Bitter melon is a plant that is grown in tropical areas, like the Amazon, Asia and the Caribbean as a food and medicine. It's a slender, climbing vine with a fruit that looks like a warty cucumber. Its Latin name Momordica means "to bite", because the jagged edges of its leaves appear as if they have been bitten. Everything in the Momordica plant, especially the fruit, taste extremely bitter.
Medicinally, the plant has long been used by the indigenous peoples of the Amazon to treat diabetes, intestinal gas, as an antiviral for measles and hepatitis. It promotes menstruation and is also used to topically treat sores, eczema, leprosy and large wounds. It is used by tribesmen to heal hypertension, malaria, fevers and headaches. Taken internally, it is effective in expelling worms and parasites in adults and children
In numerous modern studies, all parts of the plant have been found to clinically demonstrate hypoglycemic (blood sugar lowering) properties and other beneficial properties against diabetes mellitus. The fruit's extract has shown the ability to enhance the body's glucose uptake and promotes insulin release.
In other in vivo studies, the fruit and seed have been shown to reduce total cholesterol by significant amounts. Other in vitro studies have also demonstrated the anti-cancerous and anti-leukemic properties of bitter melon against liver cancer, leukemia and melanoma.
Bitter melon is also effective against numerous viruses, including the Epstein-Barr, herpes and HIV viruses. In one study, a leaf extract increased the resistance to viral infections while also increasing the abilities of our natural killer cells. In addition, the fruit and fruit juice have shown strong antibacterial properties, especially against E.Coli.
However, when extracts are injected intravenously in lab rats, bitter melon proves to be toxic and poisonous. The seeds of the fruit also have the ability to induce abortions in mice, as well as anti-fertility properties in female animals. It also produced sperm infertility in male animals.
Bitter melon has also been traditionally used to lessen uterine activity; therefore, it should not be used by pregnant women or breastfeeding mothers.
Though bitter melon can lower blood sugar levels, it should not be used by persons with hypoglycemia. Even diabetics planning to take bitter melon supplements should check with their physicians first and always monitor their blood sugar levels because they may need to change their insulin medications.
Today, bitter melon capsules and teas have become more widely available in the Western world. Concentrated fruit extracts are now available in capsule form, as well as in powders and tinctures. It is also a suggested complementary treatment for diabetes, viruses, colds and flu, high cholesterol, psoriasis and certain cancers.
The traditional method of making bitter herb tea is as follows: One cup of a standard leaf decoction taken two times daily, or 1-3 ml of tincture taken twice daily.
The traditional South American remedy and the most potent way of using bitter melon for diabetes is to extract the juice of a fresh bitter melon fruit to be drank twice daily on an empty stomach. For seed or fruit extracts in capsules, make sure to follow the instructions on the label.