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Plants & Herbs: Momordica Foetida – A Very Versatile Plant

It belongs to plant family Cucurbitaceae. It is one of the most highly valued medicinal plants, widely distributed in tropical Africa.

It is a perennial herb, trailing or climbing with simple or bifid tendrils. A stem up to 4.5m long, with dark green flecks when young, woody when old, and rooting at the nodes. The leaves alternate, simple, stipules absent, blade broadly ovate-cordate to triangular-cordate, and the base deeply cordate. The flowers are regular, calyx with obconic tube and lobes, petals free and cream colored, often with a reddish or orange center. The plants characteristic fruit is bright orange with prickles.

In many communities across Africa, Momordica foetida is used to treat a number of ailments which include hypertension, diabetes mellitus, fever, malaria, peptic ulcers, and as a purgative.

The leaf of Momordica foetida is used in traditional medicine in many societies to treat a wide range of diseases and disorders which includes but not limited to stomach troubles, as an emetic, as a vermifuge, smallpox, chickenpox, measles, body swellings, oedema, gout, antidotes for venomous stings such as bee stings and also as a pain-killer. The leaves have a bitter taste, but it is prepared and eaten as food in some African countries. Also, the fruits and roots are edible in various countries.

The leaf decoction of Momordica foetida is often taken to treat stomachache while the root decoction is taken as a purgative to relieve one from constipation. In addition, the leaf sap is drunk for intestinal disorders. The leaf sap is used to treat severe headache and earache. Furthermore, in some communities, the leaf decoction is used as an aphrodisiac and is taken by women as an emmenagogue and also in cases of difficult delivery. The tea made from the leaf or the roots is used in some communities as an ecbolic. The leaf decoction is also orally administered for the treatment of smallpox and a combination of the root decoction with other plants is given for treatment of boils.

The skin inflammation caused by the venom of the spitting cobra and venomous stings, for example from bees, can be managed by promptly rubbing the crushed leaves on the affected parts. In addition, the leaf sap is drunk to treat snakebite.

The warm leaf infusion is drunk to treat anorexia, measles, cough, diarrhea, and fever. Also, one can use the infusion for bathing to remove bad body odour. The sap from the young leaves can also be applied to the nostrils to stop nose bleeding. In some communities, the young leaves are also used in the treatment of edema.

Apart from the medicinal properties, the leaves and fruits are known to be poisonous to weevils, ants and other insects and are therefore used as an insect repellent. The leaves of the plant have a strong smell and a bitter taste; nevertheless they are occasionally eaten as vegetable after suitable preparation in some communities. However, the leaves are eaten in small quantities only, usually in times of food scarcity. In addition, the pulp of ripe fruits is eaten by several native people. Many scientific studies have attributed Momordica foetida potential to cure numerous diseases and illnesses to the vital phytochemicals in the plant like saponins, steroids, tannins, alkaloids and flavonoids among others. These chemicals make Momordica foetida a very versatile plant with numerous uses that has made it gain admiration from several communities across Africa.

– Richard Komakech