If you didn't grow up with balsam pear plants, it may come as a bit of a shock that this bumpy, or sometimes prickly, plant is actually edible! When it's ripe, it's bitter, semi-hollow, and delicious! Although it goes by many names, such as balsam apple, momordica charantia or bitter gourd, this sometimes green, sometimes white, sometimes orange fruit is popular in many Chinese and Indian cuisines.
Momordica charantia plants are widely eaten across the east and increasingly around the world. It's an incredibly healthy plant that is used as a folk remedy to treat a wide variety of ailments and support overall health.
Momordica charantia is a vigorous breeder. It can easily take over a garden and drop its fruits, which in turn sprout and occupy another area, so growing it in an enclosed setting is a good idea. Some parts of the United States consider this fruit to be invasive, so keep an eye on how it is growing.
Balsam pear (Momordica charantia) comes in different colors. All are edible, but knowing which strain to harvest and when is important. While the fruit is used culinary, the leaves are very popular for making a medicinal tea. This species produces tender, edible and, above all, exotic fruits!
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Brief instructions for care
Green balsam pear next to purple eggplant. Source: afagen
|Common name (s)||Bitter gourd; bitter melon; bitter apple|
|Scientific name||Momordica charantia|
|Days to harvest||40-65 + depending on the variety|
|Bright||6+ hours to full light for vines; shaded area for roots|
|water||Water 1 inch per week; more when the roots are exposed to direct sunlight|
|floor||Fertile, well-drained soil; pH 5.5-6.7|
|fertilizer||Balanced (e.g. 10-10-10)|
|Diseases||Powdery mildew, Fusarium wilt|
Everything about balsam pear
Bitter melon leaves have a characteristic shape. Source: Elizabeth Cramer
Balsam pear, Momordica charantia, is the perfect garden plant. It will squirm and leap through your yard if you get the chance, while always producing a high-profile and talkative crop! This dangling vegetable belongs to the cucurbit family and, like its more familiar cousins, the old world pumpkin and cucumber, grows on long, thin vines with large semi-hollow fruits and deeply lobed spade-shaped leaves that shade its beautiful profusion.
Momordica charantia, also called bitter melon, balsam apple, bitter apple or bitter gourd, has a rather bitter taste even when ripe.
The Indian version of the plant Momordica charantia has dark green skin and looks very bumpy and prickly. The Chinese varieties are usually smoother on the outside and still bitter, but more tender and require less cooking time than their Indian counterparts.
Bitter melon tendrils can reach 13 to 16 feet in length, with leaves that range from a quarter to the size of a child's face! The deeply lobed, spade-shaped leaves can look very elegant, especially when the small yellow flowers protrude from underneath. Balsam pear has both male and female flowers, and pollen from the male flowers must find its way into the female flowers for pollination to take place. In mid to late summer, after the plant has grown for almost two months, you can expect a sustained harvest until temperatures drop back below 70 degrees Fahrenheit. The color of the seeds ranges from red to light brown and is about the size of a dime.
In culinary terms, the balsam pear is used in two different ways. While the fruit of the bitter melon is most commonly used in stir-fries and curries, the leaves are sometimes used to flavor soups and to make medicinal teas. Bitter melon is considered anecdotal to help people with digestive problems, ulcers, diabetes, or in need of laxatives or anti-aging properties.
Plant bitter melon
Bitter melon, or Momordica charantia, is best planted in late spring through early summer. He enjoys the heat and cannot stand even the slightest frost. Make sure all chances of cold snaps are over and warm weather is on the horizon. Momordica Charantia enjoys temperatures above 80 degrees Fahrenheit, so plan accordingly.
First, germinate the seeds by placing them in soil or wet paper towels, making sure to keep them evenly moist for 2-4 days. Wait for the seeds to open and a white taproot to emerge before removing them from the damp paper towel and placing the seeds in the soil. Bitter melon requires well-fertilized soil with good drainage.
Put your bitter melon plant in a location that gets at least 6 hours of sun a day, preferably more. Momordica charantia enjoys meandering its vines all over the garden, letting its green or bright orange fruits hang without touching a trellis or the ground. Momordica charantia are great plants to grow in containers near tree roots. The plants often send tendrils through the branches to reach the sunlight so that the leaves can soak in sunlight and heat while the roots stay cool.
If you don't have a tree available for your balsamic apple, make sure it provides a sturdy trellis or fence to grow on.
Bitter gourd or bitter melon flowers can be beautiful when the vines are in bloom. Source: Dakiny
Balsam apple can grow almost without help if given the chance. Its vines seek the right conditions to produce ripe green and orange fruit, and its abundance of bright yellow flowers will visit many bees to aid with pollination. Proper care of your plants ensures that many delicious fruits are on the menu!
Sun and temperature
Momordica charantia is a subtropical plant, so it longs for the warm conditions and humid environment that subtropical plants are used to. While the vines long for full sun, the roots need a more sheltered environment. Think about the conditions you often see in a subtropical setting with mature plants growing inside and on top of each other. Each plant looks for the sun with its tendrils and leaves, and the roots nestle securely in the shade where moisture collects. These are the conditions that you want to imitate in the home garden.
Balsam pear grows best in zones 9-11, so growers in cooler climates might try growing this in a greenhouse. If you are growing in a greenhouse without a pollinator, you will need to perform pollination by hand by taking the pollen from the male yellow flowers and rubbing on the female yellow flowers to ensure the yellow flowers do not peel off the vine. A small brush or cotton swab is an effective dusting tool.
Water and moisture
Watering is a must for this subtropical plant! It is NOT drought tolerant. Bitter apple needs a healthy amount of water and does not tolerate dry conditions. Try to water at least an inch a week at the base of the plant. While this plant works well on a drip line or soaking tube, hand watering is best. Be sure to thoroughly soak the area around the roots while avoiding the plant's foliage. Soak the area two to three times.
If your Momordica charantia roots are in open and direct sunlight, you may need to water a second time during the week.
Momordica charantia isn't too picky about soil. It can quickly adapt to its growing area as long as the soil is incorporated with compost and well drained. Since she prefers a soil pH between 5.5 and 6.7, most garden soils will work well. For gardens with high alkalinity, try growing in containers where you can easily control the pH.
Momordica charantia are not heavy eaters, but they need fertilization as soon as they start to flower. Try giving them a balanced fertilizer like 10-10-10 when the first signs of their yellow flowers begin to appear.
Also, the first time you plant balsam apple seeds, use compost or well-rotten fertilizer as part of the initial potting soil. Momordica charantia uses nitrogen for viticulture.
Pruning / training
Cutting back is not absolutely necessary for balsam pear, but it is strongly recommended. This edible fruit will produce a wide variety of green vines that can easily invade the garden. To make the garden tidier and to increase the size of the ripe fruit, many people will prune back their momordica charantia to make them more manageable.
To trim for aesthetic reasons, thread the tendrils up along a string or trellis, keeping the tendrils about a foot apart. Make sure that the vines are not too close together to avoid pest infestation. Remove any tendrils that grow on the ground.
To improve the taste and size of the ripe fruit, trim the tips of the growing vines back to about 5 to 6 leaves after the last fruit. This limits the number of fruits you can get, but increases the size and taste of your fruits.
Momordica charantia is grown exclusively from seeds. You can get seeds that are either brown or red and germinate them using the methods outlined above.
Harvest and storage
Chinese bitter melon sliced in preparation for cooking. Source: Elizabeth Cramer
Momordica charantia can ripen fairly quickly, but the signs of ripeness differ between varieties. Some are ripe green, others ripe to orange or white. Knowing which strain you planted is important so that you know when to harvest!
Different varieties have different characteristics of ripeness, but most balsam apple varieties have ripe fruit around 10 days after their yellow flowers fall. Pay attention to the color of the skin, the most common Chinese variety is a soft green color that must be harvested before the fruit turns a deep green color. A common Indian type is not ripe until it turns a dark green color. Other species are grown to a bright orange color or even a pale white. Knowing what types of seeds are being used is important as this will allow you to tell the color of the ripe fruit.
To harvest, hold your ripe fruit and cut the connecting stem right in front of the vine. Be careful not to cut the vine, as more fruit may grow.
After harvesting, try to put your harvest in brown paper bags in the refrigerator for the longest shelf life. The fruits only last around 3-5 days, so consume them quickly. Alternatively, you can cut your Momordica charantia into small pieces, scrape out the seeds and freeze.
To reduce the bitter flavors of the bitter melon fruit, many people use salt. This makes the ripe fruit more edible and palatable to those who are sensitive to bitter flavors. Salt removes some of the bitter-tasting juice from the ripe fruit, so you may want to place your salted fruit in a colander so that the liquid can drain away easily. Before cooking, rinse off any excess salt and moisture from the fruit. Some even suggest letting your bitter melon sit in the refrigerator overnight in salted water to make it a more appealing item on the menu, but a few hours of exposure to salt is usually good enough to make it edible and actually tasty!
Bitter melon vines grow quickly and can become invasive if not cared for. Source: Gänsemurf
There are a few problems associated with growing Momordica charantia. Most of them have to do with environmental factors.
The most common problem when growing Momordica charantia is not fruit. This usually happens when pollination is not taking place. In order for the plant to bear fruit, the pollen of the male flower with the baby fruit attached to it must get into the female flower. Simply pluck the male flower from the vine and rub its stamen on the stamen of the female flower, which must adhere to the vine. Alternatively, you can use a fine brush or cotton swab to collect pollen from a male flower and then brush the inside of the female flower with it.
Another growing problem the balsam apple has is lackluster growth. This can be caused by a variety of factors. First, the plant can be in too alkaline soil In this case, it should be transplanted to more acidic soil. It can also grow slowly, which is an indicator that it is not getting enough warmth and warmth. In areas with cooler springs, you may have to wait for the summer heat to come and move your plant to a warmer area to see your balsamic apple fruit.
There are a few pests that infest the balsam apple plant. The best way to fight them is always prevention. Keep your vines neatly pruned and trellised to give them plenty of air circulation and sunlight. If pests do appear, combat their presence as soon as possible to prevent a major infestation.
Aphids are a common pest on Momordica charantia. They suck the sap from inside the plant and often transmit other diseases. The eggs can be killed with insecticidal soap or neem oil. Severe outbreaks can be treated with pyrethrin. You can also plant flowers like daisies that attract ladybugs, a natural predator of the aphid.
There are also diseases that can affect your precious balsamic apple plant. Some of them are diseases that thrive in warm and humid conditions. Keep an eye on these issues and address them quickly so your plants can thrive!
Powdery mildew is a fungal disease in which white, powdery spots appear on the leaves in warm and humid conditions. It thrives especially on plants when the sky is overcast. The best solution is prevention through good air circulation between the plants. Several organic options that kill powdery mildew include spraying copper or sulfur fungicides, or a broad spectrum fungicide like chlorothalonil.
Your Momordica charantia plant will suddenly wither and the leaves turn yellow which can be a symptom of Fusarium wilt. If your plant succumbs to this fungal infection, be sure to remove all plant parts from the garden and throw them in the trash. Do not compost infected material and avoid planting susceptible species in the same soil for several years. Some forms of mycological treatment have been shown to be effective in preventing Fusarium fungus, and using them while planting can reduce the chances of your bitter melon plants encountering this problem.
frequently asked Questions
The fruits can be green or orange, but all types are bumpy and lumpy. Source: sogni_hal
Q: is balsam pear poisonous?
Answer: no! It is quite healthy for you, in fact!
Q: How do you prepare bitter melon for eating?
A: For Chinese balsam apples: Simply cut open, remove the seeds and chop for stir-fries and soups. If desired, apply salt as with the Indian form to reduce the bitter taste. For Indian balsam apple: peel off the skin with a vegetable peeler. Wash well, cut in half and remove all seeds. Salt all the surfaces of the fruit. Let harden for 2 hours and then rinse off the salt before cooking.
Q: is balsam pear invasive?
A: Yes, it can be! Its vines meander quickly through the garden and can look slightly overgrown. Be sure to grab ripe fruit before their seeds germinate and new plants grow.
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