Bitter gourd or Bitter melon is a very well-known and commonly available vegetable. There are several nutritional and medicinal benefits of eating this bitter vegetable. It is good source of carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins, and minerals. You may eat immature bitter melons raw (as juice) or can cook it as vegetable. The juice is taken as medicine for treating many clinical conditions including diabetes.
Bitter melon grows on a fast-growing climbing vine with thin stem and soft tendrils. The vine can reach six feet or more and requires support. It is a relative of cucumber, gourds, squashes, and melon and requires similar growing habits. Bitter gourd plant leaves are also edible. In some countries leaves and young shoots are used as flavouring agents. The leaves can also be cooked and eaten as leafy vegetables and for making teas.
Bitter gourd leaves contain many bioactive constituents and are full of medicinal properties. The leaves are used for treatment of wide variety of ailments such as diabetes, dysentery, rheumatism and gout, viral diseases, respiratory ailments etc. from time immemorial. Studies have shown hypoglycaemic activity of bitter gourd leaves comparable to that of tolbutamide (first-generation potassium channel blocker oral hypoglycaemic drug of sulfonylurea class).
The leaves of plant has anti-diabetic, anti-hyperglycaemic, anthelminthic, anti-oxidant, anti-microbial, emetic, purgative, anti-hepatotoxic, anti-ulcerogenic and antiviral properties against chicken pox, measles. In some countries, the tea or decoction prepared from bitter gourd leaves is used as aphrodisiac and also taken by women as a measure for birth control.
- Assamese: Kakiral, Kakral
- Bengali: Karolla
- English: bitter gourd, balsam pear, bitter melon, bitter cucumber, African cucumber
- Gujrati: Karela
- Hindi: Karela
- Kannada: Hagalakai
- Malayalam: Kaippa, Pavackkai
- Marathi: Karla
- Oriya: Kalara, Salara
- Punjabi: Karela
- Tamil: Paharkai
- Telugu: Kaakara Kaaya
Morphology of Karela leaf
Deeply and palmately 5-9 lobed; reniform to orbicular or suborbicular in outline; 2.5-8 x 4-10 cm, cordate at base, acute or acuminate at apex; lobes ovate or obovate, narrowed at base, margins sinuate to undulate, mucronate; petioles 1.5-5 cm long.
Phytochemical constituents of Bitter gourd Leaves
Alkaloid, Flavonoids, Sterols, Terpenoids, Anthraquinones, Proteins and Phenols, glycosides including momordin, charantosides, glycosides, momordicosides, goyaglycosides and other terpenoid compounds that include momordicin-28, momordicinin, momordicilin, momordenol, and momordol.
How to grow Bitter gourd at home
It is very easy to grow bitter gourd plant. It is a warm-weather loving crop (optimal temperatures in range of 24–27C) and grows well in hot-humid environment. Like any other gourd, this plant also requires long warm, dry weather with 30-35C temperature. It requires well-drained, fertile soil and full sun.
You may sow the seeds in spring. In colder season (below 18C), the seeds take longer to germinate. Bitter gourd can be grown in any type of soil but it needs sandy loam or rich loamy soil and optimum soil pH 6-6.7.
For planting, select the location that receives maximum sun. You can grow bitter gourd in your kitchen garden or in containers in your balcony. Sacks or grow bags can also be used. Fill the desired container with mix of soil and organic manure and use for growing this vine.
You can buy seeds from local nursery or extract few from fully ripened yellow bitter gourd fruits. Immature seeds are soft and are cream in colour. Mature seeds are hard and brown in colour and are present inside red covering. Just clean the seeds and sow directly or you can first sprout the seeds. For sprouting the seeds, take paper towel/tissue and put seeds on it and cover with another paper towel. Spray water and put inside a plastic bag. The seeds will start germinating in few days (approximately 10 days). Check daily and when you see small sprout immediately put the seed horizontally in the soil at half-inch depth. Do not overwater as that can rot the seed. The seedling will appear in 2-3 days. Water regularly as per requirement. Provide the adequate support for growing vine. Bitter gourd plant produces both male and female flowers. Short days promotes female flowers and temperature above 40 C causes more male flowers. Pollination is must for setting of fruits which is done by bees. But you can also use hand pollination method. As far as manuring is concerned, organic manure is best for home use. The plant gives its first fruit about 50-110 days from sowing. Of course, you can use the leaves as leafy-vegetable or medicine throughout the growing season.
Medicinal Uses of Bitter gourd Leaves
Bitter gourd leaves are used to treat variety of diseases such as diabetes, piles, respiratory ailments, cholera, viral diseases and skin eruptions. Below is listed few such time-tested home remedies. These are simple, reliable and inexpensive. Even modern studies also support these traditional treatments.
- Take about six tablespoon of the chopped bitter gourd leaves and two glass of water. Boil leaves in water for approximately 15 minutes. Do not cover the vessel.
- Allow it to cool and then strain. Drink 1/3 cup of it thrice a day.
- This leaf decoction is found to be very effective in the management of diabetes type 2. On regular intake, this keeps blood sugar in control.
Common home remedy is to extract three teaspoonful juice from clean bitter melon leaves and mix this with a glassful of buttermilk. This should be taken every morning for about a month on empty stomach. Topically leaves paste can be applied over the haemorrhoids.
Intake of 10-15 ml juice of Karela leaves is useful in diarrhoea and early stage of cholera.
Asthma, bronchitis, common colds, pharyngitis
Bitter melon leaves paste is mixed with equal amounts of the paste of tulsi/Basil leaves. This should be taken with honey each morning. This can also be taken as preventive medicine for respiratory problems.
- Drinking 10-15 ml juice of Karela leaves is beneficial in arthritis.
- Ascite (gastroenterological term for an accumulation of fluid in the peritoneal cavity)
- Extract 10-15 ml juice of leaves and add some honey and drink.
In Hepatitis, the leaves juice of bitter gourd is useful. Extract 10-15 ml juice of bitter gourd leaves and mix some big chebulic myroblan powder and drink.
Intestinal parasites, pox, measles, Pneumonia
Drinking 10-15 ml juice of Karela leaves is useful.
Boils, burns and other skin eruptions
The dried and powdered bitter gourd leaves can be applied topically on affected areas.
Burning sensation in hands and feet
Bitter gourd juice is applied topically in burning sensation in hands and feet.
Bitter melon leaves are good source of vitamins and minerals such as iron, calcium, phosphorus and vitamin B.
- Bitter gourd or its leaves must not be used in pregnancy because it has been reported to stimulate uterine smooth muscle contraction leading to abortion.
- All parts of Bitter gourd plant show abortifacient activity and used to induce abortion in some countries.
- Bitter gourd leaf juice decoction/tea affects the heart and increases the rate and force of contraction after internal administration on dose dependent manner. This effect is reversible.
- Always take fresh juice and decoction in recommended doses that is 10 or 15 ml.
- Bitter gourd leaves have emetic properties and excess intake can cause vomiting, and loose motion.
- Bitter gourd has anti-spermatogenic, abortifacient and fertility reducing properties.