Precy loves to write about many topics, including how to grow some of the most wonderful plants in the world.
Bitter melon, a herbaceous member of the gourd family which originated from the Indian subcontinent is a tropical vine, widely grown not only in the Carribean but in Asian countries like Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Japan and the Philippines for its leaves and fruits.
Known as ampalaya in the Philippines, bitter melon is one of those vegetables that is always present and will always be in our vegetable garden. Bitter gourd is easy to take care of and despite of not being a fan of the bitterness, it is my go-to remedy for my asthma. Although both the cultivated and wild bitter gourds are both edible, some say the wild bitter gourds which are ovoid in shape, jagged and has pointed ends are a bit bitter than the cultivated form which is oblong, ribbed with wrinkled texture and pale green in color, known as the Chinese variety.
Bittergourd is easy to grow even in containers, ours is. And that I will be sharing here with photos for a closer look.
Growing Bitter Gourd
Bitter gourd is a fast growing vine that is easy to germinate. Starting from seeds when the weather is warming up in the spring or early summer in a well drained, fertile soil, either sow the seeds in starting trays, on your preferred container or pot or in the ground where it gets enough sunlight. Keep the soil moist and give the seeds 3 to 4 weeks to germinate.
Bitter gourd will develop tendrils as the plant continuously grows. You may want to provide it something to climb on, or start making a trellis. If not, this vine will reach and climb on anything including plants. Bitter gourd is a fast grower so even with a trellis, you may want to still keep an eye if you're planning to keep it on a certain spot.
Leaves and Flowers
The green leaves with visible veins are alternate which has up to 7 lobes that are deeply seperated. Also, the aren't so thick leaves appear by the nodes paired with a tendril.
Fruit and Seeds
Bitter melon or bitter gourd fruits are oblong in shape with a warty exterior if cultivated. But cultivated or wild, both are preferably consumed before the fruit fully matures and turns yellow.
Bitter gourd continues to ripen when left on the vine. The fruit turns yellow as it ripens and cracks open from the bottom, exposing the seeds.
Did You Know?
Bitter melon bears separate female and male flowers and both have 5 petals.
Other Names Bitter Melon is Known For
Consumption - Cooking Bitter Melon
Both the fruits and the leaves are consumed. Even the young shoots are consumed as well and is sold in bundles when in season.
The fruits are stir-fried with your choice of meat. I prefer it stir-fried with beef tenderloin or chicken. Even shredded fried fish is a good choice if you prefer fish instead of meat with your veggies.
Another favorite dish with bitter gourd is with mung beans, either with or without cellophane noodles. Your choice of either adding the leaves or the fruits. Having both works well too and some prefer it that way. But just in case mung beans isn't in your liking, the Filipino soup-based dish tinola might be your taste buds dish for the day. The popular Ilocano dish pinakbet also consist of bitter melon along with other veggies such as squash, long beans, jute leaves, okra, and eggplant.
Aside from being stir fried, bitter gourd is cooked either steamed or cooked in coconut milk in Indonesia. In Nepal, bitter gourd is made into achar which is pickled bitter gourd while in Pakistan, the whole fruit is boiled and stuffed with ground meat and served with either naan which is an oven-baked flatbread or with an unleavened flatbread called chapati, or served with tandoori bread.
Health Benefits of Consuming Bitter Gourd and Its Medicinal Uses
Bitter melon is a good source of phosphorus, iron, and B vitamin, calcium and beta carotene. It is also used as a folkloric medicine. It lowers blood sugar and detoxifies the body. And although I'm not fond of the bitterness, when I feel like an asthma is on its way, ampalaya, or bitter gourd is one of my remedies.
* The juice from the leaves is used to treat cough, cold, and is what I also use to help treat an oncoming asthma attack. But careful with taking too much juice as it can irritate the digestive tract.
* The juice is also use for purgative purposes to expel parasites out of the intestines.
* And for urethral discharge, the decoction from the ampalaya roots is used.
* For mouth infections or for toothaches, the warm tea infusions is used.
* For burns, leaves is pounded and applied to the skin.
* Bitter melon tea is used to promote lochia.
Why Is Bitter Gourd Bitter?
Bitter melon tastes bitter because of the compound momordicin that is present in the bitter melon plant.
Soaking the fruit in salty water will do the trick to lessen the bitterness. But as my mother says, why eat bitter melon if you will just rid of the bitterness, the more bitter it is, the better for the health.
Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on March 18, 2015:
I have some bitter melon pickles in my fridge right now. I try to eat it for its health benefits.
precy anza (author) from USA on September 03, 2014:
Oh that's good. :) Hope you find some bitter melon there. Both fruits and leaves are available in Oriental stores here, and there's also ready tea if you would prefer that. :)
precy anza (author) from USA on September 03, 2014:
Hi Alicia :) I think it is an interesting plant, haven't tasted anything as bitter as this gourd. :) It helps with my asthma, I wish I can always deal with the bitterness to eat it regularly.
Deb Hirt from Stillwater, OK on August 21, 2014:
I must see if this is available at the Oriental grocery. If it is, I'd like to make a tea for the antibiotic properties. Sounds like bitter melon grows like an ivy. Thanks, precy anza, for a job well done.
Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on August 12, 2014:
Bitter melon sounds like an interesting plant. I was especially interested in reading that it helps your asthma! Thanks for sharing an informative hub.