Prota 2: Vegetables/Légumes
Beskr. Guin. pl.: 426 (1827).
Mnukia muuma (Sw).
Origin and geographic distribution
Momordica foetida is widespread in tropical Africa and in South Africa.
The leaves of Momordica foetida are collected from the wild and eaten after boiling as a vegetable in Gabon, Sudan, Uganda, Tanzania and Malawi. They seem fairly unpopular and are eaten in small quantities only, usually in times of scarcity. The pulp of ripe fruits is eaten in Ghana, Gabon, Sudan, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.
The plants are grazed by cattle in Sudan. Leaves are used as fodder (Kenya, Tanzania) and are said to be especially suitable for fattening rabbits. However, there are reports from Kenya that cattle avoid it and that it is poisonous. Traditional medicinal uses are numerous and many are shared with other Momordica spp. The juice of crushed leaves is used to relieve cough (Uganda), stomach -ache (Uganda), intestinal disorders (Nigeria, South Africa), headache (Burundi, Uganda, Malawi), earache (Tanzania), toothache (Uganda) and as an antidote for snakebites (Tanzania). Skin problems caused by smallpox (Côte d’Ivoire), boils (South Africa), spitting cobra poison and malaria are treated with crushed leaves. The plant is further used as emmenagogue (Côte d’Ivoire), ecbolic (Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, Uganda, Tanzania), aphrodisiac (Côte d’Ivoire) and abortifacient (Uganda).
The roots, said to be poisonous, and the crushed seeds are used in East Africa to cure constipation. The fruit pulp is said to be poisonous to weevils, moths and ants, and is used as an insect repellent in Tanzania. The Karamajong (Uganda) use the whole plant on their cattle as an oxpecker repellent. The fruits are often eaten by egg-eating snakes. In Gabon the leaves are soaked, dried in the sun and used to stuff cushions.
Leaves have a bitter taste and foetid smell when crushed. Their nutritional composition per 100 g edible portion is: energy 92 kJ (22 kcal), protein 3.3 g, fibre 3.2 g, Ca 1.1 mg, Fe 3.4 mg, Zn 0.4 mg, β-carotene 5.4 mg, folate 40 μg, ascorbic acid 20.6 mg (Nesamvuni, C., Steyn, N.P. & Potgieter, M.J., 2001). Triterpenes of the cucurbitacin type, found in both Momordica charantia and Momordica foetida, particularly in the fruits and seeds, are potentially cytotoxic. Momordicines and foetidin (identical to charantin) were reported from fruits and leaves of Momordica foetida. Momordicines have been found to be both bacteriostatic and insecticidal; foetidin was shown to lower blood glucose levels in normal rats, but it had no significant effect in diabetic animals. Foetidin has slight antispasmodic and anticholinergic effects.
Dioecious, perennial herb, trailing or climbing with simple or bifid tendrils; stem up to 4.5 m long, with dark green flecks when young, woody when old, rooting at the nodes. Leaves alternate, simple; stipules absent; petiole 1.5–17 cm long; blade broadly ovate-cordate to triangular-cordate, 1.5–16 cm × 1.5–17 cm, base deeply cordate. Flowers unisexual, regular, 5 -merous; calyx with obconic tube and lobes up to 11 mm long; petals free, obovate-lingulate, up to 3.5 cm long, white, pale yellow to orange-yellow, 3 with scales inside at base; male flowers 1–9 together in fascicles on peduncle 2–23 cm long, with 3 stamens, anthers coherent in centre of flower; female flowers solitary in leaf axils, with inferior, ovoid ovary, stigma 3-lobed. Fruit a long-stalked, ellipsoid berry up to 7 cm × 5 cm, orange when ripe, densely and softly spiny, dehiscing with 3 valves and exposing the many seeds embedded in scarlet pulp. Seeds oblong, flattened, c. 1 cm long, brown, testa sculptured, margins 2-grooved.
Momordica comprises about 40 species, the majority of which are African. The fruits and leaves of several wild species are consumed as vegetables, whereas others are used in traditional medicine.
Momordica foetida occurs in forest edges and clearings, margins of swamps and on disturbed ground as a weed and colonizer, up to 2400 m altitude. In West Africa it is considered an indicator of soil suitable for growing cacao.
Genetic resources and breeding
Momordica foetida is widespread and not in danger of genetic erosion. A few accessions of Momordica foetida are held at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station (United States) and in the National Genebank of Kenya.
The main interest in Momordica foetida at present appears to lie in the medicinal aspects. The insecticidal properties are only recognized in a small area within its range of distribution. It will remain only a locally used vegetable, but it may become important as a source of resistance in breeding of Momordica charantia.
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Correct citation of this article:
Bosch, C.H., 2004. Momordica foetida Schumach. In: Grubben, G.J.H. & Denton, O.A. (Editors). PROTA 2: Vegetables/Légumes. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.