Ampalaya, or bitter melon, is the fruit of a climbing vine that belongs to the Cucurbitaceae family. Ampalaya is high in important vitamins and minerals. It also contains plant constituents that have been used to treat the symptoms of many diseases. The Latin name of ampalaya is Momordica charantia. The fruit is green, shaped like a cucumber and contains a substance called momorcidin that has a characteristic bitter, acrid taste.
Ampalaya is rich in soluble fiber, as well as important minerals like potassium, iron, folic acid, calcium and phosphorus. According to PhilippineHerbalMedicine.org, it also contains high levels of vitamins A, B and C. In addition, bitter melon has been used as a medicinal herb for many centuries in Asian countries like China, India and the Philippines. It is found in tropical and subtropical areas.
Ampalaya has phytochemicals or plant constituents like flavonoids, alkaloids, and triterpenoids that have been used traditionally to treat a number of problems like headaches, coughs, fever, wounds, burns, intestinal worms, liver and spleen problems, diarrhea, dysentery, colitis, infection and high blood pressure. The plant substances in bitter melon are receiving much attention as possible treatments for diseases like diabetes and cancer, according to Cucurbitane-type triterpenoids in Momordica charantia Linn by Sook Young Lee.
The fruit, leaves, roots, seeds and juice of the plant are all of nutritional and medicinal value. The plant parts can be eaten fresh or dried and taken in powdered form. Some manufacturers encapsulate the powder and sell them in capsule form as an herbal supplement. For skin conditions, wounds, burns and headaches, the leaves are applied topically. They have disinfectant and astringent effects. The juice, taken in large amounts, is sometimes used as a purgative and abortifacient.
The phytochemicals in bitter melon and how they act are not well understood. There is scientific data to show that some triterpenoids in bitter melon, such as one called charantin, may be useful in controlling blood sugar levels and therefore may be of value in the treatment of diabetes. Bitter melon is also being examined for its promising activity against obesity, cancer. HIV and other viral diseases, bacterial diseases and its analgesic, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.