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

Food and medicinal value of Parsley Hawthorn
March 01, 2013 - I have found several sites that talk about how the parsley hawthorn is edible and how the hawthorn berry in general is really great for the heart, but I did not find any mention of this on your info a...
view the full question and answer

complete list of Central Texas edible plants
January 07, 2010 - Hello! I have been searching for a complete list of Texas Hill Country Native Edibles (for humans) without much luck. Do you know of a good source? Thanks so much for your hard work! Steph
view the full question and answer

Edible/medicinal plants in Suffolk County, NY
August 19, 2010 - Which types of edible/medicinal plants are available in Suffolk County (Long Island NY)? Is there a place I can find a list with information about what they look like, where they can be found and what...
view the full question and answer

Native Edible Plants of Pennsylvania Books
April 25, 2013 - What is the best book that you know of for finding wild plant edibles in Pennsylvania?
view the full question and answer

Is Texas Thistle edible from Austin
May 26, 2010 - Is Texas Thistle an edible plant?
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