The Medicinal Qualities of the Pumpkin

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Pumpkin has been traditionally used for its medicinal value in many countries, including China, Korea, India, Yugoslavia, Argentina, Mexico, and Brazil. Its many uses include antibiotic, antidiabetic, and anti-inflammatory effects, lowering of blood pressure and cholesterol, and as treatment for intestinal parasites.

The pumpkin is a member of the Cucubitaceae family, which also includes squash, gourds, and cucumbers. They are grown on six of the seven continents of the world. All parts of the pumpkin have nutritional and medicinal value.

The leaves and rind of the pumpkin contain several proteins, named PR-1, PR-2, and PR-5, that have been found to be antibiotic and antifungal. In a recent study from Korea, and published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, scientists found that proteins extracted from the rind inhibit the growth of several fungi, including Candida albicans that cause oral and genital yeast infections in adults and diaper rash in infants. Because C. albicans can become resistant to the antimycotics used to treat the infection, such as fluconazole, scientists hope this new discovery will lead to new antibiotic medications.

The seeds of the pumpkin, botanical name Curcurbita pepo, are best known as a healthy fall snack. Nutritionally, the seeds contain essential fatty acids, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, iron and beta-carotene. They are also a good source of fiber. Preliminary studies from China and Russia have shown the protein in pumpkin seeds, called cucurbitin, to be effective at resolving tapeworm infestations. Two studies from Thailand found that eating pumpkin seeds as a snack can help prevent the most common type of kidney stone by reducing levels of substances that promote stone formation.

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Pumpkin seed oil, also called Kuerbiskernoel, is extracted from the seeds of the Styrian pumpkin grown in Austria and Slovenia. Some studies have found the oil to be useful for rheumatoid arthritis, likely because of its high essential fatty acid profile and its rich antioxidant content. It is also said to be an effective diuretic, and is sometimes used to relieve urinary tract infections. Two studies found the oil to be beneficial for relief of the symptoms of benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) by improving the function of the bladder and urethra. Pumpkin oil has a high tryptophan content that may be useful in the treatment of insomnia.

Pumpkin seed oil can also be used in cooking, and appears to have positive effects on lowering LDL cholesterol. It is 60% unsaturated fat and rich in vegetable protein. Pumpkin seed oil has an unusual flavor, some describe as nutty. It can be used as a cooking oil, salad dressing, and as an ingredient in sauces or cakes. Because pumpkin oil is thick in consistency, manufacturers will sometimes combine it with sunflower seed oil to make it more liquid.

Pumpkin pulp is the part of the vegetable most traditionally used in the United States. The juice of the pulp also contains beta-carotene, which gives it the well-known orange coloring. Naturopaths use the pulp as a treatment for relief of thick sputum due to bronchial infections, to ease abdominal pains during pregnancy, and as a aid for migraine headaches. There is even some use to the stem and top of the pumpkin – it can be boiled and administered as a tea to ease nausea and vomiting.

Sources Include:

  • Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry
    Biotechnology Letters
    Plant Foods for Human Nutrition

Denise Reynolds RD LDN

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