Common names (selected): English: balsam apple, balsam pear, bitter balsam apple, bitter cucumber, bitter melon, carilla gourd, paria, wild balsam-apple; Bengali: corolla; Chinese: 苦瓜 (bitter gourd); French: margose, margose a piquant, momordique a feuilles de vigne, pomme de merveille; Portuguese (Brazil): erva de lavaderia, fruto de cobra, malao de Sao Ceatano, melao de Sao Tana, melao de Sao Vincent, melaozinho; Spanish: andai mi, andai nu, ani mi, calabacaita (Paraguay), achochilla (Equador), archucha (Columbia), balsamo (El Salvador); balsamina (Bolivia), balsamina, papayilla (Peru), calaica (Honduras), maravilla (Venezuela), paroka (Guatemala); Philippines: amargosa, ampalaya, ampalia, palia, paria; Trinidad and Tobago: carailee, carilla, cerasee bush; Vietnamese: cay muop mu, muop dang hona, muop dong
Description: Annual vine
Native regions and distribution: Native to tropical and subtropical Africa, Asia and Australia. It is now widely distributed throughout tropical and subtropical regions on all continents.
Urban habitat: M. charantia can be found growing in coastal areas, along creeks and rivers, forest edges and disturbed uncultivated habitats such as roadsides, gardens, fencelines and around houses and farm buildings. As an agricultural weed, M. charantia is a particular problem in sugarcane; in the first three months it may smother all growth, and at all stages, but particularly towards harvest it climbs over the crop and binds stalks together, reducing sugar content and making harvesting very difficult.
Ecological function: Food and habitat for insects, birds, and other animals.
History/human uses: Momordica derives from the Latin mordeo (to bite), perhaps a reference to the jagged edges of the seeds and charantia is from the ancient Greek for ‘beautiful flower.’ M. charantia was introduced to China in 14th century as a cultivated vegetable and is believed to have been introduced into America from West Africa with the slave trade. The leaves, fruit and seeds of the plant have many medicinal uses, including use as an anthelminthic, antibacterial, antiviral agent, and as an abortifacient. It has been be used as a laxative, pain reliever, and to treat hemorrhoids, internal parasites, and rashes. A seed extract has the capacity to inactivate certain cancerous tumors and may have anti-leukemic activity. Its leaves and fruits are also commonly used as an alternative therapy to insulin to lower blood glucose levels in people with diabetes mellitus. It has also been used to treat malaria. M. charantia is grown as a food crop throughout the tropics. Leaves are used as pot-herbs and fruit are boiled, fried, pickled or used in curries. The yellow fruit pulp and arils are high in carotenoids, iron, phosphorous and ascorbic acid. M. charantia is also grown as an ornamental because of its showy flowers.