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Momordica Charantia - Bitter Melon or Ampalaya

Updated on September 13, 2018
Momordica charantia
Momordica charantia | Source

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.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
A young bitter gourd reaching for something to climb on. Tendrils reaching for the soil particles. This potted soil has some mixture of dried barks of trees.
A young bitter gourd reaching for something to climb on.
A young bitter gourd reaching for something to climb on. | Source
Tendrils reaching for the soil particles. This potted soil has some mixture of dried barks of trees.
Tendrils reaching for the soil particles. This potted soil has some mixture of dried barks of trees. | Source

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.

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Bitter melon leaf, mostly with 7 separated lobes.A male bitter melon flower being checked by an ant. A female flower developing to a fruit.
Bitter melon leaf, mostly with 7 separated lobes.
Bitter melon leaf, mostly with 7 separated lobes. | Source
A male bitter melon flower being checked by an ant.
A male bitter melon flower being checked by an ant. | Source
A female flower developing to a fruit.
A female flower developing to a fruit. | Source

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.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Young bitter melon fruit. Once fully ripe, turns yellow in color, opens up from the bottom and exposed the seeds covered in red pulp.Ripe fruit of bitter melon, also known as ampalaya.
Young bitter melon fruit. Once fully ripe, turns yellow in color, opens up from the bottom and exposed the seeds covered in red pulp.
Young bitter melon fruit. Once fully ripe, turns yellow in color, opens up from the bottom and exposed the seeds covered in red pulp. | Source
Ripe fruit of bitter melon, also known as ampalaya.
Ripe fruit of bitter melon, also known as ampalaya. | Source

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

Name
Language/Country
Ampalaya
Filipino
Parya
Ilocano
Yeoju
Korea
Kaakarkaya
Telugu
Mara
Thai
Muop dang
Vietnamese
Paria
Indonesia
Balsambirne
German
Pepino amargo
Spanish

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.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Mung beans with momordica charantia fruits. Bitter melon or ampalaya leaves cooked with mung beans, cellophane noodles, and meat.
Mung beans with momordica charantia fruits.
Mung beans with momordica charantia fruits. | Source
Bitter melon or ampalaya leaves cooked with mung beans, cellophane noodles, and meat.
Bitter melon or ampalaya leaves cooked with mung beans, cellophane noodles, and meat. | Source

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.

Bitter melon juice.
Bitter melon juice. | Source

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.

Poll time!

Have you eaten bitter melon?

See results

Comments

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    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 

      3 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I have some bitter melon pickles in my fridge right now. I try to eat it for its health benefits.

    • precy anza profile imageAUTHOR

      precy anza 

      4 years ago from USA

      @ Avian:

      Oh that's good. :) Hope you find some bitter melon there. Both fruits and leaves are available in Oriental stores here, and there's also ready tea if you would prefer that. :)

    • precy anza profile imageAUTHOR

      precy anza 

      4 years ago from USA

      @ Alicia:

      Hi Alicia :) I think it is an interesting plant, haven't tasted anything as bitter as this gourd. :) It helps with my asthma, I wish I can always deal with the bitterness to eat it regularly.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      I must see if this is available at the Oriental grocery. If it is, I'd like to make a tea for the antibiotic properties. Sounds like bitter melon grows like an ivy. Thanks, precy anza, for a job well done.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Bitter melon sounds like an interesting plant. I was especially interested in reading that it helps your asthma! Thanks for sharing an informative hub.

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