En EspaŅol

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?

Share

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
    
 
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.
 
rate this answer
56 ratings

Wednesday - August 27, 2008

From: Leicester, England
Region: Other
Topic: Edible Plants
Title: Are gourds poisonous, edible?
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

Are all the Gourds edible? How can I know which one is which? If it is not edible, is it poisonous? If not, what is stopping us from eating them?

ANSWER:

Since our expertise is with plants native to North America I can tell you about our native gourds.  Cucurbita foetidissima (buffalo gourd) is the species I am most familiar with since it occurs locally.  There are four native species of Cucurbita that are called gourds: Cucurbita foetidissima (buffalo gourd), Cucurbita digitata (fingerleaf gourd), C. palmata (coyote gourd) and the endangered C. okeechobeensis (Okeechobee gourd). None of my favorite toxic plant databases (Poisonous Plants of North Carolina, Canadian Poisonous Plants Information System, Cornell University Plants Poisonous to Livestock or other Animals or Texas Toxic Plant Database lists any species of Cucurbita.  Delena Tull (Edible and Useful Plants of Texas and the Southwest) says about the buffalo gourd (C. foetidissima):  "Though related to the edible squashes, the fetid odor and the extremely bitter taste of the buffalo gourd make the fruit inedible."  However, archeological investigations show that native Americans used the seeds as food.  They also used the green fruit and roots as a detergent and the dried fruits as a rattle.  Although javelinas dig up and eat the bitter root and coyotes, porcupines and humans eat the seeds, apparently no one eats the fruits.

There are two other native North American plants that have a fruit called a gourd—Ibervillea lindheimeri (balsam gourd) and Melothria pendula (speckled gourd)—but these fruits are very small and probably don't look like what you think of as a gourd.  Poisonous Plants of North Carolina lists M. pendula as causing "only low toxicity if eaten"—its berries act as a strong laxative.  None of the toxic plant databases above lists I. lindheimeri.

You can read about the gourds of other places (Africa, South America) and their many uses on Wikipedia. This article says that very few gourds are used for food, but there are some Asian species that are consumed.


Cucurbita foetidissima

Cucurbita foetidissima

Cucurbita foetidissima

Cucurbita foetidissima

Ibervillea lindheimeri

Ibervillea lindheimeri

Melothria pendula

Melothria pendula

 

 

More Edible Plants Questions

A garlic plant with only one clove in Ft. Worth, TX?
August 08, 2011 - Is there a garlic that does not have cloves? I have been using what appears to be garlic from my garden and it is garlicy, hot and delicious. I have spent many hours online but cannot find this garlic...
view the full question and answer

Will a chile pequin survive winters in Garden City, Kansas
March 24, 2010 - Dear Mr. Smarty Pants, I am trying to determine if a chile pequin (Capsicum annuum) can survive Kansas winters. My sister lives in Killeen, TX, and has a couple of these bushes in her yard. She broug...
view the full question and answer

Citrus trees for Austin
May 21, 2008 - I am looking for citrus that grows in the Austin,Tx area. Could you offer any suggestions please?
view the full question and answer

What is a groundnut? from River Vale NJ
July 11, 2009 - I just read the book "Mayflower" which talks about the Massachusetts natives and, subsequently, the Pilgrims eating groundnuts; mentions the groundnuts going to seed in early summer. What are ...
view the full question and answer

Fruiting times of native trees and shrubs in the Pacific Norhwest
December 30, 2013 - I am looking for information on fruiting/seeds/nuts times of native trees and shrubs in the Pacific Northwest. Obviously they fruit after they bloom but all I can find is very general information such...
view the full question and answer

Smarty Plants's Facebook profile Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.

Mr. Smarty Plants wants you to be his Facebook friend. Click the Facebook icon to add yourself to Mr. Smarty Plants list of friends.
E-NEWSLETTER | BECOME A MEMBER | DONATE NOW | MEDIA | SITEMAP
© 2014 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center