Cerasee (Momordica charantia)is a plant with medicinal and culinary uses. It's best known as bitter melon or bitter gourd and is popular in Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine. The leaves, vine, fruit, and seeds of the plant are edible, if not palatable. Cerasee is not as well-known in the United States as other herbs, but it's gaining popularity.
Cerasee Herb Properties
Cerasee is native to tropical climates in Asia, South Africa, and the Caribbean. Cerasee is a vine. It wraps its tendrils around anything available, such as fences, signs, mailboxes, or even other plants. Cerasee produces yellow flowers and green fruits, also called cerasee gourds, that resemble bumpy cucumbers. Cerasee fruit is extremely bitter.
In many places, cerasee grows wild, but it thrives in almost any hot and humid environment. Since it's a vine, it needs something to cling to, such as a trellis or pergola. You can use the seeds from cerasee fruit to grow new plants. You can sow cerasee in the ground or in pots.
According to Balcony Garden Web, cerasee requires full sun and prefers sandy, loam soil. It won't wither in a short drought, but it does well with regular watering. You should harvest cerasee fruit when they are green, unripe, and three to six inches long.
You may dry cerasee fruit, leaves and vines. Methods of drying herbs are air drying, oven drying, and sun drying.
Uses of Cerasee Herb
In the natural medicine world, cerasee is a medicinal powerhouse. It contains a protein known as MAP30, which has antitumor and antiviral abilities. Cerasee is used as a general health herb. It's also used to treat specific conditions such as diabetes, ulcers, and cancer. Here's what some of the research says:
- Diabetes: According to a 2013 review, research shows bitter melon improves glucose tolerance. In some cases, it may lower blood sugar as well as some medications. Most studies to date are flawed due to small sample size and lack of controls. More scientifically controlled studies on humans are needed before bitter melon can become a mainstream treatment for diabetes.
- Ulcers: A review published in the International Journal of Microbiology shows whole powdered cerasee plant treats leprous ulcers and hard-to-heal ulcers. An ointment made from powdered cerasee, cinnamon, long pepper rice, and chaulmugra oil is used to treat malignant ulcers. Cerasee fruit extract has shown antiulcer activity in rats against ulcers caused by aspirin, stress, and pylorus ligation.
- Cancer: Studies show cerasee has exciting cancer-treating potential. According to the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, cerasee fruit extracts "were shown to kill leukemia cells in the laboratory and slow the growth of breast cancer in mice..." Research also showed the herb slows the progression of prostate cancer in mice. Much more research is needed on humans to consider cerasee a primary or adjuvant cancer treatment.
- HIV infection: Cerasee's antiviral abilities may help treat HIV infection. It's used alone or with other HIV drugs. Older research suggests cerasee decoction improves T-cell counts, but new research is lacking. Most success stories are anecdotal.
Research is limited on cerasee for other conditions it's used to treat such as:
- Kidney stones
- High cholesterol
- Psoriasis or other skin disorders
- Respiratory problems
- H. pylori infection
How to Take
Dried, fresh, or powdered cerasee leaves, vines, and fruit may be consumed as tea or in tinctures and infusions. If you enjoy bitter foods, you may eat cerasee fruit raw, stir-fried in oil, steamed, boiled, or baked. It's also found in some curries.
To make cerasee tea, pour one cup boiling water over a cerasee tea bag or one teaspoon dried cerasee; steep the tea for ten minutes, and strain. The bitter taste of cerasee tea may be difficult to get used to. To make the tea more palatable, add honey or your favorite sweetener. Many people cannot tolerate the bitterness of cerasee tea or cerasee fruit tea. If you want to try it, start slow and give your palate time to adjust.
According to Dr. Terry Hudson, Naturopathic Physician, the best dose of cerasee is unclear. Standardized extract dosing is 200 to 300 mg, three times daily. The following doses have been used in research:
- Powdered dried fruit: 3 to 15 grams daily
- Fresh juice: 50 to 100 ml daily
- Aqueous decoction: 100 to 200 ml daily
Doses up to 100 ml daily or 900 mg of bitter melon fruit have been studied for diabetes
Unless you live in an area where cerasee grows wild, it may be hard to find the fresh herb. You can find dried cerasee, cerasee tea, powdered cerasee, and cerasee supplements in many natural health stores or online. You'll find many cerasee products sold under its more familiar name, bitter melon. Here are some options:
- Bitter Melon Powder: Starwest Botanicals sells one pound of bitter melon powder for about $28 plus shipping.
- Bitter Melon Extract: If you prefer to use liquid extracts, Hawaiian Pharm offers four ounces of bitter melon extract made from certified organic bitter melon fruit for around $20 plus shipping.
- Cerasee Tea: Enjoy a "cuppa" cerasee tea with these teabags from Caribbean Dreams. A box of 24 tea bags costs about $6.50 plus shipping.
- Dried cerasee: PureLife Herbs offers 1.2 ounces of dried, loose-leaf cerasee for around $6.50 plus shipping.
- Cerasee seeds: If you'd like to grow your own cerasee, Caribbean Garden sells seeds to get your started. The cost is about $5.50 plus shipping.
- Bitter Melon Supplement: Taking cerasee in capsule form may be easier to stomach than cerasee tea. You can buy 60 organic, vegetarian, bitter melon capsules for around $8.50 plus shipping.
Side Effects and Precautions
According to Drugs.com, cerasee is "relatively safe," when taken in low doses for up to four weeks. No serious adverse effects have been reported for adults taking a standard oral does of 50 ml. People with liver problems should use cerasee with caution since it increases liver enzymes in some people.
WebMD lists these potential additional side effects and precautions:
- May cause abdominal pain, headache, and diarrhea.
- May cause bleeding or abortion. It may also impact fertility. Do not use if you're pregnant or plan to become pregnant.
- May lower blood sugar. Do not use unless under the supervision of a doctor if you have diabetes, hypoglycemia or take drugs for those conditions. Taking cerasee with drugs that lower blood sugar may cause a life-threatening blood sugar drop. You should avoid cerasee for two weeks prior to having surgery.
- To avoid a condition known as "favism," do not eat cerasee fruit seeds if you have G6PD deficiency. Favism is a condition caused by fava beans that may cause anemia, headaches, fever, stomach pain, and coma. Fava beans and ceressa fruit seeds share similar chemicals.
- Two cases of hypoglycemia coma have been reported in children. Children should not use the herb unless under the supervision of a doctor or trained natural health practitioner.
A Promising Culinary and Medicinal Herb
There's good reason some researchers called cerasee a "cornucopia of health." It has over 20 active components that help support its effects against major illnesses such as diabetes, cancer, and HIV infection. More studies are needed to prove scientifically what natural medicine experts have claimed for centuries--that cerasee is good for almost anything that ails you. To avoid potentially dangerous drug interactions or side effects, talk to your doctor or a natural health practitioner before using cerasee if you have diabetes or another medical condition.