Momordica charantia – Bitter Melon

Momordica charantia - Bitter Melon, Balsampear, Balsam-pear, Balsam-apple, Bitter Gourd, Bitter Cucumber, Carilla Gourd (flower)

Momordica charantia - Bitter Melon, Balsampear, Balsam-pear, Balsam-apple, Bitter Gourd, Bitter Cucumber, Carilla Gourd (ripe orange fruit)

Momordica charantia - Bitter Melon, Balsampear, Balsam-pear, Balsam-apple, Bitter Gourd, Bitter Cucumber, Carilla Gourd (split fruit and seeds)

Momordica charantia - Bitter Melon, Balsampear, Balsam-pear, Balsam-apple, Bitter Gourd, Bitter Cucumber, Carilla Gourd (leaves)

Plant Name

Scientific Name: Momordica charantia

Common Names: Bitter Melon, Balsampear, Balsam-pear, Balsam-apple, Bitter Gourd, Bitter Cucumber, Carilla Gourd

Plant Characteristics

Duration: Annual

Growth Habit: Vine, Herb/Forb

Hawaii Native Status: Introduced. This naturalized food and medicinal plant is native to Africa, Asia, and Australasia.

Flower Color: Yellow

Height: Up to 15 feet (4.5 m) tall

Description: The plants are monoecious. The flowers are up to 1 1/4 inches (3 cm) across and have 5 ruffled, egg-shaped petals. The female flowers are followed by warty, egg-shaped to oblong, green ripening to yellow and then orange fruit with a tapering tip. When fully ripe, the orange fruits split open into 3 curling segments to reveal black seeds enclosed in soft, bright red pulp. The leaves are green, hairy, alternate, and deeply palmately lobed with 5 coarsely toothed lobes. The stems have twining tendrils and are slender, green, and hairy.

Bitter Melon grows in a wide variety of disturbed areas.

Special Characteristics

Edible – Although bitter, the green fruit is edible if cooked, and it is a popular vegetable in Asian cooking. Green Bitter Melons are commonly found in produce markets here in Hawaii. The ripe yellow or orange fruit is not edible. This plant has traditionally been used for a variety of medicinal purposes (treating infections, diabetes, etc.), but because of the possible resulting side effects, it's recommended that pregnant women and those with hypoglycemia avoid consuming it.

Foul-smelling – The plants and especially the ripe orange fruits have a repulsive odor.

Poisonous – The ripe orange fruit and mature seeds are toxic, as are the uncooked plants if eaten in large amounts.

Classification

Kingdom: Plantae – Plants
Subkingdom: Tracheobionta – Vascular plants
Superdivision: Spermatophyta – Seed plants
Division: Magnoliophyta – Flowering plants
Class: Magnoliopsida – Dicotyledons
Subclass: Dilleniidae
Order: Violales
Family: Cucurbitaceae – Cucumber family
Genus: Momordica L. – momordica
Species: Momordica charantia L. – balsampear

More About This Plant

Hawaii County Distribution Map