Herbs & Plants

Ecballium elaterium

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Botanical Name :Ecballium elaterium
Family: Cucurbitaceae
Subfamily: Cucurbitoideae
Tribe: Benincaseae
Genus: Ecballium
Species: E. elaterium
Kingdom: Plantae
Order: Cucurbitales

Synonyms:  Momordica Elaterium. Wild Cucumber.

Common Names : Squirting cucumber or exploding cucumber

Habitat: Ecballium elaterium is native to Europe, northern Africa, and temperate areas of Asia. It is grown as an ornamental plant elsewhere, and in some places it has naturalized.It grows in hot dry places on waste ground and roadsides, usually close to the coast.

Ecballium elaterium is a perennial plant(but in Britain it is  annual) growing to 0.3 m (1ft) by 1 m (3ft 3in) with a large fleshy root from which rise several round, thick stems, branching and trailing like the Common Cucumber but without tendrils; leaves heartshaped, rough; flower-stalks auxillary; male flowers in clusters with bell-shaped, yellow green veined corollas, females solitary; fruit a small elliptical greenish gourd covered with soft triangular prickles. The fruits forcibly eject their seeds together with a mucilaginous juice, a phenomenon due to endormosis. The plant flowers in July. The fruit is collected just before it ripens and is left until it matures and ejects the seeds and juice; this must not be artificially hastened or the product will be injured; the juice is then dried in flakes and sent to the market as Elaterium. The flakes often bear the impress of the muslin on which they were dried.

click to see the pictures

It is hardy to zone 9 and is frost tender. It is in flower from Jun to August, and the seeds ripen from Aug to September. The flowers are monoecious (individual flowers are either male or female, but both sexes can be found on the same plant) and are pollinated by Insects.The plant is self-fertile.

Prefers a moist well-drained soil in a sunny position. Grows best in a rich soil. Another report says that it succeeds in poor soils. The foliage is fairly frost-tender, though the roots are much hardier and plants can survive quite cold winters in Britain. They are more likely to be killed by excessive winter wet. The squirting cucumber is sometimes cultivated for its use as a medicinal plant. The ripening fruit becomes pumped full of liquid, leading to an increase in pressure. As the seed becomes ripe, this pressure forces the fruit to break away explosively from the plant, ejecting its seed to a considerable distance in the opposite direction. The plant occasionally self-sows in our Cornwall trial ground and can become a weed in warmer climates than Britain. It is subject to statutory control as a weed in Australia.

Seed – sow early spring in rich compost in a greenhouse. Place 2 – 3 seeds per pot and thin to the strongest plant. The seed usually germinates in 10 – 21 days at 25°c. Grow the plants on fast and plant them out after the last expected frosts.

Medicinal Uses:

Constituents: Elaterin; a green resin, starch, lignin, and saline matter.

It is used in  Abortifacient;  Analgesic;  Antirheumatic;  Cardiac;  Kidney;  Purgative.

The squirting cucumber has been used as a medicinal plant for over 2,000 years, though it has a very violent effect upon the body and has little use in modern herbalism. The juice of the fruit is antirheumatic, cardiac and purgative. The plant is a very powerful purgative that causes evacuation of water from the bowels. It is used internally in the treatment of oedema associated with kidney complaints, heart problems, rheumatism, paralysis and shingles. Externally, it has been used to treat sinusitis and painful joints. It should be used with great caution and only under the supervision of a qualified practitioner. Excessive doses have caused gastro-enteritis and even death. It should not be used by pregnant women since it can cause an abortion. The fully grown but unripe fruits are harvested during the summer, they are left in containers until the contents are expelled and the juice is then dried for later use. The root contains an analgesic principle.

It is used to increases the flow of urine, and  sometimes in the treatment of dropsy, especially when oedema is due to disease of the kidney. There is a case on record of a French doctor who suffered severely from carrying some of the seeds in his hat from the Jardin des Plante to his Paris lodging.

Known Hazards :    Poisonous in large quantities(this probably refers to the fruit). The juice of the fruit is irritative to some types skins.

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.


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