Melothria pendula is a slender vine growing as a short-lived perennial in tropical and subtropical climate, and an annual plant in temperate. It is native to Mexico and Central America, and get naturalized in south and east of USA, Brasil and some other North American countries, and many regions in Southeast Asia and China. Although this plant belongs to the same family of plants with cucumbers, watermelons and pumpkins, it's fruits resemble more berries. It is just around 1cm long and although many misinformed sources vilify it as poisonous, it is actually one of the tastiest and coolests, healthy veggie-fruit. The whole trick is about eating it while it is still unripe and green, before it will get ripe, black... and strongly laxative. When this fruit is still small it tastes exactly like cucumber, when it will reach it's full size but while still green it's taste is more like watermelon or melon. When it is already black just one fresh fruit eaten can cause drastic diarrhea, but except that purgative effect I didn't found any information about it causing actual harm to your body. In fact in Brasil it's stomach and bowels cleaning properties are even used in traditional healing.
Although it's unripe fruits are commonly eaten as fresh vegetable snack in quite few, mostly tropical countries, and in Mexico and Thailand also leaves and young shoots are eaten. Melothria pendula is still often not known to be edible, even in many places where it now grows wild (often as an expansive obnoxious weed), and mostly entirely unknown in the rest of the world. And little is known about this vegetable - fruit plant in scientific world, although there are some scarce information about it's use as herb in traditional medicine of Mexico, Brasil and Suriname. It is reported that the Maya used this plant for healing purposes before colonial times, and today it is not even a part of regional mainstream herbalism, but it is only a locally known folk remedy.
It is almost often harvested from wild state, but in Mexico it is sometimes sown on purpose, and few cultivars-varieties with different taste are recognized. And there are different opinions about recognizing some plants as varieties of M. pendula or as a different species, for example Melothria quadalupensis is also called Melothria pendula var. chlorocarpa.
Common names of this plant include : Creeping Cucumber, Drooping Melonette, Guadeloupe Cucumber, Little Cucumber, Meloncito, Wild cucumber (English), Sandiita, Pepinillo silvestre, Pepinito, Chilacayotito, Tomatito, Esponjuela, Mayil ak, Sandı´a de rato´n, Pentocz, Sandı´a de pa´jaro, Sandı´a chiquita, Sandı´a tzitzi, Sin˜a spuun, Sandı´a tuul, Sandı´a kaan, Sandia xiw, Sandı´a xtulub (in Mexico), Cereja de Purga, Pepininho-do-Mato, Pepiniculo (Brazil), Melonettes (French), Sneki Komkomro, Sneki-komkoro (Suriname), Pipinong-gubat (the Philippines).
It also has botanical synonymes, that are rather out of use nowadays : Apodanthera gracilis, Bryonia convolvulifolia, Bryonia filiformis, Bryonia guadalupensis, Cucumis glaber, Melothria costensis, Melothria fluminensis and Melothria guadalupensis.
Melothria pendula is a very slender, herbaceous vine, but it can grow few meters long stems, that can rapidly cover some shrubs or fences, clinging tight with it's tendrils. It is short lived perennial in tropical climate, and in temperate climate regions with frosts milder than aprox. -9'C it's above ground part is dying but it regrows in spring from it's roots. But in places with very cold winter it appears only as an annual plant. It is widespread in Mexico, south and east of USA and some regions of Central and South America. In some areas in tropical Asia it is considered introduced invasive species.
Melothria thrives in wet compost soils, with slightly acidic or neutral pH. It appears mainly on outskirts of forests of jungles, in meadows, near ponds, riverbanks, and on bushes in open fields, under full sun or light shade. But it can be also found growing on poor, dry soils, in urban areas, sometimes from the cracks in concrete pavement. It can withstand strong heat, and when older and stronger, even quite strong drought. But it is very frost sensitive. It is often hated as an obnoxious weed rapidly overgrowing cultivated plants, especially crops as it grows really fast where the soil is well watered and fertilized, and when temperatures are high. And it is very seldom grown on purpose.
Melothria pendula can be easily propagated from seeds or by layering, as stems that touch the ground grow roots quite easily. It is usually harvested from it's wild state, and in tropical climate it produce it's fruits all year round. The plant is good fodder for ruminants and dogs love to eat it.
Melonette fruits are usually eaten fresh, but it is also pickled and can be boiled, steamed or stir-fried. When it is still very young it tastes just like young cucumbers, and when it reach it's full size it tastes more like not very ripe watermelon or melon. But those Melonettes that are already black should be avoided, as it can cause rapid and serious diarrhea. The green fruits are very crispy and juicy, a great snack of it's own and a good addiction to salads. It is very nutritious as it contains 12.6% protein, 16.30% fiber and 56.8% carbohydrates.
In Mexico and Thailand leaves and tops of stems of Melothria pendula are also eaten. It can be cooked or just eaten raw and has nice mild taste.
There is very little records of traditional medicinal uses of Melothria pendula, although it was used in healing by the Maya people since pre-colonial times. And in many places in Mexico and some in South America, the plant is still used as a folk remedy. There is lack of phytopharmacological studies on M. pendula, and the plant seems to be generally ignored by scientific world.
In Mexico an infusion of the fruit is used as a tonic for anemia, and the boiled fruits are used as a remedy for heart disease. Infusion of the aerial parts of the plant is taken in the treatment of diabetes for it's hypoglycemic effect, and is used as a remedy against gastritis, calculus, and sores. Decoctions of the leaves are used to wash wounds and burns. The crushed fresh plant is used for snake bite, and applied topically against rash and hemorrhoids, and in general as an anti-inflammatory.
In Brazil black, ripe fruits are used as purgative, and so the plant is commonly called Cereja de purga (Purgative Cherry). Old books says that Melothria pendula fruit is such a drastic purgative, that just half of it acts on human and three or four is enough for horse.
In Suriname, infusion of tendrils is drunk as a remedy for over acidity in stomach and is given to children.
From my own experience I would say that fresh fruits, leaves and whole tender tops of stems acts as diuretic.
Unfortunately Whiteflies likes Melothria leaves.
'' The Vegetable Kingdom and Its Products '' - Robert Hogg, W. Kent & Co. 1858
'' Medical Botany; Or, Descriptions of the More Important Plants Used in Medicine: With Their History, Properties, and Mode of Administration '' - Robert Eglesfeld Griffith, Lea and Blanchard 1847
ETHNOBOTANY OF THE WILD MEXICAN CUCURBITACEAE - AFAEL LIRA AND JAVIER CABALLERO
Mexican plants with hypoglycaemic effect used in the treatment of diabetes - Adolfo Andrade-Cetto, Michael Heinrich
Amazonian Brazilian medicinal plants described by C.F.P. von Martius in the 19th century - Ulrike B.Breitbach, Michael Niehues, Norberto P.Lopes, Jair E. Q. Faria, Maria G.L.Brandão
Melothria domingensis (Cucurbitaceae), an endangered Caribbean endemic, is a Cayaponia - Hanno Schaefer and Michael H. Nee
Medicinal Plants of the Guianas (Guyana, Surinam, French Guiana)