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Common Names:Balsam pear,Balsam apple,African cucumber , Balsamina,in Mozambique as cacana and in South Africa as nkaka. laloentjie (Afr.); mohodu (Sotho); nkaka (Thonga); intshungu, intshungwana yehlathi (Zulu) Bengali name : Uchchhe
Habitat :Momordica balsamina is native to tropical Africa and Asia, Arabia, India and Australia.It grows in white, yellow, red and grey sandy soil, also loam, clay, alluvial, gravelly and calcareous soil. It thrives in full sun and semi-shade in grassland, savanna, woodland, forest margins, coastal dune forests and in river bank vegetation as well as disturbed areas.
In southern Africa it grows from about sea level to 1465 m altitude, in dry to wet areas with a rainfall of 200-1200 mm annually. It seems to be frost hardy.
Momordica balsamina is glabrous to slightly hairy perennial herb with a tuberous rootstock, whole plant bad-smelling (rather like the common thorn apple or Datura stramonium ), more so when bruised. Stems mostly annual, prostrate or climbing, to 5 m long, cut twigs exude clear sap. Tendrils simple. Leaves waxy, lower surface paler than upper, deeply palmately 5-7-lobed, to 12 cm long, margin toothed, stalked.
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Flowers solitary, male and female flowers on the same plant (monoecious). Male flowers prominently bracteate (subtended by a leaflet), bract ± ovate, to 18 mm long, pallid, green-veined, calyx green to purplish-black, corolla white to yellow, apricot or orange, green-veined, with grey, brownish or black spots near the bases of the three inner petals, 10-20 mm long, anthers orange. Female flowers inconspicuously bracteate, corolla rather smaller than males.
Fruit spindle shaped, dark green with 9 or 10 regular or irregular rows of cream or yellowish short blunt spines, ripening to bright orange or red, 25-60 mm long, opening automatically more or less irregularly into three valves that curl back (also opens when the tip is touched). Seeds ovate in outline, rather compressed, up to 11 mm long, light brown, surface sculptured; encased in a sticky scarlet red fleshy covering that is edible and sweet, tasting like watermelon.
Cooked and eaten in different forms.The leaves and green fruit are cooked and eaten as spinach, sometimes with groundnuts, or simply mixed with porridge. The young leaves contain vitamin C. The raw ripe fruits are also eaten.
A liniment is made by adding the pulped fruit (without the seeds) to almond oil. This is useful for piles, burns, chapped hands, etc. The pulp is also used as a poultice. The fluid extract is used for dropsy
According to Watt and Breyer-Brandwijk (1962), the plant contains a bitter principle momordicin. They report that ‘overseas a liniment, made by infusing the fruit (minus the seed) in olive or almond oil, is used as an application to chapped hands, burns and haemorrhoids and the mashed fruit is used as a poultice’. This practice probably explains the species name balsamina. Watt and Breyer-Brandwijk also list many medicinal and other uses of M. balsamina in tropical Africa and elsewhere.
Hutchings et al. (1996) report that the Zulu use infusions of this plant for stomach and intestinal complaints. It is also used in a poultice for burns and is reputed to be used to treat diabetes. The Vhavenda take leaf infusions as anti-emetics. There are conflicting reports on the toxicity of the fruit, both green and ripe. The green fruit contains a resin, toxic alkaloids and a saponic glycoside that cause vomiting and diarrhoea; these substances are denatured in the cooking process. The fruit is suspected of poisoning dogs and pigs.
Roodt (1998) states that the medicinal action of the fruit results from the saponic glycosides present. She reports uses in the Okavango delta and elsewhere for abortion, boils, burns, chapped hands and feet, external sores, frostbite, haemorrhoids, headache, and as a purgative.
Medicinally, the plant has a long history of uses by the indigenous people of the Amazon. The fruit juice and/or a leaf tea is employed for diabetes, colic, sores and wounds, infections, worms and parasites, as an emmenogogue, and for measles, hepatitis, and fevers. The unripe fruit is used mainly as a treatment for late-onset diabetes. The ripe fruit is a stomach tonic and induces menstruation. In Turkey, the fruit is employed to treat ulcers. The fruit is much used in the West Indies as a cure-all for worms, urinary stones, and fever. The juice of the fruit is used as a purgative. It is also prescribed for colic and gas. A decoction of the leaves is taken for liver problems and colitis, and may be applied to eruptive skin conditions. The leaves are also used for fevers. Externally the fruit is used for hemorrhoids, chapped skin and burns. The seed oil is used on wounds. Cerasee seeds were investigated in China in the 1980s as a potential contraceptive. Some research suggests that the plant may be harmful to the liver. The fruit demonstrably lowers sugar levels in the blood and urine. It is traditionally used by Ayurvedic doctors to treat anorexia, and to dissolve kidney stones resulting from dehydration during the Indian summer. In the past, the vegetable was crushed with black pepper and applied around the eyes as an aid to night blindness. Although this cure is no longer used, the whole plant is still powdered and used as a highly effective herbal dusting powder for wounds and skin diseases. The gourd is renowned not just for its antidiabetic action, but for its capacity to lower exaggerated sexual drive. The ripe fruit of bitter melon has been shown to exhibit some remarkable anticancer effects, especially leukemia.
Two proteins, known as alpha- and beta-momorcharin which are present in the seeds, fruit and leaves have shown to inhibit the AIDS virus in vitro (in the test tube only). In 1996, scientists performing this research filed patent on a novel protein found and extracted from the fruit and seeds of Bitter Melon and which they named “MAP 30.” The patent states it’s invention, MAP 30, is: “useful for treating tumors and HIV infections… In treating HIV infections, the protein is administered alone or in conjunction with conventional AIDS therapies.” A clinical study was also published showing MAP 30’s antiviral activity also was relative to the herpes virus in vitro. A novel phytochemical in bitter melon has clinically demonstrated an ability to inhibit the enzyme guanylate cyclase, which is thought to be linked to the pathogenesis and replication of not only psoriasis but leukemia and cancer as well. Over the years other scientists have documented other in vitro antimicrobial benefits of Bitter Melon against numerous pathogens including Helicobacter pylori, Epstein-Barr virus, and Mycobacterium tuberculosis.
The immunosuppressive effect of the plant may be of benefit in the management of graft rejections and organ transplants and could benefit the management of several common autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.
The leaf sap is said to be an effective metal cleaner. In the past, the green fruit had been used as an ingredient of arrow poison. In the Okavango delta, the fruit can be used in cursing one’s enemy; his/her stomach will burst in the same way that the ripe fruit bursts open spontaneously!
The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplements, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider