The ampalaya plant is abundant in regions of Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and South America. In the United States, it is known as bitter melon, a medicinal herb with a multitude of uses.
Characteristics of the Ampalaya Plant
The ampalaya plant is a tropical plant with slim, climbing vines and long flowering stalks, which appear in July or August. The fruit of these vines emerge in September or October and are long and bumpy, similar to zucchini squash or cucumber. The plant itself is green at first, but becomes yellowish orange when ripe. All parts of the ampalaya plant are utilized for medicinal purposes, including the vines, seeds, stalks and fruit, though the fruit is the most popular part of the plant.
Health Benefits of the Ampalaya Plant
Key compounds in the ampalaya plant give it its medicinal value. Since the 1940s, research conducted all over the world has supported the historical theories regarding the ampalaya plant's health benefits. The major compounds in the fruit of the ampalaya plant are peptides, charantin, vicine and polypeptide-p, which give the herb its potency. The health benefits associated with the plant include:
- Antiviral properties--which help fend off illness and fight existing ailments.
- Vitamin B--which is beneficial for cardiovascular health, metabolic function, to prevent depression, encouraging skin and muscle tone, and boosting the immune and nervous systems.
- Iron--a crucial element, important in the development of red blood cells, which disperse oxygen throughout the body.
- Beta carotene--an essential nutrient for health.
- Calcium--which is vital to bone health.
- Phosphorus--necessary nutrient present in bones and teeth and required by every cell in the body for natural functioning.
How is the Ampalaya Plant Used?
Natural healers in Asia have made use of the ampalaya plant by boiling, chopping, and grinding the fruit, extracting the vital nutrients to make beverages. Today, the herb is available in various supplemental forms, such as teas and capsules. Added to dishes, the taste is bitter, though the benefits are many. As a supplement, the plant is marketed as "bitter melon," often sold in Asian grocery stores and used for the following purposes:
- Type 2 diabetes--the plant contains several compounds that are thought to significantly lower blood sugar levels in the body, though these effects are not scientifically proven.
- Infections--thought to aid the immune system, helping the body ward off infection, the plant is used to heal various infections in the body.
- Hemorrhoids--in India the plant is used for hemorrhoids and skin ailments as well as fever and abdominal discomfort.
- HIV--in conjunction with AIDS medicines, bitter melon is used to inhibit infection.
- Herpes--the antiviral properties make bitter melon a proper treatment for herpes.
- Psoriasis--bitter melon is thought to hinder the enzymes responsible for psoriasis.
Bitter Melon Side Effects and Safety
While bitter melon is considered safe for supplemental use, side effects may occur in some individuals. Stomach pain and diarrhea may occur with consumption. Interactions are also possible, especially among those taking medications for diabetes. Talk to your doctor about the safety of the ampalaya plant and its various uses before experimenting with the herb. .