A practical guide for nutritional and traditional health care.
The pumpkin is a familiar fruit; it is a herbaceous running plant belonging to the melon family. The pumpkin fruit grows annually on vines that may reach up to 26 ft in length. Pumpkin plants are characterized by the presence of large and bristly leaves, they bear large, yellow and solitary flowers from which the fruit will eventually develop. One of the easiest fruits to recognize, the pumpkin fruit is a very large, orange to greenish colored fibrous fruit. The fruit of the pumpkin is notched by many shallow grooves and possess many flattened oval seeds in the fleshy interior.
The pumpkin belongs to the plant genus Cucurbita, comprising melons and squash like fruits. The seeds of many species in this plant genus are regarded as being very potent and effective teniafuges - these are de-worming agents that can easily paralyze and eliminate intestinal worms from the digestive system of a person. Among these useful species, the pumpkin itself is a primary example, the seeds or pepo of the pumpkin, derived from the name for the plant C. pepo L are excellent against intestinal parasites. A similar action against intestinal parasites is also displayed by the seeds contained in the autumn squash called C. maxima Duchesne and of the Canadian pumpkin or crookneck squash, botanically called the C. moschata (Duchesne). These herbaceous plants all produce very large and edible fruits, are characterized by the presence of a running stem and are vine like; all belong to the plant family Cucurbitaceae - all melons like plants. This plant family has many cultivated varieties of plants used either for their food value or as herbal medicine.
Cucurbita seeds are usually given in the form of ground seeds when they are used for teniafuge or anthelmintic reasons. Sometimes they are also given in the form of an herbal infusion or tea; they can also be administered in the form of an herbal emulsion, which is prepared by beating the seeds in a mixture of powdered sugar added to some milk or water. The dosage regimen is usually divided into three doses; this regimen can contain a total weight of seeds that can range from 60 grams to as much as 500 grams seeds per dose. Both tapeworms and roundworms, which are very common helminth endoparasites are said to be easily expelled and eliminated by such treatments. A male affected by chronic prostatic hypertrophy, which is the enlargement of the prostate gland is also traditionally treated using the seeds of the pumpkin. In the countries of Bulgaria, Turkey and Ukraine, a very popular remedy for this condition in men is to eat a handful of the pumpkin seeds daily.
Pumpkin and other species of the Cucurbita family posses an unusual amino acid known as cucurbitin, which has been chemically defined as (-)-3-amino-3-carboxypyrrolidine, this is the main and most active chemical principle that is essentially the reason for the anti-helminthic - capable of eliminating worms - activity displayed by the pumpkin seed remedy. This amino acid, cucurbitin is found concentrated only in the seeds of the Cucurbita species of plants, at the same time, the concentration of this substance from the seeds of one individual plant to the other is very variable even within plants belonging to the same species, thus there are varieties that tend to have a greater concentration of this useful compound. The accusations of unreliability and ineffectiveness about the seeds of the Cucurbita as teniafuge agents which is published in the herbal literature may possibly arise as a result of misreading this variability in the chemical content of seeds in different species, not to mention different varieties of plants. The variability of cucurbitin concentration in different samples of cucurbita species is clearly elucidated in one study. In this study, different samples of C. pepo species showed a cucurbitin content ranged from 1.66 to 6.63 percent in different varieties of the species, the range and variability of the cucurbitin in the C. maxima species was from 5.29 to 19.37 percent in different varieties of the species, and in the C. moschata it ranged from 3.98 to 8.44 percent in different varieties.
It is not very easy to chemically identify all the active principles and compounds which are responsible for the beneficial effects on the affected prostate gland - in fact chemical analysis and the charting of molecular pathways responsible for a beneficial effect is complex and time consuming. For example, a false sense of reduction in the prostate swelling or hypertrophy may result due to the increased urine flow arising as a result of the efficient diuretic action induced by the fatty oil found in the cucurbita seeds, which approach 50% of all compounds contained in the pumpkin seeds. Some researchers believed that there are some benefits associated with the administration of unsaturated fatty acids in cases of prostate disorders. The oil of the Cucurbita seeds possesses many types of these compounds, such as about 25% of the oleic acid and about 55% linoleic acid among other compounds. It has also been suggested that phytosterols present in the pumpkin seeds may play some role in the treatment of prostate problems.
Pumpkin possesses some really top quality essential nutrients that are required for many processes in the human body and can serve as effective herbal medication. Pumpkin flesh is very low in calories yet contains abundant quantities of extremely good dietary fiber. Many important disease fighting nutrients are also found in large quantities in the flesh and pulp as well as the seeds of the pumpkin, these includes the essential mineral potassium, the vitamin pantothenic acid, the essential mineral magnesium, and the important vitamins C and E aside from many other nutrients. Due to the presence of a synergistic combination of the class of organic compounds known as carotenoids in the pumpkin, the pumpkin is considered to be one of the super foods in the plant kingdom in terms of its essential nutrient content alone. The amount of bio-available carotenoids in the pumpkin forms one of the richest single sources of this nutrient in the diet of people. Many different plant products contain the carotenoids as active chemical constituents in the tissues, these organic compounds are deep orange, they may be yellow, or even red colored, they are all fat soluble organic compounds frequently met with in the vegetable kingdom. Due to the coloration they impart to plants, carotenoids aid in helping plants attract potential pollinators such as birds and insects, the pigment like nature also protects the tissues of carotenoid bearing plants from damage due to direct sun light. While more than fifty different types of carotenoids normally occur in the diet of an average person, at least six hundred kinds of carotenoids have been identified by life scientists so far. The efficiency of absorption of all dietary carotenoids into the human body is not carried out at the same rate and differs from one kind to the other. A direct consequence of this absorption rate is that out of all the different types of carotenoids taken in the diet from vegetable sources, only thirty four carotenoids have been identified till date in samples of human breast milk and blood. The organic compound called beta-carotene, the compound called lycopene, the compound lutein, the compound called zeaxanthin, the compound called alpha-carotene, and the compound called beta cryptoxanthin are the six most common carotenoids which have been isolated from human tissues. Among these six familiar carotenoids, the alpha as well as the beta-carotene and the compound called beta cryptoxanthin come under a class of compounds known as provitamin A carotenoids, they are biochemical precursors of the vitamin A, and the body can use these compounds to form the vitamin. A toxic amount of the vitamin A can never be delivered by these plant based carotenoid vitamin A precursor, quite unlike the vitamin A sourced from animal sources. The production of naturally occurring detoxification enzymes in the body may also be stimulated by the presence of carotenoids which are concentrated in a wide variety of human tissue types, it is well known that these compounds help in protecting us from all sorts of free radicals, they aid in modulating our immune response, they help enhance the inter cellular communication and fine tune many metabolic processes. The damaging effects of ultraviolet light is also rectified by the carotenoids, which actively aid in protecting sensitive tissues such as the skin and the eyes from direct radiation.
Disease prevention and the increase in general health have been connected to the long term consumption of different plant based foods that are rich in carotenoids. The long term consumption of carotenoid rich plant foods is linked to a reduction in the risk of being affected by various types of cancers, such as lung cancer, the cancer of the colon and the urinary bladder, as well as cervical and breast cancer in women, and skin cancer.
A reduction in the rate as well as risk of heart disease for a person is also believed to be possible, if the person consumes only carotenoid rich foods for a long time - these compounds are good for the cardiovascular system. The connection between cardiac health and the carotenoids was observed during one clinical study lasting over a period of thirteen years, in this research, the scientists made a connection between a higher rate of heart disease and a lowered carotenoid concentration in the blood of test subjects. The opposite is also true, and a higher carotenoid concentration in blood seems to be good for the cardiovascular system. In addition, it has been established again and again, that the connection between an increased consumption of carotenoids and a lowering in the risk of heart disease was greater if all the known beneficial carotenoids in the diet were considered, and not beta-carotene alone.
The carotenoids derived from wholesome plant foods such as the pumpkin, are excellent defenses against the risk of diseases and help fight off all kinds of disorders in the body. Aside from their defensive role, these compounds also serve as molecular signals, and high blood levels of the beta-carotene and alpha-carotene for example are often linked to a reduction in the chances of certain chronic diseases settling in over the long term. The potent anti-inflammatory action and powerful anti-oxidant action of the beta-carotene has been effectively demonstrated in laboratory studies. Beta-carotene is one of the most effective organic compounds around, helping in the effective prevention of cholesterol oxidation under laboratory conditions, this property of the compound is very helpful as oxidized cholesterol is the form of the sterol which often accumulates in the walls of the blood vessels and may contributes to a heightened risk of heart attack and stroke in the person. For this reason, the progression of atherosclerosis and heart disease in the body may possible be slowed down by regular high intake of the beta-carotene from dietary sources.
The real reason for the high nutritional points given to pumpkin is due to its alpha-carotene content, a compound that is different from the beta-carotene, even though the latter has long been linked to so many beneficial effects to do with general health. The real effect of alpha-carotene is its connection with biological aging, the presence of the alpha-carotene and some other key nutrients in the body is believed to be inversely related to the aging process - this is a very exciting aspect to this simple nutrient. What this implies is that, the human body may actually age at a slower rate and with reduced signs if the person consumes a lot of alpha-carotene rich foods. The aging process may actually be slowed down by the alpha- carotene, and in addition, the presence of the compound in the body may give some protection against the risk of various types of cancers and age related illnesses such as cataracts in the eyes. Cardiovascular disease is also warded off by the combined presence and potent effect of beneficial compounds like the carotenoids, the essential mineral potassium, the mineral magnesium, and the vitamin B9 (folate) found in abundance in pumpkin.
Beneficial dietary fiber is also abundant in pumpkins - it is one of the best sources for beneficial fiber. Due to the creamy consistency of canned pumpkin, the majority of people are often unaware of the high fiber content. Compared to the common fiber source in most diets - cereals, even half a cup of a pumpkin serving can provide a person with five grams more of dietary fiber than a similar serving of cereal.
The pumpkin C. pepo may well be one of the first species of cultivated plants in the new world, if the archaeological records in Mexico which go back to 8750 B.C. are to be believed. Native American civilizations in south and Central America considered the pumpkins along with many other squash species, in addition to the beans and the corn plant, as being the "three sisters"- they formed the main food crops of all the early American civilizations and were cultivated together by native peoples. Nitrogen was fixed into the soil by the bean vines which also used the cornstalks as their fixed support for climbing. Squash with its large leaves was used to provide shade for growing the plants so as to help the soil retain moisture during arid seasons. The traditional and cultural representation of the pumpkin in European civilization can be inferred from the brother's Grimm's' fairy tale of Cinderella, in the story, the fairy godmother magically turns a large pumpkin into a golden coach for Cinderella. American culture also makes extensive use of the pumpkin as jack-o-lanterns during Halloween, as well as pumpkin cakes and pies. The festival of Halloween also sees the use of pumpkin shaped decorations in the houses and pumpkin like symbols in the trick or treat costumes used by children.
Traditionally in folk medicine, the remedies made from the pumpkin were used in the treatment of disorders such as kidney inflammation and to eliminate intestinal parasites. The remedies made from pumpkin seeds were very highly regarded in the old days, and the pumpkin seed was recorded as a useful seed in the treatise “Four Greater Cold Seeds” a medical text listing medicines and cures of the 18th century. Disorders of the prostate gland, as well as problems such as an irritable bladder are treated using the pumpkin seeds these days, the greatest use for the pumpkin seed remedy is in the treatment of benign prostatic hyperplasia or BPH. A mildly diuretic action is found in the fatty oil of the pumpkin seeds, cucurbitacins which are the seeds' principal constituent, seem to be capable of inhibiting the conversion of testosterone into another analogue di-hydrotesterone in the body. Pumpkin seeds also contain the essential mineral zinc and amino acids which aid in the long term treatment of BPH in the body. Only the symptoms produced by an enlarged prostate are treated by the pumpkin, and the remedy is not capable of reduce the enlarged prostate gland itself. Disorders such as sudden spells of dizziness can also be treated by the pumpkin seed remedy.
The use of the pumpkin seeds in herbal medicine is mainly as a natural and safe de-worming agent, the seeds are able to rid the body of all intestinal helminthes and parasites when used properly. The treatment of pregnant women and children affected by infestation of tapeworms is effectively carried out using the pumpkin seed remedy, as remedies which are stronger acting and far more toxic are unsuitable for such individuals - the pumpkin seeds affect a chemical free and natural removal of the intestinal parasites with no side effects whatsoever. The mildly diuretic action possessed by the pumpkin seeds made extensive use of in the herbal medicine systems of many Central American civilizations, the seeds were used in treating nephritis and alleviating other conditions affecting the urinary system. In the very early stages of prostate problems, pumpkin varieties which have a high zinc content, possesses a strong diuretic action and have a tonic effect on the bladder are often recommended to the patient - such varieties are ideal for dealing with eh early signs of prostate disorders. Intestinal inflammation can be treated by consuming an herbal decoction made from the pumpkin pulp; the pumpkin pulp is also used as an herbal poultice or plaster in treating burns and external problems of all kinds.
The pumpkin was one of the main crops of the Native Americans and the plant was noticed by the earliest European explorers who arrived in America - the natives usually cultivated the pumpkin in their maize fields. The colonists found out that pumpkin was used for medicinal purposes as well as for food by the natives. The Native American Yuma tribe for example, traditionally made use of an emulsion produced from a mixture of the pumpkin and watermelon seeds to heal wounds and other external injuries. The fresh or dried seeds of the pumpkin were used as a kidney medicine by the Catawba people, who ate the fresh or dried seeds as treatment, urinary problems were treated by the Menominee people by drinking water in which some powdered squash and pumpkin seeds was mixed, this aided in the passage of urine and relieved symptoms. The colonists soon came up with their own uses for the medicinal qualities of pumpkin and the prone stems of the pumpkin were brewed into a herbal tea, and this tea was used to treat female ills. The colonist also learnt of the anti-helminthes nature of the ripe seeds, these were ground down and made into a palatable preparation to aid in the removal of worms from the digestive system. The use of pumpkin seeds is also advocated by the modern folk healers as an aid to ridding the body of infestations from intestinal worms, these folk therapists also suggest that the oil from the seeds can effectively aid in healing all kinds of burns and wounds on the skin.
Other medical uses
Habitat and cultivation
The cultivation of pumpkins is carried out worldwide due to its widespread use in many cuisines; however, pumpkin cultivation is greater in scale in the temperate regions of the world. Temperate North America is where the pumpkin originated.
Pumpkin seeds contain 30% unsaturated fixed oil (which includes linoleic and oleic fatty acids). The seeds also contain cucurbitacins, vitamins, and minerals, notably zinc.
The herbal pumpkin remedy is prepared from a seed mixture by beating about 2 ounces or 60 grams of the dried seeds in about the same amount of sugar mixed in some milk or water. The prepared mixture is added up to a pint and drunk during a fasting stage. The dosage regimen consists of three essential doses, each dose is drunk once every two hours in the day, the last and third dose of the day is followed several hours later, by a drink of castor oil to complete the dosage regimen.
Collection and harvesting
Pumpkins are usually harvested late in the summer, at these time, seeds are removed from the pulp inside the pumpkin and stored for later use, while the pulp itself is used for food.
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