Tag Archives: Momordica charantia

Flowers For Bees

Let Herbs Flower

Since I started keeping honey bees, the decision on what plants to add to our garden factors in the honey bees as one of the reasons.  I used to think of fragrant, native, butterfly and bird friendly as reasons to choose a plant.  Flowers that butterflies love is not necessarily good for bees.  The butterfly has a very long proboscis, much longer than bee mandibles, so it can easily access flowers for nectar that the bee can’t reach.  If I can find flowers that are good for both of them, it’s perfect.

The first group of plants that work well for both butterflies and bees are herbs.   I have to let them flower, not just keep eating them and make sure to cut off most of the spent flowers.  I let the mint set seed many years ago and it has been a mistake I’ve been paying for ever since.  I have a forest of mint that I can’t get rid of.  Though it smells nice and I can and do use it in many ways, it grows faster than I can consume or give away.

I made the same mistake last year with Anise Hyssop, but they’re easy to transplant.  I dug the seedlings up and replanted them in a group at the edge of the property and they turned out pretty nice when they flowered.  The American Goldfinches love snacking on its seeds so they help to reduce a burgeoning plant population.

A small variety of the herbs I grow is below and aside from being great in many food dishes, in salad and tea, they are also magnets for bees and butterflies.

Spiky lavender blue flowers look lovely when growing in a group.
Spiky lavender blue flowers look lovely when growing in a group.

Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) is a good source of nectar for bees.  The flowers and leaves can be used in salad and tea.  I love the smell of crushed leaves, very soothing.

Star shaped blue flower, sometime pink, is a beautiful addition for a vegetable garden.
Star shaped blue flower, sometime pink, is a beautiful addition for a vegetable garden.

Borage (Borago officinalis) has lovely star shaped flowers in blue, white and pink.  I have both blue and pink in the garden, still searching for white.

Calendula comes in many shade of yellow and orange
Calendula comes in many shade of yellow and orange

As much as birds like to eat the Calendula (Calendula officinalis) seeds, there are still plenty left for self- seeding.  The petals can be used in tea and salad or as a substitute for saffron as well.

Pure white, spiky flowers attract so many types of bees and wasps
Pure white, spiky flowers attract so many types of bees and wasps

I don’t think I have to write much about what we can do with the mint.  I wish it wasn’t so invasive.  But I no longer feel guilty when pulling it out and putting it in a garbage bag.

What can be more perfect for Italian bees than Oregano?
What can be more perfect for Italian bees than Oregano?
I'm not sure whether to classify this under vegetable or herb since its properties fall under both.
I’m not sure whether to classify this under vegetable or herb since its properties fall under both.

The bright Canary yellow of a Bitter Melon flower (Momordica charantia) has a sweet fragrance that is very strong on a cool morning.  Bees, Hover flies and small butterflies love it.

Bitter Melon

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.

Bright fragrant yellow flowers

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.

Cover the whole fence with spotted of flowers
Female flower
fruit