Bitterness Can Be Really Good
This year is a great year for Bitter Melon (Momordica charantia). They cover three quarters of the vegetable garden fence. The thickness of the leaves and the bright yellow flowers spotted among them look very pleasant. The sweet scent of the flowers is a plus, especially in the morning when it seems to be strongest. Cutting leaves and fruits for friends and neighbors has been a pleasure as well. One good thing about cutting the leaves more often is that the plants will sprout more side shoots which is great for stir-fry or blanching and topping with coconut milk. More new shoots also mean more flowers and fruits, if I let the shoots grow.
The only down side for the Bitter Melon this year are the Stink bugs. We have more Stink Bugs this year than any past year. A lot of the young melons turn yellow prematurely because the bugs feed on them. There is no other pest in this area that is destructive for Bitter Melon, as far as I know. The deer haven’t touched them. The chipmunks have chewed one or two of them at the base but mostly left them alone. I guess the bitterness in every part of the plants provides a good defense.
In the tropics, it grows as a short lived vegetable that provides fruit for a year or two. It’s grown as an annual in the Northern hemisphere. I’ve been growing it every summer because I love the distinctive bitter taste and the fragrant flowers. It grows pretty much the same way as beans do. I usually start the seedlings inside near the end of March and plant them when the weather is warm enough, but the seeds can be planted directly in the soil. Soaking the seeds for a couple of hours before planting helps soften the hard shell, making it easier for them to germinate.
It is one vegetable that has great medicinal benefits. For those who are diabetic, it helps to regulate blood sugar since it promotes insulin production in the body. Eat the fruit, cooked of course. Drink the tea made from its leaves or fruit. Or, if you’re tough, have a shot of fresh juice extracted from the fruit and leaves with a juicer. Those who have no problem with blood sugar levels and consume too much of this melon may have a problem with their sugar level dropping too low. I’m living proof. I love eating it but have to remind myself to stop if I don’t want to faint.
Don’t eat the ripe one either. It’s a beautiful bright yellow with bright red seeds and has a vicious laxative propensity.
It’s an ‘acquired taste’ as my neighbor put it. She loves it now and grew it this year for the first time. If not for the fruit, the fragrance alone makes it worth growing. Well, according to the book ‘Flowers and Herbs of Early America‘ by Lawrence D. Griffith, the plant came to Europe from the tropics in the 1500’s and later to the US in the early years of the Republic. Nothing new.
Here are some recipes.