Bitter melon grows best in USDA zones 9 to 11. The vines of this plant can reach a length of 16 feet. It grows best in full sunlight and in sandy or loamy soil that is well-drained. The pH level of the soil should range from 5.5 to 6.7. If the soil is lacking nutrients, compost needs to be added to make the plant fertile. Bitter melon is known as a fruit but is often used as a vegetable. The fruit is green in the beginning, with a white pith. As it ripens, the outer layer becomes extremely bitter while the pith becomes sweet and red (1). The two varieties of bitter melon are the Indian bitter melon and the Chinese bitter melon. The Indian variety has sharp ridges and warty. The Chinese variety has smooth ridges and is less bitter (2). The fruit is prone to rotting when it comes in contact with moist soil, so its vines should be trellised (1).
Bitter melon seeds should be planted ¾ inch deep and spaced 20 inches apart. A trellis, bamboo poles, or wooden stakes should be inserted in the soil close to where the seeds are planted, allowing the vines to climb up. Once the plants have grown 6 leaves, fertilizer should be added to the soil every 2 weeks. It is necessary to keep the soil moist for a depth of at least 20 inches in order to encourage the growth of healthy fruits. When the vines are not grown on a trellis, the fruits are prone to rotting, so a layer of mulch or straw should be added under the vines. Bitter melon fruits are at risk from the mosaic virus, powdery mildew, and being attacked by insects such as the fruit flies. In order to protect the fruits, it is common to wrap them in newspapers or paper bags with an opening at the bottom. Bitter melons should be harvested regularly to encourage the growth of new fruits (3).
Medicinal/Culinary uses of Curry Plant:
Bitter melon has various medicinal properties. It is antimicrobial, antiviral, and can treat ulcers. It contains a chemical that acts similarly to insulin and can help lower blood sugar levels. A decoction of the root can treat dysentery, rheumatism, and gout. As an antioxidant, the fruit has the ability to lower bad cholesterol levels, which can reduce the risk of getting heart disease. However, consuming too much bitter melons can reduce sperm production in men and may lead to infertility. The antiviral components that have been extracted from the fruit have led to the treatment of HIV (4). They have been used to treat stomach and intestinal problems such as colitis, constipation, and intestinal worms. Bitter melons have also been used to treat psoriasis and liver diseases (5). Bitter melon dishes consist of the fruits being stuffed with pork or shrimp. They have been fried, pickled, or added to soups. In order to reduce the bitterness, bitter melons can be parboiled or soaked in salt water before cooking. The fruits, flowers, and young shoots are all edible (4).
Significance to Cultural Communities
Bitter melon is native to India. It is used in folk medicine to treat Type 2 diabetes in China (1). It is a staple vegetable in Japanese gardens because of its ability to grow in the harsh summer heat, and it is popularly used in Japanese cuisines (3). The indigenous groups of the Amazon add bitter melons to bean dishes and soups. They also brew a tea from the leaves to treat diabetes, measles, hepatitis, fevers, and to stimulate menstruation. A paste made from the plant can be applied to wounds, sores, and infections. Bitter melon is also used in folk medicine in Brazil. It is used as contraception and can induce abortions. Brazilians also treat the fruit as an aphrodisiac while using it to treat rashes, eczema, leprosy, and other skin ailments. Bitter melon is used to treat diabetes and dysentery in Mexico, where the root is also considered an aphrodisiac. In Peru, the plant’s leaves are to cure malaria and treat inflammation. In Nicaragua, bitter melon is used to treat stomach pains, coughs, headaches, hypertension, and help with the childbirth process (6).
- "Growing Bitter Melon." Bonnie Plants. Bonnie Plants, n.d. Web. 18 Nov. 2014. <http://bonnieplants.com/growing/growing-bitter-melon/>.
- Spurrier, Jeff. "Growing Bitter Melon: Tricks to an Unusual Treat." Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 4 Sept. 2012. Web. 20 Nov. 2014. <http://articles.latimes.com/2012/sep/04/news/la-lh-bitter-melon-20120903>.
- Sanders, April. "How to Grow Momordica Charantia." SFGate. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Nov. 2014. <http://homeguides.sfgate.com/grow-momordica-charantia-65210.html>.
- Behera, Tusar K., Snigdha Behera, L. K. Bharathi, K. Joseph John, Philipp W. Simon, and Jack E. Staub. "Bitter Gourd: Botany, Horticulture, Breeding." Ed. Jules Janick. Horticultural Reviews 37 (2010): 102-21. United States Department of Agriculture. Wiley-Blackwell. Web. 4 Dec. 2014. <http://naldc.nal.usda.gov/download/42264/PDF>.
- "Bitter Melon." WebMD. WebMD, LLC., n.d. Web. 20 Nov. 2014. <http%3A%2F%2Fwww.webmd.com%2Fvitamins-supplements%2Fingredientmono-795-bitter%2520melon.aspx%3Factiveingredientid%3D795%26activeingredientname%3Dbitter%2520melon>.
- Taylor, Leslie. "Bitter Melon (Momordica Charantia)." Raintree. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Nov. 2014. <http://www.rain-tree.com/bitmelon.htm#.VNkKWebF9Oi>.