A staple of my childhood. Though I could not appreciate its goodness until much later in life.
Back then I was not a fan of the taste.
It is bitter!
But whenever my grandma cooked bitter melon or, anything else for that matter, you ate it without question.
There was no room for argument.
Bitter melon grows on a vine and, one side of the fence was always littered with the stuff.
It was everywhere!
No one ever actively planted the karela (bitter melon), it was as perennial as the grass around. It just was.
I would later come to understand that the ripe vegetables would shed their seeds. These seeds would be scattered by one way or another, so an effortless truce was in place. Karela was always in abundance.
My mother, God bless her love to drink the juice of karela and she does so to this day. She would steam the vegetable and drink the bitter juice.
The folks from my world were almost never ill, they died in a good old age with all their working parts.
Older and wiser
As I matured and became a healthcare professional I would wonder about my childhood and the health of the older population versus the sickness I see in the new world. I am in a unique position to observe the ills that plague the population old and young.
I began looking into the foods and activities I grew up with to see where some benefits may lie.
Bitter melon is an interesting fruit, it grows on a climbing shrub and is found in many parts of the world. The fruit is also found in tropical South America, Asia, East Africa, and the West Indies.
It is from a family known as Cucurbitaceae (bitter properties), scientifically called Momordica charantia. Karela has several known species.
Though bitter melon is a fruit, it is utilized as a vegetable in many parts of the world. It is also used as a traditional medicinal plant for the treatment of various diseases in Bangladesh as well as other developing countries like Brazil, China, Colombia, Cuba, Ghana, Haiti, India Mexico, Malaya, Nicaragua, Panama, and Peru.
Composition of bitter melon
Perhaps its most common traditional use is in the treatment of diabetes. Other diseases bitter melon is used to treat are; dysmenorrhea, eczema, emmenagogue (stimulate blood flow to the pelvis), galactagogue (promote lactation), gout, jaundice, kidney stone, leprosy, leucorrhea, piles, pneumonia, psoriasis, rheumatism, and scabies.
Momordica charantia is also documented to possess abortifacient, anthelmintic, contraceptive, antimalarial, and laxative properties.
Bitter melon extracts are effective against cancer and were found to be effective in the treatment of ulcers, pain and inflammation, psoriasis, dyslipidemia, and hypertension.
Momordica charantia also contains biologically active chemical compounds such as glycosides, saponins, alkaloids, fixed oils, triterpenes, proteins, and steroids. Several other biologically active chemical constituents have so far been isolated from different parts of the plant, including the leaves, fruit pulp, and seeds.
Karela is reported to contain vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other phytochemicals, that is, glycosides, saponins, phenolic constituents, fixed oils, alkaloids, reducing sugars, resins, and free acids.
The immature fruits are also a great source of vitamin C, vitamin A, phosphorus, iron, and contain insulin-like properties.
Aids in the: —
- The reduction of body fats prevents the hypertrophy of fat cells.
- Increases insulin secretion and prevents insulin-producing cells from damage
- It inhibits the increase of blood glucose levels.
- Decreases liver inflammation (prevents fatty liver).
- Promising as an antioxidant.
- Anti-infective properties.
- Helps fight against cancer.
The bitter fruit contains many essential vitamins and minerals, namely: —
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin A
How the bitter gourd may be prepared: —
Bitter melon is sliced thin then prepared fried with various meats then eaten with rice. Another way is to have it stuffed with meats or vegetables.
When ripe the bitter melon takes on an orange color and becomes quite sweet. The ripened fruit may be used to make a drink which is quite delicious.
Now I will be the first people to tell you the bitter taste is an acquired one. But once you learn to appreciate its many splendors, bitter melon is to be enjoyed.
So, think of the health benefits …
Stay curious, while staying safe.