Winter Melon is a popular vegetable in Asian countries. It is native to Japan, Java, China, and India. The fruit of the plant is juicy, fleshy, and contains plenty of seeds inside. The texture of the pulp is crunchy and juicy and it carries nil to slightly acidic taste. Winter melon is cultivated and consumed across South East Asia as a vegetable and also added to desserts and juices.
The technical name of winter melon is Benincasa Hispida and it belongs to the Cucurbitaceae family. It is commonly known as petha, white gourd, white pumpkin, wax gourd, and ash gourd. The plant grows as an extensive trailing or climbing vine, and it can be cultivated on the hills up to 1200 m altitude. Since the plant grows very well in cold weather conditions, it has been named as winter melon.
Immature fruits are fairly hairy and dark green in color. However, the fruit looses the hair as it matures and hence carries a light greenish colour with wax like white coating on it. This coating is harmless for consumption. The waxy white coating also provides it with an extended shelf life, as much as one month in dry and cold conditions.
Winter Melon – Kushmanda in Ayurveda
It finds its mention in Ayurvedic texts as Kushmanda. Per Ayurvedic principles, winter melon balances Pitta and Vata Doshas. Unripe and immature fruits promote Kapha dosha, hence it should be consumed in moderation in winters, during night time, and by children suffering from cold and cough. Ripe fruit has less of a cooling effect, hence can be consumed by Kapha dominant profiles.
- It has a cooling effect – Veerya on the body.
- It is considered to have sweet Vipaka and Rasa, hence nurturing and healing effect on the body.
- It helps to increase body strength, immunity and supports weight gain.
- As it pacifies Pitta, it is recommended in cases of unusual bleeding such as Menorrhagia, nasal bleeding, and hemorrhoids.
It is one of the vegetables that Ayurvedic yogis consider as consisting of maximum Prana – Vital life force. Hence, its juice and preparations are recommended for those suffering from Dosha vitiation related health disorders.
Winter Melon Nutrition
As much as 96% of winter melon is made up of water content. The fruits are rich in volatile oil, flavonoids, glycosides, sugars as glucose, galactose and xylose, proteins, minerals, and vitamins.
It is a rich source of Folate, Vitamin C, Manganese, Phosphorus, Calcium, and Magnesium. It is also a good source of B Vitamins as Riboflavin, Thiamine, and Vitamin B3, and of minerals Zinc, Selenium, and Iron.
Health benefits of Winter Melon
The fruits of winter melon have been used as antidiarrheal, anti-diabetic, anti-inflammatory, anti-obesity, anti-inflammatory, and other multiple therapeutic purposes for centuries. It finds its mention in Chinese medicine, Indian medicine, and also consumed as a medicinal health vegetable across Asia.
CNS – Central nervous system – Cognition Improvement
Winter Melon promotes the health of CNS. Animal studies showed that alcoholic extract of winter melon fruit has an anti-compulsive effect through the enhancement of serotonin neurotransmitter in the brain. It has been studied to have an anti-depressant effect.
In Ayurveda, it is known to promote alertness, memory, learning, and retention. The after effect – Prabhava of the fruit has been mentioned to support Medhya – intelligence in Ayurveda.
Diuretic – Urinary System Health
Kushmanda is known to be diuretic in Ayurveda. Its high potassium and antioxidant content help to cleanse the bladder and prevent urinary disorders.
In Ayurveda, it is used to cure dysuria, urinary tract disorders, and urinary calculi.
Gastrointestinal Health – Digestive System
Studies indicate that the fruit extract has a strong anti-diarrheal effect. Also, the extract showed to have an anthelmintic effect against worms in the belly.
For its high concentration of antioxidants, it has a protective function against ulcers. It protects the gastrointestinal mucosa by preventing damage from free radicals.
For its high fiber content, it supports digestive system health, prevents constipation, and also helps to heal the hemorrhoids. It kindles Agni – digestive fire prevents Acid Reflux syndrome and brings the digestive system on track.
Prevents Asthma and supports Respiratory System health
Kushmanda is prescribed in respiratory disorders in Ayurveda. Scientific studies indicate that the extract of the fruit inhibits the release of histamine that leads to bronchiole spasms and hence asthmatic attacks. Its juice and preparations are recommended to patients suffering from Asthma and other respiratory issues.
Antioxidants – Prevents Alzheimer’s
Extract of the fruit has an antioxidant effect which is beneficial in the treatment of Alzheimer disease. In Ayurveda, Kushmanda has been used to treat sanity related disorders. Studies indicate that winter melon antioxidants prevent free radical damage to the brain and also support the release of chemicals that protect the white matter.
Other Health Benefits
Studies showed the beneficial effect of the fruit extract in decreasing insulin, triglycerides, and glucose. Hence, it is an excellent addition to the diet of Diabetics.
The extract of the fruit has also been shown to exhibit anti-inflammatory effect and anti-pyretic effect. Kushmanda is recommended in Ayurveda during a high fever, as it can lower down body temperature and also kindle the digestive fire.
The whole fruit extract was shown to be effective in the prevention of paracetamol-induced nephrotoxicity.
Winter Melon seed – Health and Nutrition
Many researches have been conducted to show the nutritive and medicinal values of these seeds.
- Studies indicated that winter melon seeds contain higher amounts of fatty acids than the fruits.
- The seeds are rich in linoleic acid omega 6.
- Also, the seeds contain significant amounts of palmitic, oleic and stearic acids.
This makes the seeds beneficial in the treatment of cardiovascular disorders and prevention of cancer due to the high content of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids.
Also studies were conducted in Malaysia to detect tocochromanols content in winter melon seeds. It was found that seeds contain a high concentration of Vitamin E in the form of beta tocopherols (highest), gamma, and alpha tocopherols. Tocopherols are important antioxidants and prevent cardiovascular diseases and strokes.
The seeds were found to have total phenolic acids higher than extra virgin olive oil.
Winter Melon – Modes of consumption
Winter Melon soup is one of the popular dishes in Chinese cuisine. Here large chunks of the winter melon fruit are added to the soups and stews. The pulp of the fruit is widely utilized in desserts, jams, cakes, and often juiced as well. It can also be stir-fried and parboiled along with herbs and spices. Similar to cucumber, it is also consumed raw in salads, pickled, and also added to snacks.
In Ayurveda, it is recommended that the fruit should be consumed raw as a juice or in salads when it is being used for medicinal purposes. The raw fruit is considered to carry high vital force.
The Pharmacological Importance of Benincasa hispida. A review