Dong Gua Ren
Botanical name: Benincasa hispida
Common name: Wintermelon seed, Wax gourd seed
Literal name translation: winter melon seed
Family: Cucurbitaceae, gourd family
Part used in Chinese medicine: seeds
Major Chinese medicine actions:
Clears heat, expels phlegm, drains dampness
Photo Credits: (top to bottom)
Photo 1: Benincasa hispida; 09/2004; author W.Tougan; permission under GFDL
Dong Gua (Benincasa hispida) is also known as winter melon. The first record of the plant appears in the Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing (202-260A.D.) and every part of it is used in China either as food or herbal medicine. The best varieties of winter melon are grown in Guangzhou, China and they are prepared in restaurants in a wide variety of dishes. The flesh of the melon is quite tasty, but is also used medicinally for diabetes and to clear summer heat.
One of the most popular winter melon dishes is “dong gua zhong”, made by taking a small winter melon (about7-9 pounds), cutting off the top portion and removing the seeds and pulp. It is cooked for 10 minutes in boiling water, and immediately immersed in cold water. This parboiled melon is used as a bowl and other stir-fried vegetables and meat are place in the hollow cavity, then the entire thing is then steamed for another 30 minutes and served.
Growing and Propagation
Winter melon requires a warm sunny location to grow well and is very tender, hardy only to USDA zone 10, therefore is usually grown as an annual. It prefers regular watering during the growing season, rich well-drained soil. It is fairly drought tolerant once the plant is established. Plants take 5 months from seed to produce a mature winter melon, though the fruit can be eaten when immature.
It flowers from July to September and seeds ripen from August to November. The flowers are monoecious (individual flowers are either male or female, but both sexes can be found on the same plant) and are pollinated by bees. Short day lengths and lower temperatures stimulate female flower development, higher temperatures stimulate male flower production.
Propagation is relatively easy by seed, which should be sown in March and April in a greenhouse. Germination takes 3 weeks and when seedlings are established and the night temperature does not go below 50 degrees F, usually in May or June, they can be transplanted outdoors.
Harvesting and Preparation
The fruit should be harvested at the end of summer when ripe. For medicinal use, the seeds should be large and yellowish white in color. The skin of the winter melon (Dong Gua Pi) is also used in Chinese medicine.