Coccinia grandis: Ivy gourd

Family: Cucurbitaceae
Common name: Ivy gourd, Scarlet gourd, Tindora, Kowai fruit, Kovakka

Ivy gourd plants are seen very commonly in India, and the fruits are used extensively in Indian cuisine. The plants are excellent climbers, clinging on to garden structures, trellises or surrounding vegetation, growing very quickly.

Stem is long, green and woody towards the base of the plant; and capable of rooting at the nodes where it touches the ground. The stem also produces long, thin, elastic tendrils that can twine around supporting structures. Leaves are dark-green with 5 lobes varying in shape from heart to polygon, about 7-8 cms in diameter.

Ivy gourd flowers are very beautiful, white, with 5 distinct petals that are joined at the base. Stamens are also clearly visible. The plant is dioecious, and flowers contains only either male or female reproductive organs, not both. So they cannot self-pollinate and need birds, bees or butterflies to pollinate them.

The plant produces abundant fruits, green with whitish patterns running along the length of it. There are several species of Ivy gourds varying in the size and shape of the fruits. Length usually varies from 5-15 cms depending on the type of ivy gourd.

The plants grow abundantly in tropical countries, where the fruits are eaten raw or cooked. Leaves and tender shoots are also used as food. Fruits taste best when they are tender and light green. The inner pulp is white in tender fruits, gradually turning red when it ripens.

Several oval, flattened seeds are embedded in the flesh, and is not usually removed before cooking. Ivy gourd fruits are cooked, fried, braised, grilled, steamed, sautéed, pickled or eaten raw. They have a mild taste with a sticky texture to the skin.

Due to their rampant and fast growth, these plants are considered invasive weeds in some parts of the world, where biological and chemicals methods are being tried to eradicate these sturdy little plants. But in India, these plants are cultivated very commonly, and the fruits are available in all vegetable shops as well as supermarkets.

Ivy gourd fruits have some medicinal properties, in treatment of diabetes, hypertension, constipation, eczema, psoriasis, fever, leprosy, asthma, cough, bronchitis, joint pains, scabies and other skin ailments. They also aid in weight loss, and is available as supplements, which should be used with caution.

Propagation is through seeds and stem cuttings.

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