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Bitter Melon Leaves
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Bitter melon leaves are medium in size, averaging 4-12 centimeters wide, and are made up of 3-6 veined lobes with jagged edges. The tender leaves are bright green to light green and are soft and pliable. Bitter melon leaves grow on an herbaceous vine and are attached to the vine with long and thin stems. The vine is also known for its melons and can grow up to five meters. The entire bitter melon plant, including the leaves, are bitter in flavor.
Bitter melon leaves are available year-round.
Bitter melon leaves, botanically classified as Momordica charantia, are members of the Cucurbitaceae family. Also known as Karela, Bitter melon leaves are most commonly used today for medicinal purposes. Both the fruit and the leaves are extremely popular in Asia, and the leaves are used as a daily health tea. The well-known bitter taste of the plant comes from its high content of quinine. Bitter melon’s Latin name, Momordica, also translates as “to bite” and is in reference to the shape of the leaves which look as if they have been bitten.
Bitter melon leaves are a good source of vitamin A and also contain vitamin C and iron.
Bitter melon leaves are best suited for cooked applications such as boiling, stewing, and sautéing. The leaves and the attached tendrils are most commonly served cooked as the heat will slightly lessen the bitterness of the greens. When cooking with other ingredients, be sure to add the Bitter melon leaves last to prevent an overly bitter flavor from taking over the dish. In the Philippines, the leaves are commonly served with rice and mung beans in a dish known as ginisang monggo. Bitter melon leaves can be used in curries, stir-fries, and soups. The leaves can also be used to make tea and beer. Younger leaves, which have a milder flavor and delicate texture can be used in salads. Bitter melon leaves will last for a couple of days when stored fresh in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.
Bitter melon fruits and leaves have long been used in the Amazon for their medicinal properties. In Peru, the leaves are used as an anti-viral aid to help reduce symptoms of measles and malaria. In Nicaragua, Bitter melon leaves are also used to help reduce symptoms of diabetes, hypertension, and to aid in childbirth. Bitter melon leaves are typically dried and used as a tea or ground into a paste when used as a medicinal aid.
Originally native to India, the bitter melon vine made its way to China in the early 1400’s and was eventually spread to Brazil and the Amazon. Bitter melon plants thrive in tropical regions, and the leaves are found in local markets and on online retailers in Asia, Southeast Asia, the Americas, East Africa, and the Caribbean.
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