Lagenaria siceraria

Lagenaria siceraria

The Calabash, bottle gourd or white-flowered gourd (Lagenaria siceraria (Molina) Standl., 1930) is a herbaceous species belonging to the Cucurbitaceae family.

Systematics –
From a systematic point of view it belongs to:
Eukaryota Domain,
Kingdom Plantae,
Magnoliophyta Division,
Magnoliopsida class,
Violales Order,
Cucurbitaceae family,
Genus Lagenaria,
L. siceraria species.
The terms are synonymous:
– Cucumis bicirrha J.R.Forst. formerly Guill .;
– Cucumis lagenaria (L.) Dumort .;
– Cucumis mairei H.Lév .;
– Cucurbita idolatrica Willd .;
– Cucurbita idolatrica Willd .;
– Cucurbita lagenaria L .;
– Cucurbita leucantha Duchesne;
– Cucurbita pyriformis M.Roem .;
– Cucurbita siceraria Molina;
– Cucurbita vittata Blume;
– Lagenaria bicornuta Chakrav .;
– Lagenaria idolatrica (Willd.) Ser. Ex Cogn .;
– Lagenaria lagenaria (L.) Cockerell;
– Lagenaria leucantha (Duchesne ex Lam.) Rusby
– Lagenaria microcarpa Naudin;
– Lagenaria vulgaris Ser .;
– Pepo lagenarius Moench.

Etymology –
The term Lagenaria comes from lagena / lagoena (Latinization from the Greek λάγυνος lágynos) narrow neck, wide belly and with a single handle, but also bottle, jug: reference to the use of pumpkins of this genus as containers for liquids.
The specific epithet siceraria comes from sicera intoxicating potion, wine: suitable for containing wine.

Geographic Distribution and Habitat –
The Calabash is an annual plant probably originating from Southern Africa and from here spread by man since ancient times in the Mediterranean Region, in Asia and finally in the American continent, cultivated in regions with a tropical-subtropical climate for the fruit, which, emptied, it was used as a water bottle or as a life preserver, reported as an adventitious species for Piedmont, Lombardy, Veneto, Abruzzo and Sardinia. It is still cultivated today in some parts of Italy, especially for ornamental purposes due to the fruits that take on different forms, and sometimes appears in a subspontaneous state in the inhabited areas, especially in areas with a warm climate.
Its natural habitat is unknown.

Description –
Lagenaria siceraria is a vigorous annual climbing plant, which produces stems about 9 meters long. The stems climb the ground and surrounding vegetation, attaching themselves to plants by means of tendrils that grow from the axils of the leaves.
Its appearance is quite similar to that of other pumpkins. The almost heart-shaped leaves have a beautiful intense green color. The flowers, both male and female, are white, carried by the same plant but in different positions (that is, it is a monoecious plant); from the female ones pumpkins develop.
It blooms from June to September.
The fruit is simple and indehiscent and is an amphysarch, with an externally rigid and crusty and fleshy pericarp inside. It has very variable and twisted shapes from globose to cylindrical to bottle etc., it can reach 1 m in length in some varieties. Initially they are light green in color, with a tender consistency, but soon the skin becomes very hard, leathery and waterproof, even if rather thin. When they are dry they are very light, with a hollow interior, little pulp and semi-leathery.
The seeds are numerous, elliptical, flattened of gray color.

Cultivation –
Lagenaria siceraria is a plant still widely cultivated, even in the tropics and in sub-tropical environments, for its edible fruits and when the shell is hard and woody for the construction of containers, musical instruments, etc.
Pumpkin products are commonly sold in local markets and as handicrafts, while the fruit and seed oil are sometimes traded locally. Additionally, the plant has a range of traditional medicinal uses.
The presence of this plant in the wild is not known, but it is thought that it was one of the first cucurbits to have been domesticated and used in very ancient times. It is a fast growing annual climbing plant that grows up to 10 m., It ripens its fruits in summer; the seeds ripen in autumn.
This plant prefers rich, fresh, well-drained soil around neutral. It produces a considerable root system in a few weeks and it is therefore good to give it space for development. It prefers sheltered and bright locations, In dry climates it requires constant irrigation to compensate for the rapid growth. It is sown in April in protected cultivation and transplanted starting from May in the open ground or in large containers, providing structures for it to climb. Plant resistant to diseases and parasites due to the substances produced by the leaves and the repellent odor they emanate.

Customs and Traditions –
The young fruits of Lagenaria siceraria are edible and are often cultivated for this purpose, especially in tropical Asia.
It is the only pumpkin present in the old continent before the discovery of America, where the pumpkins of the Cucurbita genus come from. Of the lagenaria speak Columella and Pliny who affirm that it resembles the cucumber, at least as regards the type of cultivation.
There are cultivars and varieties of this plant selected for food purposes. Immature fruits are used instead of courgettes, with a delicate flavor and spongy consistency, they are harvested when they are about 10 – 20 cm and have a tender skin. They can be boiled, steamed, fried and fried. They are rich in iron, phosphorus, calcium and vitamin B; the varieties grown in India and China are the best quality ones. The pulp around the seed is usually discarded. The leaves and young shoots used as vegetables are also collected; the leaves have a delicate texture and are used as a side dish or boiled in soups together with other vegetables.
In southern Italy it is part of some typical dishes of Neapolitan, Cilento and Sicilian cuisine; here in particular a variety is used which is L. longissima, a similar species, also known as tenerumi; with the leaves of this specific variety a particular pesto is prepared, called red pesto using the blanched leaves and dried tomatoes. Cooked seeds can also be used. Rich in oil (up to 45%); from the seed it is possible to obtain in addition to an edible oil, a vegetable rennet and a preparation similar to tofu
The pulp around the seed has emetic and purgative properties; a leaf pack can be used externally to soothe headaches and refresh. The flowers have detoxifying properties; the peel of young fruits has diuretic qualities. The fruit is refreshing and diuretic, great for relieving stomach acid, indigestion and ulcer problems. Recent research highlights cardioprotective, anti-cholesterol, immunostimulating and antioxidant properties.
Ripe fruits have a very resistant and durable skin, rich in silicon; they can be used to make musical instruments, toys, bottles, bowls and containers, there are many different shapes given by the different varieties, they can be bottle-shaped, round or elongated, in particular in Argentina a used bowl is made with the bottom of these fruits for the Mate tea drink. Lagenarias are widely cultivated in the tropics and in sub-tropical countries for their edible fruits; it seems that the “Cougourda” and “Upo” varieties are the best suited for this purpose. Once ripe, the fruits lose their edibility, almost completely drying the internal pulp. Already used by the Romans, it has a long history: the farmers of the past used these fruits a lot to keep water and drinks fresh, the larger fruits used them as containers to store food, as tool holders and to transport fishing material. ; at the end of the 19th century, the very narrow-necked varieties were used to load guns with gunpowder, making them much more practical than animal horns. The white flowers, similar to handkerchiefs, appear numerous in late summer are very decorative and open at sunset.
In countries where this species is cultivated, the shells are used as vases and containers of various kinds, such as vessels and containers (flasks, flasks, etc.) in which to store water, wine or other liquids for a short time. The lagenaria are also used to make musical instruments and cases.
This plant is also used as a medicinal plant.
The pulp around the seed is emetic and purgative.
With the crushed leaves, a poultice is prepared which is applied to the head to treat headaches.
Flowers are an antidote to poison.
The bark of the stem and the skin of the fruit are diuretic.
The fruit is antilithic, diuretic, emetic and refrigerant.
The juice of the fruit is used in the treatment of stomach acid, indigestion and ulcers.
The seed is vermifuge.
A poultice of the boiled seeds was used in the treatment of boils.
Taken with Achyranthes spp, the seed is used to treat sore teeth and gums, boils, etc.
The plant extracts showed antibiotic activity.
In many parts of China 3 grams per day of this species (the report does not say which part of the plant) has been used as the only treatment for diabetes mellitus.

Preparation Method –
Lagenaria siceraria, like courgettes and the like, can be eaten cooked and can also be preserved using vinegar. The use of younger fruits is preferred in the kitchen, which among other things have a high degree of delicacy and juiciness.
Young fruits are eaten cooked as a vegetable.
They can be boiled, steamed, fried, used in curries or made into pancakes.
They vary in quality, but some of the cultivars selected from India and China are of excellent quality, equivalent to good summer squash.
The pulp around the seed is purgative and should not be eaten.
The fruit can be dried for later use.
Both the leaves and the buds can be cooked and used as a herb.
The cooked seed, rich in oil, is added to soups, etc. A vegetable curd, similar to tofu, can be made from the seed. Furthermore, an edible oil is obtained from the seed which is used for cooking.

Guido Bissanti

Sources
– Acta Plantarum – Flora of the Italian Regions.
– Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
– Useful Tropical Plants Database.
– Conti F., Abbate G., Alessandrini A., Blasi C. (ed.), 2005. An annotated checklist of the Italian vascular flora, Palombi Editore.
– Pignatti S., 1982. Flora of Italy, Edagricole, Bologna.
– Treben M., 2000. Health from the Lord’s Pharmacy, Advice and experiences with medicinal herbs, Ennsthaler Editore.

Warning: Pharmaceutical applications and alimurgical uses are indicated for informational purposes only, they do not represent in any way a medical prescription; therefore no responsibility is taken for their use for curative, aesthetic or food purposes.




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