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Ash gourd(Winter Melon)

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Botanical Name :  Benincasa Hispada
Family: Cucurbitaceae
Subfamily: Cucurbitoideae
Tribe:     Benincaseae
Subtribe: Benincasinae
Genus:     Benincasa
Kingdom: Plantae
Order:     Cucurbitales

Common Names : winter melon, white gourd, winter gourd, tallow gourd, Chinese preserving melon, or ash gourd

It is called  in Hindi, Boodagumbala in Kannada or Kumbalanga in Malayalam, Upo in Tagalog), also called white gourd or ash gourd or petha, is a vine grown for its very large fruit, eaten as a vegetable. In Bengali “Chal Kumro“The fruit is fuzzy when young, giving rise to the name fuzzy melon . By maturity, the fruit loses its hairs and develops a waxy coating, giving rise to the name wax gourd, and providing a long shelf life. The melon may grow as large as 1-2 metres in length. The word “melon” in the name is somewhat misleading, as the fruit is not sweet.

Habitat : Originally domesticated in Southeast Asia, the winter melon is now widely grown in East Asia and South Asia as well. In North India it is cut into rectangular pieces and boiled in a sugar syrup to create a translucent, almost clear candy or sweet, and is often flavored with rose water. In this form it keeps and cans well allowing it to be sold in canned form around the world. In South India it is used to make curries.

The winter melon requires very warm weather to grow but can be kept through the winter much like winter squash. The winter melon can typically be stored for 12 months. The melons are used in stir fry or to make winter melon soup, which is often served in the scooped out melon, which has been intricately decorated by scraping off the waxy coating.

Occasionally, it’s used to produce a fruit drink which has a very distinctive taste. It is usually sweetened with caramelised sugar, which enhances the taste.

The shoots, tendrils, and leaves of the plant may also be eaten as greens.

Winter melon is a common name for the inodorus cultivar group of the muskmelon (Cucumis melo L), or one of its members alternatively known as casaba, honeydew, or Persian.

Description:
Benincasa hispida is an annual plant growing to 6 m (19ft 8in).
It is hardy to zone 10 and is frost tender. It is in leaf 10-Jun It is in flower from Jul to September, and the seeds ripen from Aug to November. 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 Bees.The plant is self-fertile.
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Cultivation:   
Requires a warm sunny position in a rich well-drained soil and plenty of moisture in the growing season[1, 200, 238]. Established plants are reasonably drought tolerant[206]. Tolerates a pH in the range 5.8 to 6.8. This species is not very frost hardy, it is best grown in a greenhouse in Britain[86] but can succeed outdoors in good summers if started off in a greenhouse and planted out after the last expected frosts. Plants require stable temperatures in excess of 25°c if they are to do well. Short daylengths and lower temperatures stimulate female flower development, higher temperatures stimulate male flower production. Plants take 5 months from seed to produce a mature crop, though the fruits can be eaten when immature. The wax gourd is frequently cultivated for its edible fruit in the tropics, there are many named varieties. One group, sometimes classified as B. hispids chieh-gua, is known as the hairy melon or jointed gourd. This form is grown for its immature fruit in much the same way as courgettes are used. Mature fruits of this form do not develop a waxy coating. The fruit can be harvested about 3 months after sowing.

Propagation:  
Seed – sow March/April in a greenhouse. Germination should take place within 3 weeks. When they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on fast in a rich compost in the greenhouse. Try to maintain a minimum night temperature of at least 10°c for the seedlings first few weeks. Plant out in May/June after the last expected frosts

Edible Uses  
Edible Parts: Flowers;  Fruit;  Leaves;  Seed.
Edible Uses:

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Fruit – raw or cooked. Used as a vegetable, and in pickles, curries and preserves. The fruit can be eaten when it is young or old, it can be picked as early as one week after fertilization. A juicy texture with a mild flavour, the flavour is somewhat stronger in younger fruits. Because of its waxy coating, it will store for several months, sometimes as long as a year. Mature fruits can vary in weight from 2 – 50 kg. A nutritional analysis is available. Young leaves and flower buds are steamed and eaten as a vegetable, or are added as a flavouring to soups. Seed – cooked. Rich in oil and protein.

Medicinal Uses:

The wax gourd has been used as a food and medicine for thousands of years in the Orient. All parts of the fruit are used medicinally. The rind of the fruit is diuretic. It is taken internally in the treatment of urinary dysfunction, summer fevers etc. The ashes of the rind are applied to painful wounds. The seed is anthelmintic, anti-inflammatory, demulcent, diuretic, expectorant, febrifuge, laxative and tonic. A decoction is used internally in the treatment of vaginal discharges and coughs. In combination with Rheum palmatum it is used to treat intestinal abscesses. In Ayurvedic medicine the seed is used in the treatment of coughs, fevers, excessive thirst and to expel tapeworms. The oil from the seed is also used as an anthelmintic. The fruit is antiperiodic, aphrodisiac, diuretic, laxative and tonic. It is used in Ayurvedic medicine in the treatment of epilepsy, lung diseases, asthma, coughs etc. The fruit juice is used in the treatment of insanity, epilepsy and other nervous diseases. Recent research has shown that the fruits contain anti-cancer terpenes. An infusion of the root is used in the treatment of gonorrhoea. Demulcent, salve. Facilitates pus drainage.

Asafoetida is extensively used in the treatment of nervous disorders of children.It is useful for alivating toothache.

It is useful for treating Respiratory disorders, Impotency,Hysteria,Spermatorrhoea and Stomac Disorders.

It is considered to be very useful in the treatment of several problems concerning premature labour, unusual pain,leucorrhoea,sterility,unwanted abortion and excessive manstruation. It excites the secretion of progesterone hormone.The herb is very useful for women after child birth.It can be taken with beneficial results during the post delivery period. It is also used as an antidote of opium.It counteracts the effect of the drug.

Other Uses:
Rootstock.

A wax that coats the fruit is used to make candles. The roots have considerable resistance to soil-borne diseases and they are sometimes used as a rootstock for melons and other cucurbits

Resources:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winter_melon
http://www.pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Benincasa+hispida

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Featured News on Health & Science

Tremor (When the muscles refuse to obey)

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At 40 plus, just at the peak of a successful career, the sudden onset of tremor can be devastating. Careers nosedive as the young executive, although with intelligence undiminished, is unable to speak lucidly. The handwriting has little spidery spikes and is illegible. The head constantly moves in a side-to-side motion, a  yes-yes no-no  see saw oscillation that sends confused signals to the bemused bystander. Eventually, the involuntary to and fro motion affects other muscle groups in the arms, legs and trunk. Gait is affected and becomes unsteady and lurching. Speech becomes tremulous with an up and down intonation as the vocal cords get affected. Even daily tasks like dressing and eating become difficult to perform. Worse still, typing and computer keyboard coordination become impossible. And once rapid button-pressing skills are compromised, life in the 21st century becomes impracticable.

Parkinsons disease  is the diagnosis that leaps to the mind. However, all tremors are not Parkinsons. Parkinsonism occurs later, around the age of 60 years. The tremor is typical and is described as  pill rolling . The face is mask-like and expressionless.

A young person is more likely to have hereditary essential tremor. This is inherited as an autosomal dominant condition (if one parent has tremor the offspring has a 50 per cent chance of inheriting it). It affects around 0.4-3 per cent of the population (both male and female) around the age of 40 years.

Any malfunction of the areas of the brain that control movement can cause tremor. This can be caused by infectious diseases like meningitis or encephalitis, stroke, traumatic brain injury, tumours and neurodegenerative diseases. Tremor can also be brought on by low blood sugar and a hyper functioning thyroid gland.

However, not all tremors are sinister. Standing for a long time in a particular position may cause the legs to shake. This tremor is normal and disappears if the person sits down.

Sometimes a person may complain of tremor and yet nothing may be grossly visible. This fine physiological or normal tremor can be proved by asking the person to hold a small, lighted torch and focus it on a wall. The light shakes from side to side. This kind of tremor is increased by anxiety and fear but disappears at rest and when the person is calm.

Alcohol can provoke or normalise tremor, depending on whether it is due to excessive consumption or withdrawal.

Tremors caused by an underlying medical condition spontaneously disappear once the condition is removed. Appropriate treatment depends on accurate diagnosis of the cause.

Symptomatic drug therapy is available for several forms of tremor. Parkinsonian tremor can be treated with a combination of levodopa, other dopamine-like drugs and anticholinergic medication. Unfortunately, the response decreases over time so the dosage has to be increased or more drugs added.

Essential tremor may be treated with beta blockers and primidone, an anticonvulsant drug. The response is variable.

Caffeine in coffee, tea and cola drinks, nicotine in cigarettes, and alcohol behave as tremor  triggers . Eliminating them from the diet controls all kinds of tremor.

Sometimes, the tremor can become so uncontrolled that the person expends all his or her energy. Food intake cannot keep pace and the person becomes cachexic and moribund. If the response to medication is also inadequate, surgical intervention may help. These procedures are usually performed only when the tremor is severe and does not respond to drugs.

The thalamus is the part of the brain that is responsible for most tremors. Implantable electrodes can be used to send high-frequency electrical signals to this region. A hand-held magnet can be used to turn on and turn off a pulse generator that is surgically implanted under the skin. This temporarily disables the tremor. The batteries in the generator last about five years and have to be replaced surgically. This procedure can be performed for both Parkinsonian and essential tremors.

If this is not practical, in severe cases the thalamus can be electrically ablated with brain surgery. This permanently cures the tremor without disrupting sensations or voluntary control of the muscles.

Tremor is debilitating and depressing for the patient. The caregiver also has a difficult time trying to cope with the uncoordinated and uncontrolled motor activity of a person whose muscles simply refuse to obey commands. Physical therapy helps to reduce the tremor. A qualified physiotherapist can work with the patient to improve coordination, muscle strength, control and functional skills. Control in a tremulous limb can be regained to some extent by bracing the limb and regularly exercising using weights and splints. Some traditional forms of exercise like yoga and Taichi are also beneficial. They may help to retard the progress of the disease if started in the early stages in conjunction with medication.

Disclaimer: This information is not meant to be a substitute for professional medical advise or help. It is always best to consult with a Physician about serious health concerns. This information is in no way intended to diagnose or prescribe remedies.

Written by:Dr Gita Mathai is a paediatrician with a family practice at Vellore. Questions on health issues may be emailed to her at yourhealthgm@yahoo.co.in