Bitter gourd also called bitter melon; bitter apple; bitter squash; balsam-pear is a tropical and subtropical vine of the family Cucurbitaceae, widely grown in Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean for its edible fruit. Its many varirties differ substantially in the shape and bitterness of the fruit.
Bitter gourd originated in Africa where it was a dry-season staple food of kung hunter-gatherers. Wild or semi-domesticated variants spread across Asia in prehistory, and it was likely fully domesticated in Southeast Asia. It is widely used in the cuisines of East Asia, South Asia, and Southeast Asia.
Bitter Gourd is a herbaceous, tendril-bearing vine, growing up to 5 m. It bears simple, alternate leaves 4-12 cm across, with 3-7 deeply separated lobes. Each plant bears separate yellow male and female flowers, about 2-3 cm in diameter. Male flowers, more numerous, have a yellow center and conical base, while female flowers have a green center and small bump at the base. The fruit has a distinct warty looking exterior and an oblong shape. It is hollow in cross-section, with a relatively thin layer of flesh surrounding a central seed cavity filled with large flat seeds and pith. Seeds and pith appear white in unripe fruits. The fruit is most often eaten green. Although it can also be eaten when it has started to ripen and turn yellowish, it becomes more bitter as it ripens. When the fruit ripens and turns orange and mushy, it is too bitter to eat. It splits into segments which curl back dramatically to expose seeds covered in bright red pulp.
Bitter Gourd has been used in various Asian and African herbal medicine systems for a long time. In Turkey, it has been used as a folk remedy for a variety of ailments, particularly stomach complaints. In traditional medicine of India, different parts of the plant are used as claimed treatments for diabetes and as a stomachic, laxative, antibilious, emetic, anthelmintic agent, for the treatment of cough, respiratory diseases, skin diseases, wounds, ulcer, gout, and rheumatism.