A Haitian Treasure: Asowosi or Asosi (Bitter Melon)

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I couldn't let 2016 go by without "A Haitian Treasure" post! It's been a while, but I'm back in full force. I'm writing about Asowosi or asosi, at the request of a reader who asked me to!

Asowosi is known as bitter melon in English and ku gua in Chinese. I'm really excited to write about this herb because it is one that I use in both the Naturopathic and East Asian Medicine clinic very often. The latin name is Momordica charantia L. and it is in the Cucurbitaceae family, like other melons! It grows abundantly in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Nepal, China, Vietnam, Jamaica and of course, our beloved HAITI. It can be consumed at all stages, but is thought of as tasting more pleasant when in the early yellow and green stage.
Image source: Google search
Haitians use asowosi for many many things, but namely for blood sugar management and to reduce fevers. In some parts of Haiti, it is referred to as yesken. It is most commonly consumed as a tea in Haiti.  The Chinese used it for similar reasons, but also for liver tonification and clearing inflammation and infection in a downward direction. It will never cease to amaze me how different cultures, separated by time and space, were  and are so in sync with each other, and spot on, in regards to the power of the earth's natural resources.

Bitter melon contains high levels of Vitamin K, vitamin B, iron, calcium and minerals. It also contains yummy peptides, saponins, and glycosides that are hypoglycemic, meaning that these compounds lower blood sugar. Diabetes mellitus type II is a complex disease pattern, but at its core is a dysfunction in blood sugar regulation. So you can imagine how a blood sugar lowering herb can help someone with diabetes! This Haitian treasure helps increase insulin sensitivity and uptake, which is incredibly important, as insulin is what clears sugar from the blood. Asowosi helps preserve cellular function and is a wonderful anti-oxidant. Asowosi is detoxifying and cleansing, so it can help support your liver, and thus your skin.

Bitter Melon can be helpful for the following conditions:

- diabetes
- ulcers
- colitis
- high cholesterol
- kidney stones
- hypertension (and hypertension related headaches)
- constipation
Image source: Google search
There are many ways you can prepare this fruit. I fondly remember my Chinese nutrition teacher bringing in this fruit, chopping it up, and making us....or rather aggressively suggesting (lol) that we try it. As the name clearly points out, this fruit is VERY bitter, so brace yourself. But it is also really cooling, which fits in with its yin picture. The fruit isn't the only powerful part of asowosi; you can also consume the leaves, flowers, and seeds.

Methods of consumption:
- chop it up into slices and eat as is
- boil the slices in water and drink the liquid as a tea (don't sweeten with sugar to defeat the purpose!)
- juice the melon
- sauté it with other foods, preferably pungent (for energetic balancing from a Chinese perspective)
- consume it in high grade capsule form (though this is the least effective, but easiest method)
Image source: Google search
I want to emphasize that it is so important to monitor your blood sugar, if you have a diagnoses of Diabetes, and to make sure you are properly managed. The major side effect of consuming a blood sugar lowering plant like asowosi is of course that your blood sugar could get too low. And we want to avoid that all costs! Be well. Be free.

What other Haitian treasures would you like to learn about?

[This is the first Haitian Treasure post that I'm writing at the tail end of medical school, so the information is highly scientific and reflects some of the clinical pearls that I've picked up in actual practice, which is different from previous posts. You will also now see a deeper integration with Chinese medicine, since I am studying Acupuncture and Chinese nutrition/herbalism as well. Future Haitian Treasure posts will reflect this, in addition to the social, cultural, and spiritual uses of these herbs and plants, as indicated. Let me know what you think about that.]

In health.
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The "Haitian Treasures" series explores the magnificent benefits and uses of Haiti's natural resources, which I call "Haitian Treasures" because they are truly national gems.  Naïka in Balance is the premiere source for information on healing herbs used by Haitians. In this series, I explore the tie between Haiti's natural resources and natural, traditional, and holistic healing.

Learn about other Haitian Treasures explored on this blog here!

The two most popular Haitian Treasures on this blog are:

Castor oil/l'huile palma christi
Wonder of the world plant/fey lougawou

Naika, the writer of this blog, has a doctorate in Naturopathic Medicine and a Masters of Science in Acupuncture as of June 2017. Please do not take the information presented on this blog, as medical advice, without consulting your certified health care practitioner. Knowledge is power and your health is your wealth!