Contact Us Host an Event Volunteer Join

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

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

 
rate this answer
58 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

List of plants native to the Abilene, Texas area
September 15, 2011 - Am looking for direction to a complete list of plants native to the Abilene, Taylor County, Texas area (trees, shrubs, grasses, cacti and other plants that grew here before cultivation, eradication or...
view the full question and answer

Wild Edible Books for Pennsylvania
February 11, 2014 - I was hoping I could get some suggestions of one or more good books on wild edibles that I can find in Southwest PA. Any help will be greatly appreciated.
view the full question and answer

Red berries growing along county road in Caldwell County, Texas
September 06, 2014 - Hello, first I would like to thank you for your time. I thank it's great that you guys and girls answer questions (I'm sure y'all are busy). That being said I will get to the question. On the sides...
view the full question and answer

Edible Plants of Florida
April 06, 2015 - Dear Mr. Smarty Plants My name is Gabriel Bedoya; Im anthropologist, with large experience in research of traditional culinary, symbolic systems and native kitchens. Due to my experience in those s...
view the full question and answer

Texas native peach from Elmendorf TX
January 30, 2013 - Does Texas have a native peach tree that grows wild?
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.