Bitter melon not a bitter pill

PUHI — Cristeta Salvatierra quietly picked through the heap of vegetation piled in front of her while customers browsed through Mayette Loceto’s offerings of assorted produce, fruit and handiwork at the Grove Farm Swap Meet on a recent Saturday at Puhi Park.

“She’s separating the leaves from the stems of the bitter melon,” Loceto said. “You use everything: the leaves for cooking and the stems for medicine.”

The edible fruit of the plant Momordica Charantia grows in tropical and subtropical climates, the name coming from the bitter taste of this vegetable, considered the most bitter among all edible vegetables, states the National Bitter Melon Council website.

Loceto said the bitter melon grows at their place in Wailua and she sells the fruit, one of the longer ones measuring almost six inches in length, when she makes her appearances at the various farmers markets she attends.

Reducing the bitterness of the bitter melon is a challenging culinary item, states the NBMC website. But it is possible to find exciting ways to incorporate it into various cuisine styles.

Bitter melon can be salted and rested to remove the bitterness from its flesh. Core the melon, dust generously with salt and let rest for 10 minutes before rinsing the slices and preparing as desired, the website states.

Another way to reduce the bitterness is through blanching. This is done by coring, slicing and boiling in a pan of lightly salted water for one minute before removing and dropping into iced water. This will not only remove the bitterness, it will bring out the bright green color.

Loceto said the most popular way of preparing the bitter melon leaves is to stir fry with shrimp or pork. The leaves can also be used with mungo beans, with chicken and bitter melon, or par boiled and mixed with tomatoes or patis, a fish sauce.

Bitter melon is also grown in parts of the Amazon, east Africa, the Caribbean, South America and Asia as both food and medicine.

Its applications in traditional medicine span a long list of conditions including killing bacteria, viruses, and some cancer cells, reducing inflammation and cleansing the blood.

The healing properties of bitter melon are becoming more widely accepted in the United States among natural health practitioners and some allopathic medical doctors, states the NBMC website.

Some research appropriate to our (American) contemporary moment reflects the powerful insulin-lowering effects of bitter melon, the website states. It can be a very powerful anti-diabetic.

Other studies have shown it to be an effective treatment for HIV/AIDS. Other uses include treatment for viruses, the cold and flu, cancer and tumors, high cholesterol and psoriasis.

Loceto said the stems are boiled into a tea and is good for women who have low iron levels. Salvatierra claims it also helps with arthritis.

Visit www.bittermelon.org for more information.

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