Belonging to the same family as
cucumbers, squashes and gourds it is the fruit of a climber or
vine-like tropical plant. Its origin is unknown but the bitter gourd
is found in all parts of India, tropical Africa, Southeast Asia and
China. It is relished as a vegetable and valued for its medicinal
qualities as well.
The gourd with its typical ribbed and
pointed appearance can be anything from 2 to 10 inches long. It is
deep green, turning to pale yellow upon ripening.
This vegetable is very nutritious with
considerable amounts of iron, calcium, phosphorus and other trace
elements. B-complex vitamins are also found in appreciable amounts.
When fresh, the bitter gourd is an excellent source of vitamin C. 100
grams of bitter gourd gives 50 mg calcium, 140 mg phosphorus, 9.4 mg
iron, 282 mg potassium and about 90 to 100 mg vitamin C.
In India, the leaves are eaten by
nursing mothers as they are believed to increase lactation. They are
also a good source of calcium, vitamin A and riboflavin. The tender
leaves, flowers and stems are also eaten in many parts of the country.
The fruit and leaves can be used as a
tonic to control fever, for stomach pains and as a purgative while
juice from its leaves, when taken is thought to expel worms in babies.
Extracts of the plant are also considered beneficial for rheumatism
and disorders of the liver and spleen. The powdered root, fruit and
seeds are applied externally to hemorrhoids