Other Names: Bitter gourd, Bitter melon, Hanzal, Nigauri, Peria, Karawila, Balsamina, Foo gua
Karela is a tendril-bearing vine that grows to 5 m. It bears simple, alternate leaves 4-12 cm across, with 3-7 deeply separated lobes. Each plant bears separate yellow male and female flowers.The fruit has a distinct warty looking exterior and an oblong shape. It is hollow in cross-section, with a relatively thin layer of flesh surrounding a central seed cavity filled with large flat seeds and pith. Seeds and pith appear white in unripe fruits, ripening to red.Karela comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. Typical varieties grow 10 to 20 m long although miniature varieties only grow 6 to 10 cm long and some Chinese varieties can grow to 30 cm long. They are oblong with bluntly tapering ends and pale green in colour, with a gently undulating, warty surface. Some varieties have a narrower shape with pointed ends, and a surface covered with jagged, triangular 'teeth' and ridges.
The seeds and pith of karela is intensely bitter and must be removed before cooking. The skin is tender and edible. The fruit is most often eaten green, it becomes more bitter as it ripens. Karela is used in many Asian dishes despite its very bitter taste. It is de-seeded and salted for a few hours and then washed in preparation for cooking. It is used to make curries, pickles and used in stir-fries. It can be stuffed with a spicy filling and steam cooked.
Karela is a blood purifier, activates spleen and liver and is highly beneficial in diabetes. It is a purgative, appetizer, digestive, anti-inflammatory and has healing capacity. It has been used in Aryuvedic medicine for thousands of years.
Grows best in warm tropical and sub-tropical climate.
Will grow in any type of soil but prefers light soil with plenty of organic matter.
From seed. Sow 2 - 3 cm deep outside in a warm sunny place. Provide plenty of sunshine, water and space as per other gourds. It may be easier to sow indoors first and moved outdoors when both daytime and night time temperatures have risen.