Bitter melon

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 Momordica charantia subsp. var.  Bitter melon
Momordica charantia
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Cucurbitaceae > Momordica charantia var. ,

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Momordica charantia is a tropical and subtropical vine of the family Cucurbitaceae, widely grown for edible fruit, which is among the most bitter of all vegetables. English names for the plant and its fruit include bitter melon or bitter gourd. The original home of the species is not known, other than that it is a native of the tropics.

Also known as Ku gua, the herbaceous, tendril-bearing vine grows to 5 m. It bears simple, alternate leaves 4-12 cm across, with 3-7 deeply separated lobes. Each plant bears separate yellow male and female flowers.

The fruit has a distinct warty looking 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. Seeds and pith appear white in unripe fruits, ripening to red; they are intensely bitter and must be removed before cooking. The flesh is crunchy and watery in texture, similar to cucumber, chayote or green bell pepper. The skin is tender and edible. The fruit is most often eaten green. Although it can also be eaten when it has started to ripen and turn yellowish, it becomes more bitter as it ripens. The fully ripe fruit turns orange and mushy, is too bitter to eat, and splits into segments which curl back dramatically to expose seeds covered in bright red pulp.

Bitter Gourd comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. The typical Chinese phenotype is 20 to 30 cm 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. Coloration is green or white. Between these two extremes are any number of intermediate forms. Some bear miniature fruit of only 6 - 10 cm in length, which may be served individually as stuffed vegetables. These miniature fruit are popular in Southeast Asia as well as India.

Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture

Momordica charantia, Linn. Balsam Pear. Running 10 ft. or more, the st. slightly pubescent and furrowed: lvs. roundish, dull green, pubescent beneath (at least on the ribs), 5-7 lobes with rounded sinuses, the lobes sharp-toothed and notched: fls. yellow, 1 in. across, both the sterile and fertile solitary: fr. yellowish, oblong, pointed, furrowed lengthwise and tuberculate, 6 or 7 in. long, at maturity splitting into 3 divisions and disclosing the bright scarlet arils of the white or brown carved- seeds. Trop. Asia and Afr., and naturalized in W. Indies.—The Chinese gardeners about the American cities grow this plant under the name of la-kwa, for the edible pulpy arils surrounding the seeds, and also for the edible fr. itself (which is prepared, usually by boiling, before it is ripe). The rind is sometimes dried and used in medicinal preparations. The odd seeds cause it to be called the "art pumpkin" by some persons.

Var abbreviata, Ser. (M. zeylanica, Mill.). Plant smaller: lobes of lvs. narrower: fr. shorter, ovate- mucronate, with rows of sharp spines; seeds small, commonly smooth. In the tropics.—Perhaps specifically distinct; but M. Charantia runs into many forms.

The above text is from the Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture. It may be out of date, but still contains valuable and interesting information which can be incorporated into the remainder of the article. Click on "Collapse" in the header to hide this text.



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