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Colocynth, an African herb vegetable

Colocynth, bitter apple

Colocynth is a surprising “herb vegetable”. Only seeds are edible, though.

Key Colocynth facts

NameCitrullus colocynthis
FamilyCucurbitaceae gourd family
Type – herb vegetable

Height – 8 to 20 inches (20 to 50 cm)
Exposure – full sun

Soil: rich and well drained (sandy is ideal)  –  Harvest: fall

Fruits are round and striped, the size of your fist. The flesh of the fruit has many medicinal properties.

It’s a relative of another rare but useful fruit: Citron melon.

Sowing and planting colocynth

Grow colocynth just as you would watermelon, they both come from the same family.

Colocynth planting As an annual, start sowing in March in a sheltered spot and then transplant to the growing bed in May. Another option is sowing in place directly in May.

  • Since it’s a vine, you can sow colocynth at the foot of a fence, lattice or pergola.

When transplanting seedlings or sowing seeds directly, give each plant 3 feet (1 meter) growing space to all sides. Colocynth needs enough room to spread.

  • Colocynth likes growing in a well-lit place.
  • It thrives in hot weather and doesn’t tolerate frost. Not hardy at all, but very drought-resistant.
  • The richer your soil, the better the drainage, the more abundant will your harvest be.
  • Feel free to add fertilizer or decomposed manure upon planting. It can make do with not much, but you’ll get more fruits with rich soil.

Pruning and caring for colocynths

Colocynth carePinch off stems after the 3rd or 4th leaf to stimulate plant growth.

  • This will give you a better harvest and higher productivity.

Keep colocynth fruits from staying in close contact with the soil. This could lead it to rot, so it is better to add a slab of wood, mulch or plastic between fruit and ground.

  • Mulch also inhibits weeds which are detrimental to growing colocynth.

Harvest, when is colocynth ripe?

Colocynth harvestUnlike pumpkins for which keeping and ripeness are important, the harvest period of colocynths is much earlier. The younger the fruit, the more potent its medicinal effects.

  • For seeds, harvest the colocynth as soon as leaves dry up.
  • Peel the rind off and let the flesh dry out. Then you can collect the seeds.

All there is to know about colocynth

Colocynth, a desert herbColocynth is grown in desert regions of the Middle East and Northern Africa for its medicinal properties. Fruits are extremely bitter and a power laxative, to be used only with caution.

Colocynth seeds, however, are edible and have a high oil content. They’re not toxic in any manner. Some African cultures roast the seeds and eat them whole.

Smart tip about colocynth

Take care not to let too many fruits develop on a single plant (at most 5 or 6).

Having too many fruits might reduce the quality of the entire harvest overall.

Images: CC BY 4.0: abogomazova, Kym Nicolson, Thomas Mesaglio, Yves Bas; Public Domain: Hiranya Anderson
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