The family Cucurbitaceae includes a large group of plants which are medicinally valuable. The important genera belonging to the family are Trichosanthes, Lagenaria, Luffa, Benincasa, Momordica, Cucumis, Citrullus, Cucurbita, Bryonopsis and Corallocarpus. The medicinally valuable species of these genera are discussed below.
1. Trichosanthes dioica Roxb.
Eng: Wild Snake-gourd; San: Meki,Pargavi, Parvara, Patola;
Hin: Palval, Parvar
Mal: Kattupatavalam, Patolam;
Wild snake-gourd is a slender-stemmed, extensively climbing, more or less scabrous and woolly herb found throughout the plains of N. India, extending to Assam and W. Bengal. Tendrils are 2-4 fid. Leaves are 7.5x5cm in size, ovate-oblong, cordate, acute, sinuate- dentate, not lobed, rigid, rough on both surface and with a petiole of 2cm. Flowers are unisexual. Male flowers are not racemed but woolly outside. Calyx tube is 4.5cm long, narrow, teeth linear and erect. Anthers are free. Fruit is 5.9cm long, oblong or nearly spherical, acute, smooth and orange-red when ripe. Seeds are half-ellipsoid, compressed and corrugated on the margin (Kirtikar and Basu, 1988). The unripe fruit of this is generally used as a culinary vegetable and is considered very wholesome and specially suited for the convalescent. The tender shoots are given in decoction with sugar to assist digestion. The seeds are useful for disorders of the stomach. The leaf juice is rubbed over the chest in liver congestion and over the whole body in intermittent fevers (Nadkarni, 1998). The fruit is used as a remedy for spermatorrhoea. The fresh juice of the unripe fruit is often used as a cooling and laxative adjunct to some alterative medicines. In bilious fever, a decoction of patola leaves and coriander in equal parts is given. The fruit in combination with other drugs is prescribed in snakebite and scorpion sting (Kirtikar and Basu, 1988).
Fruits contain free amino acids and 5-hydroxy tryptamine. Fatty acids from seeds comprise elaeostearic, linoelic, oleic and saturated acids. The aerial part is hypoglycaemic. Leaf and root is febrifuge. Root is hydragogue, cathartic and tonic. Unripe leaf and fruit is laxative (Husain et al, 1992). The plant is alterative and tonic. Leaves are anthelmintic. Flower is tonic and aphrodisiac. The ripe fruit is sour to sweet, tonic, aphrodisiac, expectorant and removes blood impurities.
The other important species belonging to the genus Trichosanthes are as follows.
T. palmata Roxb. T. cordata Roxb. T. nervifolia Linn.
T. cucumerina Linn.
T. anguina Linn.
T. wallichiana Wight. syn. T. multiloba Clarke
2. Lagenaria vulgaris Ser. syn. Cucurbita Lagenaria Linn. ; Roxb.
Eng: Bottle gourd San: Alabu Hin: Lauki, Jangli-khaddu
Ben: Lau, Kodu
Mal: Katuchuram, Churakka
Bottle gourd is a large softly pubescent climbing or trailing herb which is said to be indigenous in India, the Molucas and in Abyssinia. It has stout 5-angled stems with bifid tendrils. Leaves are ovate or orbiculate, cordate, dentate, 5-angular or 5-lobed, hairy on both surfaces. Flowers are large, white, solitary, unisexual or bisexual, the males long and females short peduncled. Ovary is oblong, softly pubescent with short style and many ovules. Fruits are large, usually bottle or dumb-bell-shaped, indehiscent and polymorphous. Seeds are many, white, horizontal, compressed, with a marginal groove and smooth. There are sweet fruited and bitter-fruited varieties (Kirtikar and Basu, 1988). The fruit contains a thick white pulp which, in the cultivated variety (kodu) is sweet and edible, while in the smaller wild variety (tamri) it is bitter and a powerful purgative. The seeds yield clear limpid oil which is cooling and is applied to relieve headache. The pulp of the cultivated forms is employed as and adjunct to purgatives and considered cool, diuretic and antibilious, useful in cough, and as an antidote to certain poisons. Externally it is applied as a poultice. The leaves are purgative and recommended to be taken in the form of decoction for jaundice (Nadkarni, 1998). In the case of sweet-fruited variety, the stem is laxative and sweet. The fruit is sweet oleagenous, cardiotonic, general tonic, aphrodisiac, laxative and cooling. In the case of bitter-fruited variety, the leaves are diuretic, antibilious; useful in leucorrhoea, vaginal and uterine complaints and earache. The fruit is bitter, hot, pungent, emetic, cooling, cardiotonic, antibilious; cures asthma, vata, bronchitis, inflammations ulcers and pains.
3. Luffa acutangula (Linn.) Roxb.
Eng: Ridged gourd; San: Dharmargavah, Svadukosataki;
Hin: Tori, Katitori;
Mal: Peechil, Peechinga;
Tam: Pikangai, Prikkangai;
Ridged gourd or ribbed gourd is a large monoecious climber cultivated throughout India. It is with 5-angled glabrous stems and trifid tendrils. Leaves are orbicular-cordate, palmately 5-7 lobed, scabrous on both sides with prominent veins and veinlets. Flowers are yellow, males arranged in 12-20 flowered axillary racemes. Female flowers are solitary, arranged in the axils of the males. Ovary is strongly ribbed. Fruits are oblong-clavate with 10-sharp angles 15-30cm long, tapering towards the base. Seeds are black, ovoid-oblong, much compressed and not winged (Warrier et al, 1995). The leaves are used in haemorrhoids, leprosy, granular-conjunctivitis and ringworm. The seeds are useful in dermatopathy. The juice of the fresh leaves is dropped into the eyes of children in granular conjunctivitis, also to prevent the lids from adhering at night on account of excessive meihomian secretion (Nadkarni, 1998). Fruits are demulcent, diuretic, tonic, expectorant, laxative and nutritive. The seeds are bitter, emetic, cathartic, expectorant and purgative.
The other important species of the genus Luffa are:
L. aegyptiaca Mill.
L. acutangula var. amara Clarke
L. echinata Roxb.
4. Benincasa hispida (Thumb.) Cogn. syn. B. cerifera Savi.
Eng: Ash gourd, White gourd melon; San: Kusmandah;
Hin: Petha, Raksa;
Kan: Bile Kumbala;
Ash gourd or White gourd melon is a large trailing gourd climbing by means of tendrils which is widely cultivated in tropical Asia. Leaves are large and hispid beneath. Flowers are yellow, unisexual with male peduncle 7.5-10cm long and female peduncle shorter. Fruits are broadly cylindric, 30-45cm long, hairy throughout and ultimately covered with a waxy bloom. The fruits are useful in asthma, cough, diabetes, haemoptysis, hemorrhages from internal organs, epilepsy, fever and vitiated conditions of pitta. The seeds are useful in dry cough, fever, urethrorrhea, syphilis, hyperdipsia and vitiated conditions of pitta (Warrier et al,1993). It is a rejuvenative drug capable of improving intellect and physical strength. In Ayurveda, the fresh juice of the fruit is administered as a specific in haemoptysis and other haemorrhages from internal organs. The fruit is useful in insanity, epilepsy and other nervous diseases, burning sensation, diabetes, piles and dyspepsia. It is a good antidote for many kinds of vegetable, mercurial and alcoholic poisoning. It is also administered in cough, asthma or respiratory diseases, heart diseases and catarrah. Seeds are useful in expelling tapeworms and curing difficult urination and bladder stones. The important formulations using the drug are Kusmandarasayana, Himasagarataila, Dhatryadighrita, Vastyamantakaghrita, Mahaukusmandakaghrita, etc. (Sivarajan et al, 1994).
Fruits contain lupeol, -sitosterol, n-triacontanol, vitamin B, mannitol and amino acids. The fruit is alterative, laxative, diuretic, tonic, aphrodisiac and antiperiodic. Seed and oil from seed is anthelmintic (Husain et al, 1992).
5. Momordica charantia Linn.
Eng: Bitter gourd, Carilla fruit San: Karavellam
Hin: Karela, Kareli
Mal: Kaypa, Paval
Tam: Pavakkai, Paval, Pakar
Bitter gourd or Carilla fruit is a branched climbing annual which is cultivated throughout India. It is a monoecious plant with angled and grooved stems and hairy or villous young parts. Tendrils are simple, slender and elongate. Leaves are simple, orbicular, cordate and deeply divided into 5-7 lobes. Flowers are unisexual, yellow and arranged on 5-10cm long peduncles. Fruits are 5-15cm long with 3-valved capsules, pendulous, fusiform, ribbed and beaked bearing numerous triangular tubercles. Seeds are many or few with shining sculptured surface. The roots are useful in coloptosis and ophthalmopathy. The leaves are useful in vitiated conditions of pita, helminthiasis, constipation, intermittent fever, burning sensation of the sole and nyctalopia. The fruits are useful in skin diseases, leprosy, ulcers, wounds, burning sensation, constipation, anorexia, flatulence, colic, helminthiasis, rheumatalgia, gout, diabetes, asthma, cough, dysmenorrhoea, impurity of breast milk, fever and debility. Seeds are useful in the treatment of ulcers, pharyngodynia, and obstructions of the liver and spleen. The leaves and fruits are used for external application in lumbago, ulceration and bone fractures and internally in leprosy, haemorrhoids and jaundice (Warrier et al, 1995). The drug improves digestion, calms down sexual urge, quells diseases due to pitta and kapha and cures anaemia, anorexia, leprosy, ulcers, jaundice, flatulence and piles. Fruit is useful in gout, rheumatism and complaints of liver and spleen (Nadkarni, 1954; Aiyer and Kolammal, 1966; Mooss, 1976; Kurup et al, 1979). Kaccoradi taila is an important preparation using the drug (Sivarajan et al, 1994).
The seeds give triterpene glycosides, named momordicosides A, B, C, D and E, which are glycosides of cucurbit-5-en-triol, tetraol or pentaol. Leaves and vines give tetracyclic triterpenes-momordicines I, II and III (bitter principles). Immature fruits give several non-bitter and 2 bitter cucurbitacin glycosides. Four of the non-bitter glycosides, momordicosides F1, F2, G and I and the bitter momordicosides; K and L have also been characterized. Fruits, seeds and tissue culture give a polypeptide which contained 17 types of amino acids and showed hypoglycaemic activity. Fruits also give 5-hydroxy tryptamine and a neutral compound charantin (a steroidal glucoside), diosgenin, cholesterol, lanosterol and -sitosterol. Leaf is emetic, purgative and antibilious. Fruit is stomachic, tonic, carminative, febrifuge, antirheumatic and hypoglycaemic. Root is astringent. Fruit and leaf is anti-leprotic. Fruit, leaf and root are abortifacient and anti-diabetic. Leaf and seed is anthelmintic. Seed oil possesses antifeeding and insecticidal properties. Unsaponifiable matter from seed oil exhibited pronounced inhibitory activity against gram negative bacteria. Seed and fruit are hypoglycaemic, cytotoxic and anti-feedant (Husain et al, 1992).
Other important species belonging to the genus Momordica are as follows.
M. dioica Roxb.
M. cochinchinensis Spreng.
M. tuberosa Cogn.
M. balsamina Linn.
6. Cucumis melo Linn. syn. C. melo Linn. var. cultis Kurz., C. pubescens
Willd., C. callosus (Rottl.) Cogn.
Eng: Sweet melon San,
Tam: Chukkari-kai, Thumatti-kai, Mulampazham
Tel: Kharbuja-doshavSweet melon is a creeping annual extensively cultivated throughout India, found wild in India, Baluchistan and tropical Africa. The stem is creeping, angular and scabrous. Leaves are orbicular-reniform in outline, 5-angled or lobed, scabrous on both surfaces and often with soft hairs. Lobes of leaves are not very deep nor acute and with 5cm long petiole. Female peduncle is 5cm. Fruit is spherical, ovoid, elongate or contorted, glabrous or somewhat hairy, not spinous nor tuberculate.
Cucumis melo includes two varieties, namely,
C. melo var. momordica syn. C. momordica Roxb.
C. melo var. utilissimus Duthie & Fuller. syn. C. utilissimus Roxb.
The fruit is eaten raw and cooked. Its pulp forms a nutritive, demulcent, diuretic and cooling drink. It is beneficial as a lotion in chronic and acute eczema as well as tan and freckles and internally in cases of dyspepsia. Pulp mixed with cumin seeds and sugar candy is a cool diet in hot season. Seeds yield sweet edible oil which is nutritive and diuretic, useful in painful discharge and suppression of urine. The whole fruit is useful in chronic eczema (Kirtikar & Basu, 1988).
Seeds contain fatty acids-myristic, palmitic, oleic, linoleic; asparagine, glutamine, citrulline, lysine, histidine, arginine, phenylalanine, valine, tyrosine, leucine, iso-leucine, methionine, proline, threonine, tryptophan and crystine. Seed is tonic, lachrymatory, diuretic and urease inhibitor. Fruit pulp is eczemic. Fruit is tonic, laxative, galactagogue, diuretic and diaphoretic. The rind is vulnerary (Husain et al, 1992).
7. Cucumic sativus Linn.
Eng: Cucumber, Common cucumber; San: Trapusah;
Tam: Vellarikkai, Pippinkai;
Cucumber is a climbing annual which is cultivated throughout India, found wild in the Himalayas from Kumaon to Sikkim. It is a hispidly hairy trailing or climbing annual. Leaves are simple, alternate, deeply cordate, 3-5 lobed with both surfaces hairy and denticulate margins. Flowers are yellow, males clustered, bearing cohering anthers, connective crusted or elevated above the cells. Females are solitary and thickly covered with very bulbous based hairs. Fruits are cylindrical pepo of varying sizes and forms. Seeds are cream or white with hard and smooth testa. The fruits are useful in vitiated conditions of pitta, hyperdipsia, burning sensation, thermoplegia, fever, insomnia, cephalgia, bronchitis, jaundice, haemorrhages, strangury and general debility. The seeds are useful in burning sensation, pitta, constipation, intermittent fevers, strangury, renal calculus, urodynia and general debility (Warrier et al, 1994). The leaves boiled and mixed with cumin seeds, roasted, powdered and administered in throat affections. Powdered and mixed with sugar, they are powerful diuretic (Nadkarni, 1998). The fruits and seeds are sweet, refrigerant, haemostatic, diuretic and tonic. Other important species belonging to the genus are:
C. trigonus Roxb. syn. C. pseudo-colocynthis
C. prophetarum Linn.
8. Citrullus colocynthis (Linn.) Schrader. syn. Cucumis colocynthis Linn.
Eng: Colocynth, Bitter apple; San: Visala, Mahendravaruni;
Hin: Badi indrayan, Makkal
Mal: Kattuvellari (Valutu), Valiya pekkummatti;
Tam: Paitummatti, Petummatti;
Colocynth or Bitter apple is found, cultivated and wild, throughout India in warmer areas. It is an extensively trailing annual herb with bifid tendrils angular branching stems and wooly tender shoots. Leaves are deeply divided, lobes narrow thick, glabrous or somewhat hairy. Flowers are unisexual, yellow, both males and females solitary and with pale-yellow corolla. Fruit is a globose or oblong fleshy indehiscent berry, 5-7.5cm in diameter and variegated with green and white. Seeds are pale brown. The fruits are useful in tumours, ascites, leucoderma, ulcers, asthma, bronchitis, urethrorrhea, jaundice, dyspepsia, constipations, elephantiasis, tubercular glands of the neck and splenomegaly (Warrier et al, 1994). It is useful in abnormal presentations of the foetus and in atrophy of the foetus. In addition to the above properties, the root has a beneficial action in inflammation of the breasts, pain in the joints; externally it is used in ophthalmia and in uterine pains. The fruit and root, with or without is rubbed into a paste with water and applied to boils and pimples. In rheumatism, equal parts of the root and long pepper are given in pill. A paste of the root is applied to the enlarged abdomen of children (Kirtikar and Basu, 1988). The fruit is useful in ascites, biliousness, jaundice, cerebral congestion, colic, constipation dropsy, fever, worms and sciatica. Root is given in cases of abdominal enlargement, cough, asthma, inflammation of the breast, ulcers, urinary diseases and rheumatism. Oil from seeds is used for poisonous bites, bowel complaints, epilepsy and also for blackening the hair (Nadkarni, 1954; Dey, 1980). The important formulations using the root and fruit are Abhayarista, Mahatiktakam kasaya, Manasamitravatakam, Cavikasava, Madhuyastyadi taila, etc. (Sivarajan et al, 1994). The powder is often used as an insecticide. The extract should never be given without some aromatic to correct its griping tendency (Nadkarni, 1998).
Fruit contains a glycoside- colocynthin, its aglycone- -elaterin, citrulluin, citrullene and citrullic acid. Unripe fruit contains p-hydroxy benzyl methyl ester. Roots contain – elaterin and hentriacontane (Husain et al, 1992). Colocynth is, in moderate doses, drastic, hydrogogue, cathartic and diuretic. In large doses, it is emetic and gastro-intestinal irritant and in small doses, it is expectorant and alterative. Colocynthin is a cathartic and intensely bitter principle. It has a purgative action. All parts of the plant are very bitter. The fruit has been described as cathartic (Nadkarni, 1982).
9. Citrullus vulgaris Schrad. syn. C. lanatus (Thunb.) Mats. & Nakai.
Eng: Water melon; San: Tarambuja;
Tam: Pitcha, Dharbusini
Watermelon is an extensively climbing annual which is largely cultivated throughout India and in all warm countries. It has thick angular branching stems. Tendrils are bifid, stout and pubescent. Leaves are long, deeply divided or moderately lobed, glabrous or somewhat hairy and hardly scabrous. Petiole is a little shorter than the limb and villous. Calyx-lobes are narrowly lanceolate, equalling the tube. Corolla is yellow within, greenish outside and villous. Lobes are ovate-oblong, obtuse and prominently 5-nerved. Fruit is sub-globose or ellipsoid, smooth, greenish or clouded, often with a glaucous waxy coating. Flesh is juicy, red or yellowish white. Seeds are usually margined. C. vulgaris var. fistulosus Duthie & Fuller. syn. C. fistulosus has its fruit about the size of small turnip, the seeds of which are used medicinally. The fruit is tasteless when unripe and sweet when ripe. The unripe fruit is used to cure jaundice. Ripe fruit cures kapha and vata and causes biliousness. It is good for sore eyes, scabies and itching. The seeds are tonic to the brain and used as a cooling medicine. An emulsion of the seeds is made into a poultice with the pounded leaves and applied hot in cases of intestinal inflammations (Kirtikar and Basu, 1988). Fruit juice is good in quenching thirst and it is used as an antiseptic in typhus fever with cumin and sugar. It is used as a cooling drink in strangury and affections of urinary organs such as gonorrhoea; in hepatic congestion and intestinal catarrh. The bitter watermelon of Sind is known as “Kirbut” and is used as a purgative.
Seeds yield a fixed oil and proteids; citrullin. Seeds are cooling, demulcent, diuretic, vermifuge and nutritive. Pulp is cooling and diuretic. Fruit-juice is cooling and refreshing (Nadkarni, 1982).
10. Curcurbita pepo Linn. syn. Pepo vulgaris et P. verrucosus Moench
Eng: Pompion, Pumpkin, Vegetable Marrow; San: Karkaru, Kurkaru, Kushmandi
Ben: Kadimah, Konda, Kumra, Safedkkadu;
Mal: Mathan, Matha
Tel: Budadegummadi, Pottigummadi
Pompion or Pumpkin is a climbing herb which is considered to be a native of America and cultivated in many parts of India. The stem and leaves are with a harsh prickly armature. Foliage is stiff, more or less rigid and erect. Leaves are with a broad triangular pointed outline and often with deep lobes. Corolla is mostly with erect or spreading (not drooping) pointed lobes, the tube narrowing towards the base. Peduncle is strongly 5-angled and little or much expanding near the fruit. The fruit is cooling and astringent to the bowels, increases appetite, cures leprosy, ‘kapha and vata’, thirst, fatigue and purifies the blood. The leaves are used to remove biliousness. Fruit is good for teeth, throat and eyes and allays thirst. Seeds cure sore chests, haemoptysis, bronchitis and fever. It is good for the kidney and brain. The leaves are used as an external application for burns. The seeds are considered anthelmintic. The seeds are largely used for flavouring certain preparations of Indian hemp, and the root for a nefarious purpose, viz., to make the preparation more potent. The seeds are taeniacide, diuretic and demulcent. The fruit is cooling, laxative and astringent. The leaves are digestible, haematinic and analgesic.
The other important species belonging to the genus Cucurbita is C. maxima Duchena, the seeds of which are a popular remedy for tape-worm and oil as a nervine tonic (Kirtikar & Basu, 1988).
11. Corallocarpus epigaeus Benth. ex Hook. f. syn. Bryonia epigaea Wight.
Mal: Kadamba, Kollankova
Tam: Akashagarudan, Gollankovai;
Tel: Murudonda, Nagadonda
Corallocarpus is a prostrate or climbing herb distributed in Punjab, Sind, Gujarat, Deccan, Karnataka and Sri Lanka. It is monoecious with large root which is turnip-shaped and slender stem which is grooved, zigzag and glabrous. Tendrils are simple, slender and glabrous. Leaves are sub-orbicular in outline, light green above and pale beneath, deeply cordate at the base, angled or more or less deeply 3-5 lobed. Petiole is long and glabrous. Male flowers are small and arranged at the tip of a straight stiff glabrous peduncle. Calyx is slightly hairy, long and rounded at the base. Corolla is long and greenish yellow. Female flowers are usually solitary with short, stout and glabrous peduncles. Fruit is stalked, long, ellipsoid or ovoid. Seeds are pyriform, turgid, brown and with a whitish corded margin. It is prescribed in later stages of dysentery and old veneral complaints. For external use in chronic rheumatism, it is made into a liniment with cumin seed, onion and castor oil. It is used in case of snakebite where it is administered internally and applied to the bitten part. The root is given in syphilitic rheumatism and later stages of dysentery. The plant is bitter, sweet, alexipharmic and emetic. The root is said to possess alterative and laxative properties (Kirtikar and Basu, 1988). Root contains a bitter principle like Breyonin (Chopra et al, 1980).
Agrotechnology: Cucurbits can be successfully grown during January-March and September- December. For the rainfed crop, sowing can also be started after the receipt of the first few showers.
Pits of 60cm diameter and 30-45cm depth are to be taken at the desired spacing. Well rotten FYM or vegetable mixture is to be mixed with topsoil in the pit and seeds are to be sown at 4-5/pit. Unhealthy plants are to be removed after 2 weeks and retained 2-3 plants/pit. FYM is to be applied at 20-25t/ha as basal dose along with half dose of N (35kg/ha) and full dose of P (25kg) and K (25kg). The remaining dose of N (35kg) can be applied in 2 equal split doses at fortnightly intervals. During the initial stages of growth, irrigation is to be given at an interval of 3-4 days and at alternate days during flowering and fruiting periods. For trailing cucumber, pumpkin and melon, dried twigs are to be spread on the ground. Bitter gourd, bottle gourd, snake gourd and ash gourd are to be trailed on Pandals. Weeding and raking of the soil are to be conducted at the time of fertilizer application. Earthing up may be done during rainy season. The most dreaded pest of cucurbits is fruit flies which can be controlled by using fruit traps, covering the fruits with polythene, cloth or paper bags, removal and destruction of affected fruits and lastly spraying with Carbaryl or Malathion 0. 2% suspension containing sugar or jaggery at 10g/l at fortnightly intervals after fruit set initiation. During rainy season, downy mildew and mosaic diseases are severe in cucurbits. The former can be checked by spraying Mancozeb 0.2%. The spread of mosaic can be checked by controlling the vectors using Dimethoate or Phosphamidon 0.05% and destruction of affected plants and collateral hosts. Harvesting to be done at least 10 days after insecticide or fungicide application (KAU,1996).