Annual climber growing to about 6½ ft (2 m). Has deeply lobed leaves, yellow flowers, and orange-yellow fruit.
Habitat & Cultivation
Native to southern Asia, bitter melon is common throughout tropical regions of the world. It is harvested year round.
Leaves, fruit, seeds, seed oil.
Bitter melon contains a fixed oil, an insulin-like peptide, cucurbitacins, glycosides (mormordin and charantin), and an alkaloid (mormordicine). The peptide is known to lower sugar levels in the blood and urine.
History & Folklore
Bitter melon is traditionally taken in Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean to treat the symptoms of diabetes.
Medicinal Actions & Uses
The unripe fruit is mainly used to treat type 2 diabetes. The ripe fruit is a stomach tonic, and induces menstruation. In Turkey, it is used to treat ulcers. The fruit is much used in the West Indies for worms, urinary stones, and fever. The fruit juice is taken as a purgative, and is prescribed for colic. A decoction of the leaves is taken for liver problems and colitis, and it may be applied to skin conditions. The seed oil is used to help heal wounds.
Seeds are androgenic and inhibit sperm production, and were tested as a contraceptive in China in the 1980s. In diabetic laboratory animals, the fruit juice stimulated regeneration of the pancreatic cells, which secrete insulin. A major body of evidence now supports the traditional use of the fruit juice to treat non-insulin-dependent diabetes.
The seeds of the Asian M. cochinchinensis are applied as a poultice to relieve abscesses, hemorrhoids, and scrofula. Recent research indicates that a paste of the seeds may help psoriasis and ringworm.
While bitter melon is relatively safe at low dosage, do not use for more than 4 weeks. Do not take if prone to low blood-sugar levels.