The cerasee vines are growing in my yard again… I hope it will produce some ripe fruit soon…
But cerasee is no weed.
True, it’s not very well known in the West. Apparently not even by the botanists at the University of Florida where my neighbor got his information.
But this lime-green vine that grows wild in Jamaica, and now at my house again, deserves more respect.
Especially since it fights cancer.
The Jamaicans who eat the reddish-orange fruit and its seeds are known for their iron-hard bones and incredible health.
My friend Ivey Harris, the last living descendant of the 500-year tradition of Maroon herbalists in Jamaica, tells me that they’ve been making tea and tonics from the leaves for centuries. They use it to cure rashes, stomach pain and diabetes.
Cerasee, or bitter melon, has so many healing properties that researchers brought it to the University of Miami to study it. They discovered that an enzyme in the ripe fruit can inhibit growth of cancer cells.
A recent study looked at a compound called “kuguaglycoside C” that’s in the leaves of cerasee. They found that the extract killed off cancer cells of the nerve tissue (neuroblastoma) in just 48 hours.1
One of the ways it works is by increasing “apoptosis-inducing factor” or AIF inside the cancer cells. This stops the cancer cells from making energy, and tells them to shut down and die off.
Another compound in cerasee called DMC works to kill breast cancer tumor cells.2 Extracts of cerasee also fight hepatitis B, and kill off liver cancer cells.3
A fatty acid that’s in both the fruit and the seeds called alpha-eleostearic acid kills off leukemia cells and colon cancer cells as well.4
The leaves are also an excellent choice for skin problems. Researchers have discovered that cerasee interferes with an enzyme that’s been linked to psoriasis.
Ivey tells me that for many skin problems, or even just to have naturally healthier and cleaner skin, they crush cerasee leaves and add them to their baths.
The Maroon healers traditionally use cerasee for diabetes – although they didn’t understand the causes or progression of the disease. Still, they made a good choice, because cerasee contains a compound that helps normalize blood sugar5 – a major problem for diabetics.
When I traveled to India I found bitter melon there, too. Although Ayurvedic medicine, the oldest system of medicine in the world, calls it karela.
I always have faith that something works when I see the same tradition of use spring up in totally unrelated places around the world.
Ayurveda treats diabetes with it as well. And like the Maroon tradition from thousands of miles away, having had no contact with each other, both cultures use cerasee to help strengthen eyesight. Turns out it has the nutrients lutein and zeaxanthin which both improve eyesight.
The fruit looks a bit different in India, with pointier ends, and they use it in their cooking when it’s still green.
I sometimes use cerasee in my cooking, too. I cut the green fruit open lengthwise without peeling. Then I remove the seeds and the unripened fruit from inside and chop it like a green pepper. Then I boil them until the pieces are tender, and add them to my stir-fry.
I also like cerasee (momordica charantia) because you can use the leaves and the flower to make a detoxifying and purging daily tonic or tea. In Jamaica, they usually use the young leaves to make “bush tea” and drink it for breakfast. All you have to do to make it is:
- Add 10 grams of dried or fresh cerasee leaves to ¼ liter of boiling water
- Simmer on low for 5 minutes
- Turn off the heat and steep for 10 minutes
- Strain off the tea into a cup
- To make it sweeter, add a bit of brown sugar and ginger