Bitter mellon (Momordica charantia) is a medicinal plant also known as papailla, balsam pear, balsamina (spanish), pomme de merveille (french), São Caetano melon, São Caetano herb (portuguese), among other popular names. It belongs to the Cucurbitaceae family.
Benefits of Bitter Melon
In the Amazon, local populations and indigenous tribes cultivate bitter melon for use as a food and medicine. Medicinally, the plant has a long history of use by Amazonian indigenous peoples. Bitter melon leaf tea is used for diabetes, expelling intestinal gases, promoting menstruation, and as an antiviral against measles, hepatitis and fever. It is used to induce abortion and as an aphrodisiac. In Mexico, all the herb is used for diabetes and dysentery, the root being a renowned aphrodisiac and stimulant.
In Brazilian herbal medicine, São Caetano melon is used to treat tumors, wounds, rheumatism, malaria, vaginal discharge, inflammation, menstrual problems, diabetes, cramps, fever, worms. Used topically for injuries, wounds and infections and internally and externally for worms and parasites. It is a topical skin remedy to treat vaginitis, hemorrhoids, scabies, rash, itching, eczema, leprosy and other skin problems.
In Peruvian natural medicine, the leaves or aerial parts of bitter melon are used to treat measles, malaria, and all types of inflammation. In Nicaragua, bitter mellon leaf is commonly used for stomach pain, diabetes, fevers, colds, coughs, headaches, malaria, skin problems, menstrual disorders, aches, high blood pressure, infections, and as an aid in childbirth.
Effects of melon for the treatment of diabetes
In several studies, at least three different groups of components found throughout bitter melon have clinically demonstrated hypoglycemia (hypoglycemic) properties or other potentially beneficial actions against diabetes mellitus. These blood sugar-lowering chemicals include a mixture of steroidal saponins known as charantines, insulin-like peptides, and alkaloids. The hypoglycemic effect is most pronounced in bitter melon fruit, where these chemicals are found in greater abundance.
Bitter melon has a number of chemicals, including triterpenes, proteins and steroids. In addition, momordin, a protein found in the plant, has shown anticancer activity against Hodgkin’s lymphoma in animals. Other proteins present in the plant, alpha-momorcharine, beta-momorcharine and cucurbitacin B, were tested for possible anticancer effects.
A chemical analog of these proteins was developed and patented as “MAP-30”, as studies have shown the ability to inhibit the growth of prostate tumors. Two of these proteins, alpha and beta-momorcharine, have also been successful in inhibiting the HIV virus. In the study, infected cells treated with alpha and beta-momorcharine showed an almost complete loss of viral antigens, while healthy cells remained largely unchanged. The inventor of “MAP-30” filed another patent which stated that it was useful for the treatment of tumors and HIV infections.
Contraindications and side effects of bitter melon
Bitter melon lowers blood sugar levels and has abortifacient and contraceptive effects.
History and curiosities
Bitter melon grows in tropical areas, including parts of the Amazon, East Africa, Asia and the Caribbean, and is grown throughout South America for use in food or medicine. Momordica charantia is a climbing plant, sourced from southern China and eastern India. Its fruit is oblong green when young and changes to an orange color when ripe. The leaves are membranous, hairy, lobed with five to seven lobes and smooth.
Latin bitten means bite, a reference to the edges of the leaf of this plant, which looks like it was bitten. Momordica charantia is part of the National List of Medicinal Plants of Interest to SUS (RENISUS), consisting of plant species with the potential to advance in the stages of the production chain and to generate products of interest to the Brazil Ministry of Health.