The bitter melon or bitter gourd is the bitterest of all vegetables known to humankind, but it is also the most medicinally effective. Though bitter, its fruit is eaten as a vegetable and is used to make several mouthwatering dishes especially in India. In India, the bitter gourd is known as the Karela. Its biological name is Momordica charantia.
Morphologically, the bitter melon is an herbaceous vine which bears tendrils and it creeps along supports. Leaves are simple and alternate, and flowers are yellow. Male and female flowers grow on separate plants. The fruit of the plant, which is known as the bitter melon, has an oblong shape with a warty exterior and is dark green in color.
Bitter melon possesses various chemicals such as charantin, peptides resembling insulin and several alkaloids. Due to these constituents, bitter melon is quite widely used in the treatment of diabetes mellitus.
Bitter melon is a valuable vegetable. It is useful in most metabolic and physiological processes of the human body. It has the following properties:-
(i) Bitter melon is composed of various chemicals that have a hypoglycemic activity, i.e. they reduce the amount of sugar in the blood.
(ii) Bitter melon stimulates appetite.
(iii) Bitter melon helps in the entire digestion process. Hence it is used in treatment of digestive problems.
(iv) Bitter melon has emetic, purgative and anthelmentic properties. It is also anti-flatulent.
(v) Bitter melon is used in the dissolution of fats from the body. It is known to have anti-lipolytic properties.
(vi) Bitter melon possesses all the essential vitamins in good amounts, such as vitamin A, thiamine, riboflavin, vitamin C and also minerals like iron.
(vii) Bitter melon is anti-inflammatory and astringent. It has specific action on the movement of bowels.
Bitter melon is an appetite stimulant. Hence it is used in the treatment of anorexia, a disorder in which a person is unable to eat the required amount of food.
(ii) Blood Impurities
Bitter gourd is used as a blood purifier due to its bitter tonic properties. It can heal boils and other blood related problems that show up on the skin. For treatment, a cupful of the juice of the bitter melon must be taken each day in the morning, with a teaspoon of the juice of the citrus lemon in it.
(iii) Diabetes Mellitus
A lot has been written lately about the very beneficial aspects of bitter melon in the treatment of diabetes. As already discussed above, bitter melon has a host of bitter chemicals in which, which are hypoglycemic in action. It also has at least one substance that is like the insulin secreted by the human pancreatic glands. Hence, bitter melon is extremely effective in the treatment of diabetes mellitus. Doctors all over the world prescribe having either bitter melon juice early in the morning or to include it in some other fashion in the daily diet. Regular use of bitter melon over a period of time helps to bring the blood sugar level down.
For diarrhea, the juice of a bitter lemon is mixed with the juice of the spring onions, both two teaspoons in quantity. This is then added with the juice of a lemon. This juice is given to the patient twice a day. This remedy is also effective in curing the diarrhea that is caused due to cholera.
The juice of the bitter melon is excellent remedy for hangovers. It is also very beneficial in preventing the liver damage that occurs due to excessive alcoholism.
In case of piles, the fresh juice of bitter melons is prescribed to the patient with positive results. Three teaspoons of juice of the bitter melon leaves is to be extracted each morning, added to a glassful of buttermilk and then consumed on an empty stomach. Carrying on this routine for thirty days will treat piles completely. Even externally, the paste of the leaves of the piles can be applied over the hemorrhoids.
Pyorrhea is bleeding from the gums. Including bitter melon in the daily diet or having some of its juice every morning on an empty stomach helps to reduce this problem.
(viii) Respiratory Problems
The paste of the leaves of the bitter melon is mixed with equal amounts of the paste of tulsi leaves. This is taken with honey each morning as a treatment and prevention for respiratory problems such as asthma, bronchitis, common colds and pharyngitis.
(ix) Skin Infections
In case of scabies, ringworm and psoriasis, etc. one cup of bitter melon juice must be had each morning on an empty stomach. This juice can be made more potent by adding a teaspoonful quantity of the juice of the lime in it. It is also used in prevention of leprosy in vulnerable regions of the world.
Special Ayurvedic Preparations
Bitter melon is used mostly as a vegetable. It is incorporated in the daily diet. Its juice is also prescribed, generally mixed with other citrus juices like those of the lemon. There are no special preparations made out of the Karela, as it is generally consumed in its basic form.
There has been some indication that the juice of the Karela may induce abortion of fetuses in pregnant women. More research on this is going on. At the same time, attempts are being made to extract the essential components of the bitter melon in a more acceptable and safe form for human consumption.