a) Binomial Name: Momordica charantia
b) Region of Origin: Asia, Africa and the Caribbean
c) Type: Decorative
d) General History: Bitter-melon has been introduced into the southern U. S. and has been seen only as far north as Connecticut. The genus name, Momordica, derives from the Latin word for “bite” — although this might allude to the biting flavor of the fruit, it more likely illustrates the toothy texture of the seeds. The pulp around the seeds of this squash species is toxic.
e) General Description: 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, in Hawaii and tropical zones, it fruits June-August.
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.
As the fruit ripens, the flesh (rind) becomes somewhat tougher and more bitter, and many consider it too distasteful to eat. On the other hand, 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.
2) Plant Uses:
a) As Food: Bitter melon is generally consumed cooked in the green or early yellowing stage. The young shoots and leaves of the bitter melon may also be eaten as greens. There are tons of ways to cook this within the Pacific Rim countries of Asia and throughout the Caribbean. For more detailed info on Cuisine uses check Wikipedia
b) As Medicine: Bitter melon–or Cerassee, as it is known in Jamaica–is one of the most commonly used Jamaican folk medicines. Brought to the island and cultivated by African slaves, it is used for diabetes, malaria, worms, colds and hypertension, and as as an overall health tonic. A study published in the Journal of Nutrition in April 2003 and Cambridge University found that bitter melon extract improved insulin resistance and raised glucose (blood sugar) in rats.
In traditional medicine of India different parts of the plant are used to relieve diabetes, as a stomachic, laxative, antibilious, emetic,anthelmintic agent, for the treatment of cough, respiratory diseases, skin diseases, wounds, ulcer, gout, and rheumatism
Reported side effects include diarrhea, abdominal pain, fever, hypoglycemia, urinary incontinence, and chest pain. Symptoms were generally mild, did not require treatment, and resolved with rest.
Bitter melon is contraindicated (not recommended) in pregnant women because it can induce bleeding, contractions, and miscarriage.
c) Other Uses: The plant forms a 3- to 5-foot-tall clump that can be used as a focal point in the landscape or in mass plantings. The evergreen leaves of bird-of-paradise do not drop from the plant, which makes it an excellent addition around pools or wherever shedding leaves are an aesthetic and/or maintenance problem.
3) Growing Instructions
a) Growing: requires good soil made with ample compost, regular watering, and a good support system for climbing, as well as good mulch to retain moisture in the soil. I find that since I am growing it in our hottest weather the Bitter Melon plant starts well in partial shade, and then seeks the sun as it grows up.require more frequent irrigation during dry periods but is not likely to suffer from drainage problems.
b) Best time to Harvest: August to Early September
c) Sunlight Requirements: For good flower production, place plants in sunny or partially shaded locations. Plants grown in partial shade will be taller and have somewhat larger flowers. In full sun, plants are smaller and flowers are on shorter stems.
d) Soil Requirements: Grows in most soils, but does best in fertile, organic soils with good drainage. It is considered to be a slow growing plant.
e) Propagation: A bird-of-paradise grown from seed will take three to five years to bloom. The black seeds have orange fuzz on one end and are the size of sweet pea seeds. Collect, prepare, and plant the seeds as soon after harvest as possible. To increase the germination time, soak the seeds in lukewarm water for one or two days and then scarify them (nick the hard seed coat) with a knife or small file. Scarified seeds usually germinate in one to two months. Some gardeners report that germination time can be further reduced by placing the un-scarified seeds in a plastic bag and putting them in a refrigerator at 40-45°F for two weeks. This treatment should still be followed by scarification.
Sow seeds in vermiculite, a one-to-one mixture of peat and perlite, or a ready-made mix to a depth of 1/2-1 inch. The soil mix must be kept consistently damp until the seeds sprout. This requires patience as it can take anywhere from one month to a year for the seeds to germinate depending on the pre-treatment. To ensure a moist, humid environment during this prolonged period, cover the seed flat or container with a sheet of glass or clear plastic and place it in a warm area that receives indirect light. Occasionally check the dampness of the soil and water when necessary. Transplant seedlings individually into individual pots when they have two true leaves. Light fertilizations can begin at this stage. The young plants should be ready to transplant into larger pots or the landscape after two to three months. The bird-of-paradise is more easily propagated by division. This method will produce mature, flowering plants in one to two years. Dig up and separate old clumps, dividing those with four to five shoots into single-stem divisions. For best results, divide clumps during late spring or early summer.
f) Controlling Spread:
It’s easy to maintain with a simple hand sickle as needed. It grows fast in the summer and will take over buildings easily. Being it’s a thin vine clearing isn’t really an issue.
g) Difficulties with this plant:
None. It grows on it’s on and minimal maintenance is needed.
Disclaimer: For information use only. This site does not dispense medical advice. Do not try to self medicate yourself without seeking assistance from a medical professional familiar with herbal alternative medicines.