alliums ameraucana Anthony Bourdain aphids Appleseed Permaculture aquaponics arthritis artichokes Asian Vegetables aussie basil baby chicks baby turnips bearss lime bee keeping beet greens beneficial insects benner tree farm Biochar Bitter Melon blight blooming hill farm boothby blonde cucumber brix broccoli brussels sprouts cabbage cabbage hill farm camp hill farm cancer caraflex celeriac chicken coop chickens children chinese tamale chives cilantro cilantro root coconut cold frames collard greens Compost coriander corn crop rotation cruciferous crucifers cucumber Dan Barber dan kittredge Dave Llewellyn detox dirty dozen dragon fruit Dutch white clover dwarf citrus eggplant Elderberries factory farms farm to table farmer's market farmers markets Fava beans ffarm to table fish oil flea beetle flowers food allergies food combining food miles founding farmers four wind growers Fred Kirschenmann french bulldog G6pd deficiency garlic garlic festival garlic scapes geese Glynwood grass-fed beef Great Outdoors Listening Tour green tomatoes greenhouse growing indoors Hanalei Hemlock Hill Farm heritage turkey heritage USA hudson valley farms hurricane Irene hyssop iced tea infections influenza Insect control isothiocyanates joan gussow jolie lampkin joong kaffir lime kale Kauai kohlrabi korean licorice mint Ladybugs late blight leeks lettuces local food locust tree maine avenue fish market menhaden meyer lemon mycelia mycorrhizal natural fertilizers nectary nightshades No Reservations Nurse cropping nutrient density okra organic Baby food organic christmas tree Organic Pest Control Parsley Paul tappenden peas Permaculture pesticides pesto petite watermelon plant sap pH plymouth barred rock pole beans potatoes preserving food purple basil qunice Radish Greens rainbeau ridge farm raised beds rampicante raw food real food campaign red hook Rockland Farm Alliance ronnybrook farm row covers salt-preserved duck eggs sambucus nigra seed saving seedlings Sheet mulching small space soil analysis soil blocks soil conductivity sorrel Squash Vine Borer star fruit sugar snap peas sustainability sustainable fishing Swiss Chard tabbouleh TEDx Manhattan terracing three sisters tomato sauce tomatoes trellis trovita orange turkana farms Tuttle Farm urban zen volt white clover winter harvest Winter Squash Young Farmers Conference
Indispensable Books and Resources
  • Edible Forest Gardens (2 volume set)
    Edible Forest Gardens (2 volume set)
    by Dave Jacke, Eric Toensmeier
  • The Winter Harvest Handbook: Year Round Vegetable Production Using Deep Organic Techniques and Unheated Greenhouses
    The Winter Harvest Handbook: Year Round Vegetable Production Using Deep Organic Techniques and Unheated Greenhouses
    by Eliot Coleman
  • The Biological Farmer: A Complete Guide to the Sustainable & Profitable Biological System of Farming
    The Biological Farmer: A Complete Guide to the Sustainable & Profitable Biological System of Farming
    by Gary F. Zimmer
  • The Garden Primer: Second Edition
    The Garden Primer: Second Edition
    by Barbara Damrosch
  • 1500 Live LadyBugs - A GOOD BUG! - Lady Bug
    1500 Live LadyBugs - A GOOD BUG! - Lady Bug
    Organic Insect Control
  • Acres U.S.A.
    Acres U.S.A.
    Acres U.S.A.

    The best farming and growing magazine money can buy!

  • Seed Starter Soil Block Maker Makes 4 Medium Blocks
    Seed Starter Soil Block Maker Makes 4 Medium Blocks

    2" Soil Blocker

  • Mini Soil Blocker
    Mini Soil Blocker
  • New York City Farmer & Feast: Harvesting Local Bounty
    New York City Farmer & Feast: Harvesting Local Bounty
    by Emily Brooks
  • What Doctors Eat: Tips, Recipes, and the Ultimate Eating Plan for Lasting Weight Loss and Perfect Health
    What Doctors Eat: Tips, Recipes, and the Ultimate Eating Plan for Lasting Weight Loss and Perfect Health
    by Tasneem Bhatia, Editors of Prevention





« Weekly Musings: Beet Greens | Main | Origins »

Bitter Melon, Bitter Medicine

Some of the choices we made in the selection of vegetables and fruits to grow not only reflected what we wanted to eat on a regular basis but also how accessible is the food itself. When I decide to plan a meal and  I open an ethnic cookbook, I’m often limited by the availability of the ingredients. I’m not about to travel an hour plus to find Chinese Bitter Melon, for example, so I decided to grow it along with other esoteric produce. So what can one do with Chinese Bitter Melon?


Medicinal Uses of Bitter Melon (Momordica charantia)

First of all, this warty looking oblong melon or gourd, like it’s name implies, is quite bitter especially when eaten raw (not recommended). It is high in Vitamin C and folic acid and used in a range of different cultures known as “fu gwa” in China, “karela” in India and “nigauri” in Japan. It’s typically prepared in soups and stir-fries. Like many other bitter vegetables, bitter melon is helpful for digestion. Europeans have traditionally used “Swedish Bitters,” a mixture of bitter herbs including angelica root, aloe, myrrh, rhubarb root, camphor and saffron, for a variety of digestive ills. Its mechanism of action is thought to be through the release of digestive “juices” including saliva, bile, gastric acid and pancreatic enzymes. Angostura Bitters, made primarily from Gentian root, is used in various alcoholic beverages in addition to aiding in digestion as well.

Of all the flavors discernable by the human tongue: salt, sugar, sour, bitter and the more recently recognized 5th taste “umami,” the western palette favors bitter flavors the least. Some examples are endive, mustard greens, broccoli rabe, and brussels sprouts. The interesting association that bitterness=medicine=good for you may hold true here, at least in the case of the family of cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, kale, brussels sprouts, mustard greens and broccoli rabe). They tend to become more bitter as they mature or when cooked and recent research is continuing to amass significant evidence showing the phytochemicals present in this family of vegetables is a crucial element in cancer prevention and may even be helpful to those with existing cancers.

There are other benefits of bitter foods aside from digestion and cancer prevention (though at this point I’m hoping you’ll be more inclined to add these into your food repertoire after hearing the health benefits), which brings me back to Chinese bitter melon. Increasing data points to this cucurbit’s ability to help with sugar metabolism. You might see it as one of the principle agents in supplements and neutraceuticals targeted to diabetes, metabolic syndrome, or glucose intolerance. Studies are small and not very vigorous so far but what evidence is currently available seems to suggest a glucose lowering benefit from consuming these fruits or their extracts. A 7 week study demonstrated significant lowering of the HbA1c (an average indicator of a person’s sugar level). You will also undoubtedly see Bitter Melon in weight loss supplements but there is no current evidence to suggest that, only a theoretical one. In addition, it seems that bitter melon can also have a cholesterol-lowering effect due to the flavonoid content and will bound to be, if not already, the next herbal addition to cholesterol lowering supplements.

From a non western medicinal viewpoint, I also want to add that bitter melon is used in traditional Chinese medicine for dispelling excess “heat.” In Ayurvedic medicine, Bitter Melon or “karela” as it’s known, can affect the Doshas (the three basic physiological principles that maintain balance in the body) specifically calming Pitta and Kapha doshas.

It is not advisable to consume this during pregnancy as recommended from traditional cultures.

How to Grow

My seed was saved from an aunt but seeds can be found online relatively easily. I’d recommend Kitazawa Seed Co. I started my seed indoors under a heat mat 2 weeks before the final frost date but these can be easily seeded directly provided the soil temperature is warm enough. I’d recommend starting indoors for those with a shorter growing season. They enjoy heat and sun. Remember, they are a sub-tropical fruit. They also need a trellis or similar type of support system as this is a vining plant. Harvest younger fruits for best taste.


Pork Filled Chinese Bitter Melon with Black Beans

1 tsp chopped garlic
1 tsp sesame oil
1/2-1 Tbs corn starch
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 cup water
Bitter Melon 1/2 lb
Ground Pork 6 ounces
1 tsp fermented black beans*
1 tsp crushed red pepper
2 scallions chopped and 2 Tbs chopped cilantro (optional)
Vegetable Oil for frying (suggestions: grapeseed, rice bran, canola oil)

Cut off ends of the bitter melon and cut 3/4”-1” thick slices and discard the seeds. Place melon in boiling salted water for 3 minutes then drain and rinse with cold water. When cooled, dry the melon.
Combine 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp sugar and 1/4 cup of water. Mix to dissolve and put aside.
Mix ground pork with the garlic, 1/2 tsp salt, sesame oil and 1 Tbs corn starch and the scallions and cilantro.
Coat the inside of the melon with a little corn starch and fill with the pork mixture.
Heat a frying pan and add approximately 2 Tbs oil. Cook both sides of the pork-filled melon around 3 minutes each then remove to a plate.
To the existing hot oil, add the red pepper flakes and black beans and cook for 1 minute. Add the pork-filled melon slices and add the the salt/sugar mixture in. Cook for 3-4 minutes longer. Serve with rice. Serves 2.

* available at Asian markets

Farmer Pam, MD

Reader Comments (1)

Bitter melons are extensively used in Indian cuisine, although it is hard to find those dishes in most restaurants, particularly in western world. Take a good look at most traditional Indian cookbooks and you will find plenty of recipes. Here is one that is my favorite:

a) Wash the melons
b) Cut from one side half way deep into the melon from end to end but not deep enough to cut into two halves. Keep the fruit joined at the ends. You will end up with a melon that you can open like a purse
c) Seed the melon
d) Soak the melon in 1/2 tsp salt & 1/2 tsp turmeric mixture solution for about 10-15 minutes, throw away the water and pat the melons dry with a cloth
e) Mix 1 cup dry grated coconut, 8-10 dry red chillies, 6-8 cloves of garlic, 3/4 tsp of salt in a grinder
f) Stuff the melons with the coconut mix
g) Tie the melons with a twine all around so they don't open during further cooking
i) Pour 1/2 cup oil (preferably groundnut or sesame) in a frying pan, and fry the stuffed melons on all sides evenly over medium heat until the melons becomes tender but not soft and mushy.
j) Remove the twine
j) Serve them with rice

September 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPankaj Anurag

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>