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Bitter gourd (Momordica charantia)


Click on the "Nutritional aspects" tab for recommendations for ruminants, pigs, poultry, rabbits, horses, fish and crustaceans
Common names 

Balsam pear, bitter cucumber, leprosy gourd, bitter melon, bitter gourd [English]; Margose, concombre amer, paroka, concombre africain [French]; Melão de São Caetano, balsamina longa [Portuguese]; melón amargo, caigua amarga, cundeamor chino o balsamina [Spanish]; Karela [Swedish]; Peria [Bahasa indonesia]; Peria katak [Bahasa malaysia]; الحنظل [Arabic];מלון מר [Hebrew];Mbërbóof [Wolof] ; ejirin weere [Yoruba]; خیار چنبر تلخ">خیار چنبر تلخ [Farsi];  করলা [Bengali]; करेला [Hindi]; کریلا [Urdu];苦瓜 [Chinese]; ツルレイシ [Japanese];여주 [Korean]; तीते करेला [Nepalese]; มะระ [Thai]; Khổ qua, mướp đắng [Vietnamese]


The bitter gourd (Momordica charantia L.) is an horticultural species from the tropics and subtropics cultivated for its edible fruits known for their extreme bitterness. Information about the use in animal feeding of bitter gourd and its products is extremely limited.


Momordica charantia is an annual climbing or trailing herb with stems (vines) up to 5 m long. The stems are ridged, glabrous or hairy, and they bear simple tendrils. The leaves are showy, alternate, simple, borne on 1.5-7 cm long petioles. The leaf-blade can be glabrous or pubescent, deeply palmated, 2.5-10 cm broad x 3-12.5 cm long. The flowers are solitary, unisexual, borne at leaf axils, regular, pentamerous up to 2 cm long, pale yellow to orange-yellow; male and female flowers are distinct. The fruit is a pendulous broadly ovoid and beaked berry, up to 11 cm in length × 4 cm in diameter (some cultivars reach up to 45 cm × 9 cm). Immature fruits are green in colour, and then become reddish-orange when ripe. They split open at maturity to release the seeds sheathed in a sticky red pulp. Cultivated fruits have smooth to spiny surface. The seeds are oblong, 10 mm × 5 mm, flattened, white or brown (Njoroge et al., 2004).


The fruit of bitter gourd is used for human food, and it is considered a famine food in West Africa. Immature fruits are mainly used in stews, curries and pickles, and can be used raw, in salads, like cucumbers. Treatments like parboiling, soaking, salting, or scoring the skin help to reduce bitterness. Dried pieces of fruit are used to make tea in Japan and other Asian countries. The leafy shoots may be eaten, and, in Asia, the plant is sometimes grown only for the shoots.

The plant is widely used in ethnomedicine. Particularly, the unripe fruit, seeds and aerial parts have been used in various parts of the world to treat diabetes. The compounds responsible for the hypoglycaemic principle in Momordica charantia could be steroidal glycosides (a combination of several saponins named "charantin"), insulinomimetic lectins and alkaloids (Raman, 1996). The roots have been reported to be abortifacient while leaves and shoots would have anthelminthic effects. The seeds have been reported to be poisonous (Njoroge et al., 2004). The extraction of bitter gourd seeds yields drying oil, which may be suitable for industrial purposes (varnishes, paints etc.)(Madaan et al., 1984). Use for animal feeding of bitter gourd fruits, seeds, oil meal, and plant parts are cited in the literature but there is little evidence that they are actually used.


Momordica charantia is believed to be indigenous to the Old World tropics (India or Southeast Asia). It was possibly domesticated in India and southern China where its cultivation as a food crop and for folk medicines has a long history. It has then spread and is now found naturalized in almost all tropical and subtropical regions. It is commonly found in the wild flora of Africa, occurring almost throughout tropical Africa where it is collected from the wild as a vegetable or medicinal plant (Njoroge et al., 2004; Rubatzky et al., 1997). In the USA (Florida), it has escaped and became invasive. Outside its native range, it naturally grows in sunny areas along coastal areas, creeks, ditch banks, firebreaks, fence lines, forest edges and disturbed sites. It can become a weed and, in restoration areas, bitter gourd is a dreaded plant that smothers native species, climbs to the trees, covers the ground and quickly forms dense thickets (Lockhart, 2017). Bitter gourd grows from sea level to over 1300 m altitude. It grows in places where minimum average annual temperatures may be as low as 12.5°C and where annual rainfall could be as low as 480 mm. It grows on a wide range of soils with pH ranging from 4.3 to 8.7. This species can be found growing in coastal areas, along creeks and rivers, forest edges and disturbed sites. For optimum growth, Momordica charantia needs a strong support, 1-4 m tall, but it will also grow as a matted ground cover (Rubatzky et al., 1997).

Bitter gourd is an important market vegetable cultivated in Asia, notably India, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines and southern China. It is valued for Asian dishes in tropical America and in the Southern United States. It is occasionally cultivated in East Africa, mostly by people of Asian origin using Asian cultivars (Rubatzky et al., 1997)

Environmental impact 


Bitter gourd is a fast growing, covering and pionneering shrub that can become a bane in restoration areas as it spreads through tree gaps after prescribed burns and invasive plant removal. In Florida, it was placed in the list of invasive plants in 2013 (Lockhart, 2017). In Australia, it is a considered an environmental weed (DAF, 2019).

Nutritional aspects
Nutritional attributes 

Despite the popularity of the plant as human food, information about the composition of its leaves and fruits remains scarce and based on small numbers of values. Variability is large and may reflect the wide range of the plant, its numerous varieties, cultivated and wild, and differences in maturity.


The fruits seem to contain highly variable amounts of protein, ranging from 9 to 28% DM. Fibre content ranges from relatively small (10-14% DM) to high (ADF 31% DM). They have also a variable amount of fat (1-10% DM) and low amounts of starch (< 5% DM). Bitter gourd fruits are a good vitamin C source and provide a fair amount of pro-vitamin A, phosphorus, and iron. (Rubatzky et al., 1997).


Like the fruits, bitter gourd leaves have a highly variable protein content, from 10 to 28% DM. They contain a fairly amount of fibre (crude fibre or ADF > 25% DM) and mineral matter (> 15% DM).


Bitter gourd seeds are rich in protein (12-32% DM), fibre (crude fibre 18-38% DM) and particularly in oil, with a large range of variation, from 12 to 45% DM.

Potential constraints 

Bitter gourd leaves, fruits, and seeds all contain bioactive compounds and antinutritional factors. The mature fruits of wild plants are said to be poisonous to people and domestic animals (Njoroge et al., 2004). Compounds found in the leaves include alkaloids, saponins, flavonoids, and relatively low levels of tannins and phenols (Ayeni et al., 2016). The seeds contain high levels of trypsin inhibitors that may play a role in the plant defense against insects, and the seeds could be used as natural insecticides (Sowbaghya et al., 2019).


Information about the use of bitter gourd as fodder for ruminants is almost inexistant (as of 2021). Bitter gourd foliage was reported to be clearly avoided by yearling rams that were grazing different herbage species under a mango/cashew plantation in Ghana, suggesting that the plant is quite unpalatable and can thus not be used as feed in ruminants (Asiedu et al., 1978).

Veterinary medecine

Bitter gourd leaves could be used in veterinary medicine for their anthelmintic efficacy in ruminants (mostly assessed in vitro, Amin et al., 2009; Sujon et al., 2008). In cattle, the inclusion of bitter gourd dried leaf material into urea-molasses multi-nutrient blocks formulations was shown to reduce faecal worm egg counts, even if it needed a longer period to become effective than other plants extracts like Ananas comosus (Daing et al., 2006). Ethanol extract of bitter gourd plants at the dose of 100 mg/kg similarly showed a significant and potent antinematodal effect for goats (Sujon et al., 2008).


No information seems available in the international literature on the use of any part of the bitter gourd in rabbit feeding (March 2021). Yet, in Asian or African countries, the young fruits or peeled fruits are used as food by local population which could suggest a possible use by rabbits (Bakare et al., 2010; Upadhyay et al., 2015; Ahmad et al., 2016). The main constraint that consists in the bitterness of bitter gourd is not necessarily problem since rabbits like diets with a certain level of bitterness (Cheeke et al., 1989).  The proteins are rich in essential amino acids such as lysine or sulphur amino acids (200 or 130% of rabbits requirement respectively) but poor in threonine (about 2/3 only of rabbits requirements; Lebas, 2013)(Nagarani et al., 2014).

The daily ingestion of aqueous or alcoholic extracts of leaves or fruits of bitter gourd, generally up to 1 or 2 g/kg BW, were used in rabbits to demonstrate the numerous pharmacological activities (anti-diabetic, hypo- lipidemic, hypo-cholesteric, anti-atherosclerosis, etc.) of this plant and these administrations were practised without any health problem for rabbit (Akhtar et al., 1981; Tahira et al., 2014; Wang et al., 1986; Upadhyay et al., 2015).

For all these reasons, bitter gourd fruits and leaves seem to be a potential forage for fattening rabbits. However, they should be excluded of the breeding does feeding because of the abortion effect known in human and demonstrated in the mice (Ahmad et al., 2016). Direct experiments of rabbit feeding with bitter gourd leaves or fruits would be highly welcome to determine the maximum level of incorporation in the ration.

Nutritional tables

Avg: average or predicted value; SD: standard deviation; Min: minimum value; Max: maximum value; Nb: number of values (samples) used

Main analysis Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Dry matter % as fed 9.2 3.8 6.8 16.8 6  
Crude protein % DM 15.5 7.2 8.5 27.9 7  
Crude fibre % DM 11.4   10.1 13.6 3  
Neutral detergent fibre % DM 52.5       1  
Acid detergent fibre % DM 31.6       1  
Ether extract % DM 6.4 3.6 0.8 9.7 7  
Ash % DM 8.8 1.3 7.4 10.5 5  
Starch (enzymatic) % DM 4.1   3 4.9 3  
Gross energy MJ/kg DM 18.5         *
Amino acids Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Alanine g/16g N 6.1       1  
Aspartic acid g/16g N 11.4       1  
Glutamic acid g/16g N 18.4       1  
Glycine g/16g N 6.7       1  
Histidine g/16g N 2.9       1  
Isoleucine g/16g N 5.1       1  
Leucine g/16g N 9.2       1  
Lysine g/16g N 3.4       1  
Methionine g/16g N 0.3       1  
Phenylalanine g/16g N 5.5       1  
Phenylalanine+tyrosine g/16g N 8.2         *
Proline g/16g N 5.4       1  
Serine g/16g N 1.8       1  
Threonine g/16g N 2.8       1  
Tyrosine g/16g N 2.8       1  
Valine g/16g N 6.8       1  
Fatty acids Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Myristic acid C14:0 % fatty acids 0.2       1  
Palmitic acid C16:0 % fatty acids 21       1  
Palmitoleic acid C16:1 % fatty acids 0.2       1  
Stearic acid C18:0 % fatty acids 16.4       1  
Oleic acid C18:1 % fatty acids 4.4       1  
Linoleic acid C18:2 % fatty acids 11.8       1  
Linolenic acid C18:3 % fatty acids 21       1  
Minerals Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Calcium g/kg DM 2.4 0.9 1.4 3.8 6  
Phosphorus g/kg DM 6.2 2.8 2.3 9.2 5  
Potassium g/kg DM 44.2   32.4 57.5 3  
Sodium g/kg DM 0.23   0.16 0.26 3  
Magnesium g/kg DM 2.7   1.2 3.6 4  
Sulfur g/kg DM 1.2   1.1 1.4 3  
Manganese mg/kg DM 33   31 36 3  
Zinc mg/kg DM 42   33 57 4  
Copper mg/kg DM 20   13 35 4  
Iron mg/kg DM 92 77 37 237 6  
Pig nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Energy digestibility, growing pig % 54.2         *
DE growing pig MJ/kg DM 10         *
Ruminants nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
OM digestibility, ruminants % 87.6         *
Energy digestibility, ruminants % 85.2         *
ME ruminants MJ/kg DM 12.9         *
Nitrogen digestibility, ruminants % 79.3         *
Dry matter degradability (effective, k=6%) % 59       1 *
Dry matter degradability (effective, k=4%) % 65         *
a (DM) % 33       1  
b (DM) % 54       1  
c (DM) h-1 0.058       1  
Rabbit nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
DE rabbit MJ/kg DM 10.2         *
Energy digestibility, rabbit % 55.1         *

The asterisk * indicates that the average value was obtained by an equation.


Bakare et al., 2010; Behera et al., 2011; Horax et al., 2010; Suchitra et al., 2008; Yuwai et al., 1991

Last updated on 13/09/2021 16:56:34

Main analysis Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Dry matter % as fed 15       1  
Crude protein % DM 18.7   10.3 27.5 4  
Crude fibre % DM 25.3       1  
Neutral detergent fibre % DM 35.3       1  
Acid detergent fibre % DM 31.2       1  
Lignin % DM 1.5       1  
Ether extract % DM 3.4   3 3.7 2  
Ash % DM 16.7   15.4 17.9 2  
Gross energy MJ/kg DM 17.3       1 *
Amino acids Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Alanine g/16g N 3.9       1  
Arginine g/16g N 5.9       1  
Aspartic acid g/16g N 11       1  
Cystine g/16g N 0.9       1  
Glutamic acid g/16g N 12.8       1  
Glycine g/16g N 4       1  
Histidine g/16g N 2.1       1  
Isoleucine g/16g N 4       1  
Leucine g/16g N 6.8       1  
Lysine g/16g N 5.3       1  
Methionine g/16g N 1.2       1  
Methionine+cystine g/16g N 2.1         *
Phenylalanine g/16g N 4.3       1  
Phenylalanine+tyrosine g/16g N 6.3         *
Proline g/16g N 3       1  
Serine g/16g N 3.2       1  
Threonine g/16g N 2.9       1  
Tyrosine g/16g N 2       1  
Valine g/16g N 5       1  
Minerals Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Calcium g/kg DM 16.8   9 20.8 3  
Phosphorus g/kg DM 6.2   3.7 8.1 4  
Potassium g/kg DM 15.2   0.4 37 3  
Sodium g/kg DM 0.91   0.22 2.2 3  
Magnesium g/kg DM 2.3   0.3 4.4 2  
Sulfur g/kg DM 5.4       1  
Manganese mg/kg DM 70   13 156 4  
Zinc mg/kg DM 138   14 355 4  
Copper mg/kg DM 18   8 32 4  
Iron mg/kg DM 162   8 380 3  
Secondary metabolites Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Tannins (eq. tannic acid) g/kg DM 0.1       1  
Oxalates g/kg DM 0       1  
In vitro digestibility and solubility Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
In vitro DM digestibility (pepsin) % 53       1  
Ruminants nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
OM digestibility, ruminants % 72.5         *
Energy digestibility, ruminants % 69.3         *
DE ruminants MJ/kg DM 12         *
ME ruminants MJ/kg DM 9.5         *
Rabbit nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
DE rabbit MJ/kg DM 7.5         *
MEn rabbit MJ/kg DM 6.7         *
Energy digestibility, rabbit % 43.7         *
Nitrogen digestibility, rabbit % 94.3         *

The asterisk * indicates that the average value was obtained by an equation.


Ayoola et al., 2010; Bakare et al., 2010; Krishna, 1985; Krishna, 1985; Nuwanyakpa et al., 1983; Sulaiman et al., 2018

Last updated on 13/09/2021 15:04:10

Main analysis Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Dry matter % as fed 51.1 15.8 25.4 79.3 15  
Crude protein % DM 22.2 6 12 31.5 16  
Crude fibre % DM 23.7 6.8 18 38.1 13  
Ether extract % DM 35.9 9.4 11.5 45.2 15  
Ash % DM 3.5 2 2.1 9.7 13  
Starch (enzymatic) % DM 2.1   1.5 2.7 2  
Gross energy MJ/kg DM 26.8         *
Minerals Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Calcium g/kg DM 1 0.5 0.5 2.7 14  
Phosphorus g/kg DM 7.7   7.4 8 2  
Potassium g/kg DM 7.5   6.4 8.6 2  
Sodium g/kg DM 0.26 0.11 0.09 0.51 14  
Magnesium g/kg DM 1.1 1.4 0.5 4.4 14  
Sulfur g/kg DM 2   2 2 2  
Manganese mg/kg DM 16   12 20 2  
Zinc mg/kg DM 66 23 40 130 14  
Copper mg/kg DM 139 149 20 550 14  
Iron mg/kg DM 59 22 10 102 14  

The asterisk * indicates that the average value was obtained by an equation.


Bakare et al., 2010; Horax et al., 2010; Rathnayake et al., 2018; Sowbaghya et al., 2019

Last updated on 13/09/2021 17:07:50

Datasheet citation 

Heuzé V., Tran G., Edouard N., Hassoun P., Lebas F., 2021. Bitter gourd (Momordica charantia). Feedipedia, a programme by INRAE, CIRAD, AFZ and FAO. https://www.feedipedia.org/node/632 Last updated on September 24, 2021, 16:47