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

Identifying a plant similar to sarsaparilla
September 04, 2011 - I am trying to identify a plant that looks very similar to sasparilla, but has a ring of blue berries at the end of a long stalk, and the plant itself is spreading, not an isolated herb like sasparill...
view the full question and answer

Use of cenizo (Leucophyllum frutescens) for tea
February 20, 2006 - Back in the 50's when I spent the summers with my grandmother south of Hondo, Texas, she use to pick leaves from the cenizo (purple sage) bushes, dry them and then brew them for tea. I asked one of m...
view the full question and answer

Failure of highbush blueberry plant to produce in New Hampshire
July 25, 2008 - One of my highbush blueberry plants completely stopped producing. What can I do to revive it?
view the full question and answer

List of edible weeds from El Paso TX
April 27, 2013 - Where can I find a list of edible weeds that grow in El Paso, TX.
view the full question and answer

Non-fruiting Willamette raspberry plant in Wateford CA
May 23, 2013 - I have a 2 year old Willamette Raspberry plant that has many blooms, bees, great growing conditions, very healthy but has never set one fruit. I know about pruning. Any suggestions? It has been bloomi...
view the full question and answer

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