Momordica balsamina L.

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MOMORDICA BALSAMINA L Information

Family: Cucurbitaceae (pumpkin family)

Momordica charantiaCommon names

  • African cucumber
  • Laloentjie
  • Mohodu
  • Nkaka
  • Intshungu
  • Intshungwana yehlathi
  • Umkaka
  • Balsam pear

Description

Momordica balsamina is a tendril-bearing annual vine native to the tropical regions of Africa.

When ripe, the fruits burst apart, revealing numerous seeds covered with scarlet, extremely sticky coating, edible and sweet, tasting like watermelon. Leaves are waxy, with the lower surface paler than upper.

Distribution

Momordica balsamina is a common species with a wide distribution from South Africa, northwards to tropical East and West Africa.

Cultural value

Medicinally, it is perhaps the most widely used herb in Africa. Its value as a food source to humans and animals (domesticated and wild) cannot be overstated. Momordica balsamina L. was introduced into Europe by 1568 and was used medicinally to treat wounds.

Momordica balsamina L. is one Africa’s best-known medicinal plants, widely used by people of all cultures and races. It is listed in the Medical Research Council website under African Traditional Medicines together with a list of its traditional uses, treatment Information and indications.

When bruised the plant emits a strongly unpleasant smell hence the name of Umkaka by the Zulu. Umkaka is used it as a liniment, made by infusing the fruit (minus the seed) in olive or almond oil, as an application to chapped hands, burns and haemorrhoids. The mashed fruit is used as a poultice and bitter tonic.

Shangaans and Zulus make tea of the leaves for blood and liver deficiencies, stomach and intestinal complaints. Postnatal mothers often eat the leaves to stimulate milk production. In the south of Mozambique the leaves are taken as an anti-inflammatory, anti-malarial and urinary tract inflammations remedy.

Growing Momordica balsamina L

It thrives in full sun and semi-shade in grassland, savanna, woodland, forest margins, coastal dune forests and in river bank vegetation as well as disturbed areas.