Coccinia grandis, the ivy gourd, also known as baby watermelon, little gourd, gentleman's toes, tindora or sometimes inaccurately identified as gherkin, is a tropical vine. It is also known as Cephalandra indica and Coccinia indica.
Coccinia grandis' native range extends from Africa to Asia, including India, the Philippines, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, eastern Papua New Guinea, and the Northern Territories, Australia. Its documented introduced range includes the Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Guam, Saipan, Hawaii, the Marshall Islands, Samoa, Tonga, and Vanuatu.
Seeds or fragments of the vine can be relocated and lead to viable offspring. This can occur when humans transport organic debris or equipment containing C. grandis. Once the ivy gourd is established, it is presumably spread by birds, rats, and other mammals. In Hawaii, it has been suggested that the fruit may be dispersed by pigs. Long-distance dispersal is most commonly carried out by humans due to its culinary uses or by mistake.
Regarded as very invasive and on the Hawaii State Noxious Weed List, ivy gourd can grow up to four inches per day. It grows in dense blankets, shading other plants from sunlight and high-jacking nutrients, effectively killing vegetation underneath. Native to tropical Africa and Asia, it was introduced to Hawaii as a backyard food crop. It is sometimes tolerated along garden fences and other outdoor features because of its attractive white flowers. It has escaped to become a vigorous pest in Hawaii, Florida, Australia, and Texas. In Hawaii, this plant has spread quickly through Manoa Valley to Punchbowl and into Waimānalo, Oahu, and into the Kona area. In parts of the Caribbean it is known as lizard food.
There are both physical and chemical recommendations for control of the ivy gourd. It is very difficult to control this plant physically except by bagging fruits. Hand-harvesting normally does not kill the plant but rather breaks the vine blankets into smaller pieces and the plant is able to reestablish when it touches the ground. These methods can make the infestation worse and further the need for more rigorous control methods. Picking the fruit and placing them in plastic bags can help decrease the seed bank that is present with the soil. When utilizing chemical controls, that ivy gourd responded well to a thin-lined bark application of 100% Garlon 4 (triclopyr), leaving plants in place so as not to translocate the herbicide or spread the pest. It is applied multiple times until the vine dies. In Hawaii several species of insect have been introduced with the purpose of being a biocontrol. Two weevils, Acythopeus burkhartorum and A. cocciniae, were introduced by the Department of Agriculture to Oahu and Hawaii. African vine moths (Melittia oedipus) were also released onto Oahu and Maui. On the island of Maui it appears that the A. cocciniae is established and are damaging leaves. The larva feed on the plant and the adults chew holes in the leaves. The moth has yet to appear successful in its purpose.
In traditional medicine, fruits have been used to treat leprosy, fever, asthma, bronchitis and jaundice. The fruit possesses mast cell stabilizing, anti-anaphylactic and antihistaminic potential. In Bangladesh, the roots are used to treat osteoarthritis and joint pain. A paste made of leaves is applied to the skin to treat scabies.
Ivy gourd extracts and other forms of the plant can be purchased online and in health food stores. It is claimed that these products help regulate blood sugar levels. There is some research to support that compounds in the plant inhibit the enzyme glucose-6-phosphatase. Glucose-6-phosphatase is one of the key liver enzymes involved in regulating sugar metabolism. Therefore, ivy gourd is sometimes recommended for diabetic patients. Although these claims have not been supported, there currently is a fair amount of research focused on the medicinal properties of this plant focusing on its use as an antioxidant, anti-hypoglycemic agent, immune system modulator, etc. Some countries in Asia like Thailand prepare traditional tonic like drinks for medicinal purposes.
There are a variety of recipes from all over the world that list ivy gourd as the main ingredient. It is often compared to bitter melon. The fruit is commonly eaten in Indian cuisine. People of Indonesia and other southeast Asian countries also consume the fruit and leaves. In Thai cuisine it is one of the ingredients of the Kaeng khae curry. Cultivation of ivy gourd in home gardens has been encouraged in Thailand due to it being a good source of several micronutrients, including vitamins A and C.
In India it is eaten as a curry, by deep-frying it along with spices; stuffing it with masala and sauteing it, or boiling it first in a pressure cooker and then frying it. It is also used in sambar, a vegetable and lentil-based soup.
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- Kaeng Khae Kai (Katurai Chilli Soup with Chicken)
- Artemis P. Simopoulos and C. Gopalan, ed. (2003), Plants in Human Health and Nutrition Policy, Karger Publishers, ISBN 3-8055-7554-8
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