotes Good Digestion and Weight Loss
Bitter melon only carries 17 calories for every hundred-gram serving. Though it is low in calories, it is rich in dietary fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Dietary fiber aids in proper digestion and smooth peristaltic movement of food and waste through the digestive system. Hence, relieving indigestion and preventing constipation.
Likewise, its significant levels of charantin help increase your glucose uptake and glycogen synthesis, which in turn help you lose excess weight by decreasing storage in fat cells.
12. Great for your eyes
Dr. Anshul Jai Bharat says that it helps in preventing vision-related problems such as cataract since it has compounds like beta-carotene and vitamin A which are healthy for your eyes and strengthens eyesight. She adds, “It is also a good home remedy to treat dark circles.
“As with everything, moderation is required. Excess consumption of bitter gourd juice may cause abdominal pain and diarrhoea. Pregnant women should also avoid taking too much bitter gourd or its juice as it may stimulate the uterus and lead to preterm labour. 30 ml bitter gourd juice extract is recommended on a daily basis,” says Dr Geeta Buryok, Chief Nutritionist at Max HealthCare.