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Cucurbita Maxima

In October 1950, a group of pint-sized characters appeared on the stage of world cartoon strips. ‘Peanuts’ was the creation of Charles M Schulz. Nearly 63 years later, Peanuts remain one of the most popular comic strips in the entire world, appearing in over 2200 newspapers in 21 languages.  What endears ‘Peanuts’  to us is not only the humor but the underlying pathos, the angst, the joys and sufferings of the entire humanity that is reflected through the characters – Charile Brown, Snoopy, Lucy, Linus and others.  Linus typifies the insecurity that we all suffer from and his fantasies are ours, through which we try to overcome our insecurity.  To Linus, The Great Pumpkin is something akin to Santa Claus. Every year Linus sits on a Pumpkin patch on Halloween night waiting for the Great Pumpkin to appear. It never does; but Linus still goes out every year on Halloween night…

Variety, thy name is Pumpkin

 Whether Linus’s belief in the Great Pumpkin is a metaphor for humanity’s existential dilemmas or a parody or symbol of our irrational faith in many things, Pumpkin is real and sometimes huge. Pumpkin has many names: Cucurbita maxima, marrow, winter squash, pumpkin, calabaza . It is a species of the gourd family Cucurbiaceae.  The indigenous people South America have been cultivating it for over 2,000 years. It is now cultivated worldwide as a vegetable/fruit, animal fodder and for oil from the seeds. There are several related cultivated species also known as squash or pumpkins: Cucurbita pepo  (summer squash / marrow), and Cucurbita mixta and Cucurbita moschata( both are also known as  pumpkin or winter squash). It is difficult to ascertain the derivation of the varieties because squash, pumpkin and marrow are used to refer to several different species. The Pumpkin fruits come in different shapes, colors and weights. The surface of the fruit also varies: smooth, ridged, warty or scalloped.  Some is the size of a plum; some weigh over 500 kg! The Guinness World Record for the world’s largest pumpkin is for one grown in Wisconsin; it weighed 821.23 kg (1,810 lb 8 oz)!

Pumpkin is plum healthy

The fruit, flowers, leaves and seeds of most varieties of Cucurbita are edible. The oil extract from the seed is also used for culinary and medicinal purposes.  Winter squashes are eaten as a vegetable, in curries and purees.  Flowers are fried in butter and eaten.  The seeds which are high in protein and minerals can be eaten raw or toasted.  They are nutritious, strength giving, immunity-promoting and brain tonic. A few of the medicinal uses of pumpkin are given below:

  • General tonic:  A spoonful of the ground seeds mixed with is good nourishment. However, excessive quantity can cause indigestion. Roasted pumpkin seeds mixed with yoghurt can increase appetite.
  • De-worming: In South America and India, the toasted seeds are eaten as a medicine for worm infestation. This should be followed with purgative to expel the worms. It is used for the same purpose for cattle also.
  • Haemostatic: According to Ayurveda, the traditional medicinal practice of India, Pumpkin has a cooling effect on human body. It is therefore used in hemorrhagic conditions such as uterine bleeding and rectal bleeding.
  • Detoxifying: It is considered to have detoxifying properties that can remove accumulated toxins in the body due the chemicals in vegetables and fruits we consume.  A mixture of the pulp taken with unrefined sugar is prescribed for removing food toxins.
  • Anti-inflammatory: The fruit pulp applied on burns and inflammations has a soothing effect.
  • Kidney stones: The powdered seeds are mixed with a pinch of Asafetida (Hing) as a medicine for kidney stones.
  • Mental disorders: A mixture of Liquorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra ) and pumpkin seed powder is given as part of the treatment for mental disorders. Due to high levels of tryptophan content in pumpkin seeds, the seeds have been recommended to treat depression.
  • Antifungal: Extract from pumpkin rinds had antifungal propertie and is effective in treating ringworm, athlete’s foot and such skin problems.
  • Atherosclerosis: Pumpkin seeds can prevent the development of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).
  • Diabetes: Studies suggest that pumpkin seeds can promote the production of insulin thus controlling blood sugar levels.
  • HIV/AIDS: Laboratory studies indicate that pumpkin extracts may have anti-viral qualities and be effective y against HIV/AIDS.
  • Liver:  Pumpkin is said to have liver-protective effect; and thus can be beneficial to those with liver disease.
  • Respiratory problems: In the traditional medical practices of Kerala, India, the squashed extract of the pulp taken along with unrefined sugar is used for Asthma and other respiratory problems if taken regularly for six months.

Good, but not in excess

Though Pumpkin has several medicinal values, it should be remembered it should be consumed in small or moderate quantities.  Pumpkin produced commercially has the chance of being injected with Oxytocin to increase its size and weight. It is better to grow pumpkins in your own courtyard. It can be grown in 2 feet size pots.

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