Bitter melon - some questions

dancinglemons(7B VA)February 11, 2008


I have decided to grow bitter melon this year. I understand the seeds are difficult to start but I am up for that challenge. The one I am going to grow is small & round and turns from green to orange. According to the seed catalog it will pop open when ripe if not taken off the vine. The catalog also says the melon is very bitter BUT the seeds inside are red and taste like cherry candy. Please let me know if this is true. Thanks.


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zeedman Zone 5 Wisconsin

"The one I am going to grow is small & round and turns from green to orange."

That seems to be the description for Balsam Apple (Momordica balsamina), which is smaller & less elongated (and much more bitter) than the larger, closely related Balsam Pear or Bitter Melon (Momordica charantia). Both appear similar when ripe. There are, however, shorter-fruited varieties of Bitter Melon, often top-shaped.

The seeds are easier to start if you nick the seed coat prior to planting. This should be done carefully, on the edge of the seed - you don't want to go too deep, or too wide. I use sandpaper because it's easy to control the depth of the cut, but you can also use a small file, or nick them gently with a knife (wear gloves!). DO NOT damage the pointed end. The nicked seed, in my experience, has about 50% better germination.

Germination can be erratic, especially with older seed... so you might want to over-plant to get a good stand. I generally start twice as many seeds as I need. Unless your soil is very warm, you might want to start them in Jiffy strips (or pots) indoors. Most of the seeds will germinate in 7-10 days at 80 degrees F., but if planted in cooler soil, this could take longer. Put the seedlings outside, or in a sunny South-facing window, as soon as they emerge.

The foliage has a pleasant tomato-like scent when brushed. Anticipate very large, heavily-branched vines. These plants are 24" apart in the row, on a 6-foot trellis.

Bitter melon can make a good arbor cover, or privacy screen. I plant it on the outside of the garden for a windbreak.

You are intending to grow yardlong beans as well; I recommend a 6-foot trellis for both.

Bitter Melon is usually harvested as a vegetable when full-grown, but before turning ripe. There is a wide variation in bitterness between varieties. Personally, I prefer the thicker, milder types; these generally have a fairly smooth skin.

When ripe, the bitter melons will split open to reveal the red, slimy seeds... which may drop to the ground if not harvested promptly. The red is not the seed itself, but a gelatinous sac surrounding it. The flavor of the pulp is sweet, but I didn't find it particularly pleasant.

If the variety is not a hybrid & you intend to save seed, just spread them out - with their red coating intact - on a newspaper. Once the seeds are dry, the red coating can be easily peeled away (it will stick to the paper), leaving clean seed.

    Bookmark   February 11, 2008 at 11:43PM
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dancinglemons(7B VA)


Thank you!!! WOW your melon 'wall' looks fantastic. I am almost sure the catalog said it was Momordica charantia or Siamese Bitter Cucumber. I have also decided to grow the long one called Thai Long Bitter Melon.

I do have a few questions. Are the vines invasive or do they just act like a vigorous cucumber vine? Will I be able to easily remove the vines at season end?? I have decided to make a 8 x 10 (tall x wide) trellis for the melon and another same size for the long beans. Looks like I will only have a few plants. I am so glad you posted the response before I ordered seeds as I would have ordered much to many. Is that an electric fence in front of your vines and if so why?? deer?? Again thank you VERY much for the tutorial and the photo.


    Bookmark   February 12, 2008 at 2:50AM
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zeedman Zone 5 Wisconsin

An 8-foot trellis sounds ideal - if you look at the photo above, they are still trying to reach higher! Keep in mind, though, that an 8-foot trellis covered with vines will cast a tall shadow; anything planted in its shade will receive only partial sun in late Summer. The north end of the garden would be the best location.

Be sure to use strong supports for the trellis, it will be like an 8-foot sail when covered with vines. I have had good luck with 7 1/2 foot T-posts, driven 18" down - even severe thunderstorms haven't knocked them down.

I usually plant a 25-30 foot row, so I can give a lot away to friends in the local Filipino community. It's a win-win, they appreciate my generosity, and help me plant in Spring. For your own use, a 10-foot trellis will give you more than enough.

I'm not sure what you mean by "invasive". If you did not trellis them, they would probably cover every plant within reach... but other than the fact that they are rampant & climb like crazy, they grow just like cukes, gourds, or squash. In fact, my winter squash are more invasive! Bitter melon does not re-seed in my climate.

The vines are fairly tough, however... I tried to chop a pile of them with a riding mower, and they stalled the mower! Now I just let them climb on string, and burn them string & all when the vines are dead & dry.

Yes, that is an electric fence in the photo. That garden is in a rural area, and the fence keeps out deer, raccoons, and ground hogs. It is highly effective. The only things it WON'T keep out are rabbits & birds.

    Bookmark   February 12, 2008 at 10:32PM
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They are not invasive.They do attain the height of 8 to 10 feet on trellis.If you want to remove them cut vine stems at ground level.The vines will dry in few days.Frost will kill them at the end of the season.
Ripe seeds are not edible.Tender seeds in green pods can be used in sauted vegetable preparations.

    Bookmark   February 12, 2008 at 11:17PM
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neerukat(6 PA)

Bittermelon is best used, milder and tastier when fruits are still young. Plucking amall friuts also encourages the vines to produce more.
Allowing the fruits to mature and split open while still on the vines indicates to the plant that its life cycle is over and it stops producing more fruit.
Fruits mature very rapidly hence one has to be on a constant lookout. It is better to bring overripe fruits indoors, allow them to split open and save the seeds and compost the rest - rather than allowing them to split open while still on the vine.
Fruits which are past their prime start developing yellow spines/ridges.The color quickly spread and then the whole fruit turns yellow.
They have a slow erratic germination but otherwise easy to grow. Like sandy soil and need watering only when soil surface starts to look dry.Vines are not invasive and are easy to get rid of.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2008 at 9:08AM
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zeedman Zone 5 Wisconsin

Regarding seed saving... Bitter Melon is much more forgiving than most cucurbits, probably due to the low seed yield. It has been my experience that allowing 1-2 fruit per plant to ripen had no effect on yield, as long as the soil is fairly fertile. Depending upon the variety, I get 10-40 seeds per fruit.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2008 at 4:35PM
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The uncooked unripe melon is toxic. The orange ripe melon is toxic. The ripe seeds are toxic. The COOKED unripe melon is edible, and the red arils around the seeds are edible BUT NOT THE SEEDS. You can read my blog about them called Pharmacy on a Fence at I write about the wild charantia but it applies to the cultivated ones as well.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2008 at 6:55AM
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neerukat(6 PA)

I am not so sure about that.
I did not read the blog yet but the juice of raw bitter melon of cultivated varieties is thought to contain medicinal properties.
It is recommended for consumption by diabetics and for also other illnesses since ancient times in India.It is bitter, but toxic... I doubt it. Unless we are talking about different varieties.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2008 at 9:22AM
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dancinglemons(7B VA)

OK I read the BLOG and now I think I understand. Unripe - OK to eat if cooked ?? Ripe (orange) - Poison - do not eat. Ripe red seeds - eat red seed coating but spit out actual seeds because seeds poison??

zorba_the_greek Your blog does not address cultivated bitter melon only the wild charantia. Could you please elaborate on the cultivated. I see these long bitter melons in Asian markets and they sell like hot cakes??? More info is needed if you have it please post it here.


    Bookmark   February 18, 2008 at 3:30AM
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Momordica charantia ( Bitter melon ) in powder form (capsules) is one of the herbal medicine used for managing diabetes.It is available on many online herbal shops.
Tender bitter melon fruits are used in sauted vegetable preparations.Some people use ripe fruits(seeds removed).

    Bookmark   February 18, 2008 at 9:44PM
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dancinglemons(7B VA)

Yes, I have read the info about bitter melon being a great herbal medicine for diabetes. The Vietnamese folks that run the Asian market where I shop for 'exotic' veggies only have the tender green bitter melons for sale not the orange. I will order my seeds but will do more research before actually eating.


    Bookmark   February 19, 2008 at 3:37AM
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We've grown bitter melon for ages and have eaten the green (young melon) and orange (overripe melon) and I'm still here to tell about it.
I save the orange ones for next years seeds.


    Bookmark   February 21, 2008 at 12:12PM
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piksi, you are correct , grown them , ate them, they are good pickled too.I even even eat them raw for salad.

DL you can try the website: , and it will tell you more about bitter melon.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2008 at 11:39AM
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dancinglemons(7B VA)

piksi_hk & ydur07,

Thanks so very much for your postings. I have been talking to lots of folks about these interesting plants and will surely look forward to eating them. Can't wait!!


    Bookmark   February 23, 2008 at 2:11AM
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my sister has been growing bitter melon for years, we eat them all the time, traditionally it is considered healthy eating. she usally saves the seeds,dries them out and plants them the following year.

    Bookmark   February 25, 2008 at 11:55AM
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Bitter melon is popular in China but from your description, I don't think it's the same as that in China. I wonder whether it's another kind of vegetable.

Here is a link that might be useful: madeinchina

    Bookmark   March 25, 2008 at 10:34PM
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thanks for the info, it is also my first time, well for bitter mellon, I have just planted some seeds , I did gently scrape one side of the seeds and soaked them for a day, I have each one in 4 inch pot as it will be a while before they can go outside. Sounds like i had better get them on some bottom heat tommorrow.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2008 at 12:51AM
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Great photo!

    Bookmark   July 2, 2008 at 8:51PM
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    Bookmark   March 12, 2009 at 10:50PM
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godsdog(z10 LA ss22)

The toxic plant question comes up a lot, so here is a quick explanation. Toxic does not mean lethal/ poisonous, it may just give you impressive abdomenal pain. Toxicity is related to dose per unit of body weight. A 10kg child with suffer more ill effects than a 100kg adult with the same exposure. Effects are dose related. Caffeine and strychnine are in the same family (methylxanthine). At very low dose strychnine has an effect identical to high dose caffeine. At very high dose caffeine has the 'toxic' effect of strychnine. We have become so used to the effect of caffeine that we don't call it a toxic effect, but by a strict definition it is. SO my humble advice is: 1. Watch your toddlers closely and don't let them put pretty berries and other plant parts in their mouth. 2. Food stuff that has been eaten for generations is probably safe for you (Exception, people with G6PD defiecency may not be able to tolerate bitter melon) 3. It is prudent not to eat anything you are not sure of. 4 If you are VERY interested in the science behind natural medical products I've added a link.
An axample: foxglove contains digitalis which is used as a heart tonic, with a few hundred hospitalizations a year in the USA for toxic effects of the concentrate drug. None from eating foxglove, as an adult would have to eat an entire plant to have much effect. At the other extreme, Oleander contains a similiar compound (Oubain) which is 100+ times more potent. There are several reported deaths a year, mostly children in India, from eating the more attractive berries on the local variety.

Here is a link that might be useful: [natural products database](

    Bookmark   March 15, 2009 at 12:31PM
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zeedman Zone 5 Wisconsin

Too bad that's a subscription database, godsdog... and a pricey one at that. I guess that's what you meant by VERY interested?

    Bookmark   March 15, 2009 at 3:54PM
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godsdog(z10 LA ss22)

I cut and pasted from the natural database site, just the basics. This is a medical databae and they are talking about the extracted medical dose not the unprocessed fruit. Probably more than you wanted to know.
Human useage: Orally, bitter melon is used to treat diabetes, psoriasis, gastrointestinal upset, ulcers, colitis, constipation, intestinal worms, urinary tract stones (kidney stones), fever, and hepatic disease. It is also used orally to induce menstruation and as supportive therapy for patients with AIDS/HIV.
Topically, bitter melon is used for skin abscesses and wounds, and anorectal herpes lesions.
Safety ...when used orally and appropriately, short-term. Extracts of bitter melon fruit appear to be safe for up to 3 months
There is insufficient reliable information available about the safety of bitter melon when used topically.
PREGNANCY: LIKELY UNSAFE ...when used orally. Proteins from bitter melon fruit and juice can stimulate menstruation and have caused abortion in animals
LACTATION: Insufficient reliable information available; avoid using
Adverse reactions: Orally, bitter melon is well-tolerated at a dose of 1 gram three times daily (extract dose) for several weeks. In some patients it can cause diarrhea, gastrointestinal upset, and epigastric pain. Ingestion of the seeds has been associated with headaches. Two cases of hypoglycemic coma and seizures have occurred in children after drinking bitter melon tea.
Elevated liver function tests have been reported in animal studies, but the clinical significance is unknown.
Interaction with dieseas: DIABETES: Bitter melon can lower blood glucose levels and might have additive effects when used with antidiabetes drugs. This might increase the risk of hypoglycemia in some patients. Monitor blood glucose levels closely.
GLUCOSE-6-PHOSPHATE DEHYDROGENASE (G6PD) DEFICIENCY: People with G6PD deficiency are at risk for developing favism after ingesting bitter melon seeds. Vicine found in the seeds is related to constituents of fava beans. Favism is characterized by hemolytic anemia, headache, fever, stomach pain, and coma. Advise these patients to avoid bitter melon.
SURGERY: Bitter melon might affect blood glucose levels. Theoretically, bitter melon might interfere with blood glucose control during and after surgical procedures. Tell patients to discontinue bitter melon at least 2 weeks before elective surgical procedures.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2009 at 11:20AM
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zeedman Zone 5 Wisconsin

Thanks, GD. :-) We eat bitter melon as part of Filipino cuisine. The wife has Type II diabetes, and we have noticed that it helps her to lower her glucose levels... so I've gotten used to eating it more frequently.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2009 at 3:00PM
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hi Zeedman,
U are are very informative about BG so please help me, my BG is dieing after transplanting in the bed, where am i going wrong ? Which fertilizer to use? I am in Phoenix.Heeelppp..

    Bookmark   March 18, 2009 at 1:03PM
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zeedman Zone 5 Wisconsin

Not sure what to tell you, Balamay; without more information, I'd just be guessing. The problem could be in the transplant process itself, the soil, or the location.

Transplanting shock would be my first guess. Were the plants hardened off for at least a week, prior to transplant? What type of pot did you use, and how did you perform the transplant? Bitter melon, like most cucurbits, is very sensitive to root damage during transplanting. For that reason, I start mine in peat pots, wet them thoroughly prior to transplant, and water them in immediately after transplanting. They should not be buried too deeply, cover with soil to just above the original soil level.

The problem could also be in the soil, if the pH is too far off. If the compost is not fully decomposed, it could have caused damping off... especially if the compost is heavy with wood chips or sawdust. Also, with that much compost, you might need to add a little nitrogen fertilizer; but without a soil test, I'm just guessing here... and lack of nitrogen probably is not the cause of death.

The only other possibility I can think of is the location. Since you are in Arizona, the sun can get very hot, especially in the afternoon. If the location for the plants was near a wall, especially one facing south or west, the reflected heat might have been too strong for the young transplants.

Hope something here is helpful.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2009 at 2:03PM
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Thanks Zeedman,

I sowed seeds in ready to seed jiffy pack, once they poped out had 2 leaves, i decided to plant them in my east facing kitchen bed, getting only morning sun (phoenix sun), the bed is 70% omni brand compost n 30% native soil. In the bed i have put beans, carrot , raddish, spinach , tomato n pepper,all doing fine, only BG n cucumber n other gours plants seem to be dieing after planting.

Somethings is wrong, can you guess now?


    Bookmark   March 19, 2009 at 1:37PM
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Do you have Bitter Melon seeds?
Do you have any other Asian/Indian veg seeds? We can exchange.


    Bookmark   March 8, 2011 at 3:49PM
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