Bitter Melon

SCIENTIFIC NAME(S): Momordica charantia L. Family: Cucurbitaceae

COMMON NAME(S): Bitter melon, balsam pear, bitter cucumber, balsam apple,"art pumpkin," cerasee, carilla cundeamor

Bitter Melon, also known as Karela, is a herb that helps regulate blood sugar levels and keeps body functions operating normally. It contains Gurmarin, a polypeptide considered to be similar to bovine insulin, which has been shown in experimental studies to achieve a positive sugar regulating effect by suppressing the neural response to sweet taste stimuli.


Bitter melon has been used as a folk remedy for tumors, asthma, skin infections, GI problems, and hypertension. The plant has been used as a traditional medicine in China, India, Africa, and southeastern US.The plant has been used in the treatment of diabetes symptoms. In the 1980s, the seeds were investigated in China as a potential contraceptive.

Botany :- Bitter melon is an annual plant growing to 6 feet tall. It is cultivated in Asia, Africa, South America, and India and is considered a tropical fruit. The plant has lobed leaves, yellow flowers, and edible (but bitter-tasting), orange-yellow fruit. The unripe fruit is green and is cucumber-shaped with bumps on its surface. The parts used include the fruit, leaves, seeds, and seed oil.

Uses of Bitter Melon

Bitter melon's effects include hypoglycemic, anti microbial, anti fertility, and others.

Bitter melon have long been used in India as a folk remedy for diabetes mellitus. Lectins from the bitter gourd have shown significant antilipolytic and lipogenic activities. Some of the medicinal uses are :-

  • Helps achieve positive sugar regulating effect by suppressing the neural response to sweet taste stimuli
  • Useful in treating Diabetes Mellitus
  • Lectins from bitter gourd have shown significant antilipolytic and lipogenic activities
  • It is useful as an emtic, purgative, as an anthelmentic, in piles, leprosy, and jaundice

Culinary uses

Bitter melon is often used in Chinese cooking for its bitter flavour, typically in stir-fries, soups and also as tea. The vegetable is cultivated extensively all over India and a type of chips called karela chips are quite relished.

Bitter melon is rarely used in mainland Japan, but is a significant component of Okinawan cuisine , where it is known as goya ( Okinawan ) or nigauri ( Japanese , lit. "bitter melon"). It is called ampalaya and prepared into various dishes in the Philippines .

Bitter melons are seldom mixed with other vegetables due to the strong bitter taste, although this can be moderated to some extent by salting and then washing the cut melon before use.

Side Effects of Bitter Melon

Use with caution in hypoglycemic patients. The red arils around bitter melon seeds are toxic to children. The plant is not recommended in pregnant women because it may cause uterine bleeding and contractions or may induce abortion.

Drug Interactions: Increased hypoglycemic effect when M. charantia and chlorpropamide are coadministered.


For those with a taste or tolerance for bitter flavor, a small melon can be eaten as food, or up to 3 1/3 ounces (100 ml) of a decoction or 2 ounces (60 ml) of fresh juice can be drunk per day. 3 Though still bitter, tinctures of bitter melon (1 teaspoon [5 ml] two to three times per day) are also sometimes used. The amounts recommended would be appropriate for people with diabetes .


Bitter melon as an un­ripe fruit is commonly eaten as a vegetable. Bitter melon extract is said to be nontoxic. The plant is relatively safe at low doses and for a duration of 4 weeks. There are no published reports of serious effects in adults given the "normal" oral dose of 50 mL. In general, bitter melon has low clinical toxicity, with some possible adverse GI effects.

Bitter melon's hepatotoxic effects have been demonstrated in animals, in which enzymes became elevated following plant administration. The momorcharin constituents may induce morphological changes in hepatocytes as well.

Bitter melon is not recommended in pregnant women because of its reproductive system toxicities, including induction of uterine bleeding and contractions or abortion induction.

Safety :- Excessively high doses of bitter melon juice can cause abdominal pain and diarrhea. Small children or anyone with hypoglycemia should not take bitter melon because this herb could theoretically trigger or worsen low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). Furthermore, diabetics taking hypoglycemic drugs (such as chlorpropamide, glyburide, or phenformin) or insulin should use bitter melon only under medical supervision, as it may potentiate the effectiveness of the drugs and lead to severe hypoglycemia.

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