Bitter Melon: Ornamental Vine & Edible Fruit

Bitter melon vine, showing flower.

Bitter melon vine, showing flower.

I came across this beautiful vine covering a chain link fence recently. The fence itself was almost completely obscured, which is a good thing in my books. (Practical as they are, banishing chain link fences would be one of my first orders as Queen of the World)

The vine leaves themselves are exquisite, finely cut in a way that William Morris—the Arts & Craft designer who took his inspiration from nature—would have loved. The leaf veins, vines and tendrils add to the pleasing array of form. Not only is the vine good at beautifully camouflaging an ugly fence, but it has smallish yellow flowers with the sweetest jasmine fragrance—swoonworthy on a summer evening.

Developing bitter melon fruit

Developing bitter melon fruit

Now you’ve heard all the praises of bitter melon as an ornamental, but the word melon probably tipped off the sharp reader that we are looking at an edible vine here. It’s a vegetable, widely used in many Asian cuisines—Bitter Melon, or in Chinese, kǔguā, from the cucurbit family. The Latin name is momordica charantia, and it’s also known also as karela, bitter squash, and balsam pear.

The fruit itself is unusually formed, full of ridges and bumps, in a cylindrical form tapering to a point, that curves somewhat when full grown. Pictured above is the very early fruit formation. A mature bitter melon fruit looks like this.

Recipes for bitter melon are varied. They can be used in stir fries, soups, and stuffed. Some of the best bitter melon recipes can be found here.
Flavour can be described as astringent, acrid, sharp, bracing, and an acquired taste. There are also  various cooking methods that cut down on the bitterness.
Full information on how to grow bitter melon can be found here.

Whether you learn to love the taste of bitter melon or not, I still think that the vine is definitely worth growing as a beautiful ornamental.

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