Momordica Charantia - Bitter Melon or Ampalaya
Bitter melon which originated from the Indian subcontinent is a tropical vine, widely grown in Asia for its fruits and leaves and is a member of the gourd family.
Known as ampalaya in the Philippines, bitter melon is one of those vegetables that's always present and will always be in our vegetable garden. Ampalaya or bitter melon is not hard to take care of and although I'm not a fan of the bitterness, it is my first aid when my asthma is up for an attack. It is widely cultivated warm weather loving plant for both the leaves and the fruits. Although both the cultivated and wild bitter gourds are both edible, some says the wild bitter gourds which are ovoid in shape, jagged and has pointed ends are a bit bitter than the cultivated form which is oblong, ribbed with wrinkled textured and pale green in color, known as the Chinese variety.
Growing Bitter Gourd or Bitter Melon
When it comes on how to grow bitter gourd, also known as ampalaya, it isn't hard at all. And truth is, it is easy to grow this warm weather loving plant. Bitter gourd is not invasive and it can eve nbe grown to containers or pots while providing them something to climb on.
Start this perennial climber from seeds. If you already have the plant, save a fruit by letting it ripen from the vine. Gather the ripe seeds. The matured fruit will turn yellow and would even crack open to reveal the seeds inside.
Plant the seeds in a fertile soil either on a pot to be transplanted later or directly on the ground where it will get enough sunlight. Again, it can be grown in pots or containers if you prefer that or the space is limited. The best planting time is during late spring to summer. Keep the soil moist. Give the seeds 3 to 4 weeks to germinate.
Bitter gourd will develop tendrils as the plant continuously grows, and will look for anything to climb on. This vine will even reach and hang on to other plants within its reach specially if no trellis is provided. So it is best to provide this vine something to climb on to. Still, keep an eye if you want to keep it to a certain area or spot.
The Leaves and Flowers
The veins are visible on the green alternate leaves which has up to 7 lobes that are deeply seperated. Also the aren't so thick leaves appear by the nodes paired with a tendril.
The Fruit and Seeds
The oblong in shape fruits are green with a warty exterior which is preferably eaten before the fruit matures or before it turns yellow. The inside of the fruit is hollowed with white and soft tissue-like cradling the seeds. The young seeds are soft and white but as the fruit matures, the seeds turn light brown in color. Once the fruit had turned to yellow, the seeds would be wrapped in a crimson red moist coating.
Did you know?
Bitter melon bears separate female and male flowers. It can hold into anything for support. The seeds when still developing is soft, not intensely bitter and can be cooked with the fruit.
Other Names Bitter Melon is Known For
Consumption - Cooking Bitter Melon
Both the fruits and the leaves are consumed. Even the young shoots are consumed and is sold in bundles when it is in season.
The fruits are stir-fried with your choice of meat. I prefer it stir-fried with beef tenderloin or chicken. Even shredded fried fish is a good choice if you prefer fish instead of meat with your veggies.
Another favorite dish where adding bitter gourd is a perfect match is with mung beans, either with or without cellophane noodles. And it's your choice whether you will prefer adding the fruits or the leaves. But having both works well in your dish too. But if mung beans isn't in your liking, another dish where ths vegetables goes really well is the Filipino soup-based dish tinola. The popular Ilocano dish pinakbet also consist of bitter melon along with other vegetables such as squash, long beans, jute leaves, okra, and eggplant.
Aside from being stir fried, bitter gourd is cooked either steamed or cooked in coconut milk in Indonesia. In Nepal, bitter gourd is made into achar which is pickled bitter gourd while in Pakistan, the whole fruit is boiled and stuffed with ground meat and served with either naan which is an oven-baked flatbread or with an unleavened flatbread called chapati, or served with tandoori bread.
Health Benefits of Consuming Bitter Gourd and Medicinal Uses
Bitter melon is a good source of phosphorus, iron, and B vitamin, calcium and beta carotene. It is also used as a folkloric medicine. It lowers blood sugar and detoxifies the body. And although I'm not fond of the bitterness, when I feel like an asthma is on its way, ampalaya, or bitter gourd is one of my remedies.
* The juice from the leaves is used to treat cough, cold, and is what I also use to help treat an oncoming asthma attack. But careful with taking too much juice as it can irritate the digestive tract.
* The juice is also use for purgative purposes to expel parasites out of the intestines.
* And for urethral discharge, the decoction from the ampalaya roots is used.
* For mouth infections or for toothaches, the warm tea infusions is used.
* For burns, leaves is pounded and applied to the skin.
* Bitter melon tea is used to promote lochia.
Why is bitter melon, bitter gourd, or ampalaya bitter?
* Bitter melon tastes bitter because of the compound momordicin that is present in the bitter melon plant.
To lessen the bitterness, soaking the fruit in salty water will do the trick. But as my mother says, why eat bitter melon if you will just rid of the bitterness, the more bitter it is, the better for the health.