Welcome to the family Curcubitaceae!
By Laurel Redmon, M.S.,
L.Ac. Dipl. C.H.
August 1, 2006
Melons and squash evoke
the shape of our planet and allow
us see the vulnerable nature of Earth.
thin, tough rind protects the precious resources within.
Beyond the fertile layer under the rind lay
seeds that ensure
rejuvenation and promise for the future. Pests, by penetrating the
easily rot the entire fruit.
Earth is arguably the
most crucial element involved in
human existence: in fact, it embodies us.
the Earth school of Chinese Medicine has been very influential.
The famed Middle Kingdom, as China
specifically and humanity generally
has often been referred, strongly emphasizes the Earth element as the
fundamental cornerstone of health and balance.
It has been posited that if the Earth element,
including the digestive
organs and middle burner (Zhong jiao) are attentively paid attention to
nourished, disease would be evaded in all other organ systems. Health
longevity would automatically ensue.
A broad range of
applications helps people comprehend the
depth and breadth of the Earth element and its impact on our lives.
The family Cucurbitaceae
gracefully spans the food-medicine
continuum: indeed, a decade ago constituents from a squash root were
touted as a cure for AIDS! This
from a family that provides people over the world with dietary staples,
for convalescence, and even comfort foods for Americans. This broad range of
application helps people comprehend the
depth and breadth of the Earth element and its impact on our lives.
One aspect that I particularly admire from
this group is its
comprehensive application in terms of the 8 parameters. There are Yin
members of this class of food/herbs that can tonify, clear, warm and
treating excess and deficient conditions with safety and efficacy.
Please meet some of the
distinguished members of this
American pumpkin tonifies
the qi and yang of the spleen and
stomach. It can
help regulate blood
and dry dampness, treat fatigue, qi deficiency, blood deficiency and
Pumpkin seeds are an important vegetarian source of omega-3 fatty acids.
This is also a plant-based vermifuge (kills
and expels worms) that is
Pumpkin seeds have a
proven record in reducing prostate
size in cases of benign prostatic hypertrophy.
Various melon seeds are standard faire during
Chinese New Year
celebrations, and I would be surprised if they did not share similar
Cantaloupe & Honeydew Melon
Cantaloupe and honeydew
clear heat, tonify the kidneys, yin
and fluids. These
specifically valuable to manage the effects of summerheat, one of the
lesser-known of the six evils, where heat combines with dampness but in
external manner than, for example, lower burner damp-heat. Balancing
metabolism and providing vitamins and minerals make these important
foods. Melon may be
alone, as Western food-combining lore suggests. According to Paul
melon both digests and ferments rapidly.
Cucumber clears heat and
toxins as well as regulates
fluids. It is effective for treating liver fire (such as red eyes),
thirst and sore throat. Cucumber is perhaps most famous for its ability
mediate the sensation of hot chilis, but is distinguished with
generating healthful fluids and draining pathological dampness and
Japanese Pumpkin/ Kombucha squash
Japanese pumpkin, also
known as kombucha squash, tonifies
the spleen and kidneys, regulates qi and dries dampness.
It is used to treat qi and blood deficiency,
wet asthma and diabetes.
This squash has become much more mainstream in
recent years in the U.S.
for good reason: it is true spleen-friendly comfort food!
Loofa / Si Gua Luo
This versatile fruit is
used as a green vegetable in Asia,
an ecofriendly sponge and an important herb in the Chinese pharmacopeia.
It is one of the best examples of the doctrine
of signatures. The direct
translation if the Chinese name is “net of string melon” and indicates
affinity for small, connected networks in the body, such as the luo
collaterals, which are the micro-meridians joining the main meridians.
It can open these up, treating pain and poor
circulation resulting from
blockage. This concept carries over to loofa’s application for blocked
ducts and mastitis. There is also a function of “scrubbing” phlegm out
the lungs. Neutral
low-toxicity, food-like herbs are great agents for home herbalists to
Summer squash refers to
zucchini, crookneck, pattypan, etc.
These squash help to clear heat while nourishing qi and fluids. Summer
can be used to treat blood heat (such as systemic poison oak or ivy),
and fever. For both aesthetic and nutritional value, I recommend
squashes of varying shape and color.
Trichosanthes (Gua Luo)
This herb enters the lung
and large intestine meridians. It
is used either in its entirety (Gua luo Shi or Quan Gua Luo), as seeds
I find the whole fruit most versatile in
application. Gua luo can moisten
the lungs and resolve phlegm, making it crucial in cases of phlegm-heat
lungs. It also has
function of regulating qi in the chest, which helps ventilate the lungs
resolve coughs and extends to angina and asthmatic conditions.
The large intestine element of gua luo’s
application lies in an ability
to dispel pus in cases of abscess and also as a mild laxative. Laxative function here is
due to the fiber and oil content of
the seeds (gua luo ren). Dissapating
pus and nodules at various sites in the body tie together the
phlegm-expelling properties of this herb.
Clears heat, generates
fluids and promotes urination.
Clears summerheat and releases the exterior.
While this melon is regarded as a watery,
festive thirst quencher, bear
in mind that it also provides respectable amounts of lycopene, carotene
Winter Melon / Dong Gua Ren
This is a gigantic fruit
sold in multiple slabs or wedges
at market. The thick rind evokes a winter squash, whereas the flesh is
a firm summer squash. Generally
eaten cooked, it has a mild flavor that absorbs broth or sauce.
The seed is the primary medicinal agent. The
seeds are dry-fried and
decocted into a tea that can treat lung and intestinal abscesses.
The heat-clearing and detoxifying properties
are also used against coughs
with yellow phlegm. As with so many of these herbs, edema can be
both the seed of the winter melon (dong gua ren) as well as the rind
Some examples of winter
squash are butternut, acorn, and
hubbard; this category overlaps with pumpkins. Winter squash nourishes
spleen, stomach and middle burner. They nourish qi and blood and expel
It is wise to avoid winter squash in cases of
qi and food stagnation, as
they can be so dense, sweet and cloying--even without liberal additions
sugar and butter.
Oriental peoples have
appreciated melons and squashes, the
order curcubitaceae, for centuries.
and melons can be thought of as tonic foods and medicines of the
Their content of vitamins, minerals, flavinoids and medicinal alkaloids
impressive. These plants have been distinguished as one of the three
‘sisters’ of the New World, along with corn and beans.
Our life on earth ultimately depends on these
plants, be it for fuel,
food or medicine.
Chen, John K. &
Chinese Medical Herbology and
Art of Medicine Press.
of Industry: 2004.
Lu, Henry C. Chinese
System of Foods for Health and Healing.
Sterling Publishing Compnay.