Pumpkin

The pumpkin is an autumn fruit that is a popular culinary ingredient. It is most often associated with Halloween, a popular holiday in North America and other parts of the world.

Quick Facts
General Information
  • Common name(s)Pumpkin, field pumpkin, autumn pumpkin, autumn squash
  • Scientific nameCucurbita pepo
  • Native regionNorth America
  • Main producer(s)China, United States of America
  • Main Economic UseFood industry, Culinary
Medicinal and Nutritional Information
  • Medicinal actionAnti-inflammatory, Antioxidant
  • Key constituentsCucurbitin, selenium
  • Ways to useCapsules, Food, Juiced
  • Medicinal rating(2) Minorly useful plant
  • Safety rankingSafe
Buying
  • Where to buySupermarkets, Farmers' markets, Specialized health stores
Growing
  • Life cycleAnnual
  • Harvested partsSeeds, Fruit
  • Light requirementsFull sun
  • Soil pH6.1 – 6.5 (Slightly acidic)
  • Growing habitatCool temperate regions, Temperate climates
  • Planting timeSummer
  • Potential diseasesRoot rot
Pumpkin

The pumpkin, an annual plant thought to originate from North or Central America, has been used for its medicinal and nutritious benefits for centuries. These days, it is most commonly associated with its decorative use at Halloween, but it is also a popular ingredient in the kitchen. Keep reading to learn more about this delicious fruit, from its history, characteristics, and medicinal value to healthy recipes and buying and growing options.

Medicinal and Nutritional Information

Quick Facts (Medicinal and Nutritional Information)
  • Medicinal actionAnti-inflammatory, Antioxidant
  • Key constituentsCucurbitin, selenium
  • Ways to useCapsules, Food, Juiced
  • Medicinal rating(2) Minorly useful plant
  • Safety rankingSafe

Health Benefits of Pumpkin

The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory characteristics have given pumpkin many traditional medicinal uses, including:

  • Reducing inflammatory pain
  • Lowering cholesterol levels
  • Reducing benign prostate enlargements
  • Promoting heart health

How It Works

The many compounds within pumpkin, such as cucurbitin and selenium, mean it is a good fruit for specific diseases as well as for overall health. With its high levels of beta-carotene - a precursor to vitamin A – pumpkin offers protection against many diseases, as well as many of the degenerative aspects of aging. Pumpkins are also rich in potassium, fiber, and vitamin C, and therefore help promote healthy heart and kidney function. The sterols in the seeds are anti-inflammatory, and the natural antioxidant effect of the seeds is as a result of the selenium.

How to Consume Pumpkin

Main preparations: Cooked, capsules

Due to the seasonal nature of this fruit, pumpkin can be difficult to consume at certain times of year. For anyone wishing to get more pumpkin into their diet, however, it is possible to dehydrate the fruit for long term storage, or buy it canned.

Because the cucurbitin in pumpkin seeds repels intestinal worms, they make a safe deworming agent.

For medicinal purposes, capsules containing pumpkin seed oil are available. Pumpkin seed extract may also be combined with cranberries in some supplements for the purported benefit of improving urinary tract health.

Culinary Information

The soft texture and sweet taste of pumpkins makes them a highly popular ingredient in many dishes, from soups to flans to breads. Pumpkin is generally regarded as the perfect ingredient for making warming and filling winter meals. Traditionally it has been roasted, but it is a highly flexible ingredient and lends itself to also be baked, boiled, steamed, stewed and stuffed.

Another popular way to eat pumpkin is through its seeds, which are typically roasted or made into pumpkin seed oil. Because of their high nutrition value, pumpkin seeds are a great, healthy snack food.

Other Uses

For Decorating

Pumpkins are perhaps most famous for their modern decorative use. Because of the tough outside and soft inside, pumpkins can easily be scooped out and carved into the exterior, creating jack-o'-lanterns. Many families put these outside their homes – often with lights or candles inside the fruit – to celebrate Halloween, which falls every year at the end of October.

Buying

Quick Facts (Buying)
  • Where to buySupermarkets, Farmers' markets, Specialized health stores

Raw and Simply Processed Pumpkin

Pumpkin is cultivated around the world and is commonly seen in most grocery stores or local markets in autumn-time. Pumpkin sold for decorative use will most often be spherical in shape, but other shapes can be found and are sold for the purposes of cooking and eating. Dehydrated and powdered pumpkins are not as common, but can be found in specialized health stores. The seeds are also available to buy separately, either shelled or unshelled.

Pumpkin Supplements

Pumpkin seed oil is not hard to come by, sometimes as gel capsules or as straight oil. These are generally taken by men as a prostate care precaution.

Plant Biology

Classification

Pumpkin, or Cucurbita pepo, is a member of the Cucurbitaceae family; this family has approximately 990 species, including cucumbers and watermelons. This plant can bear a fruit of up to 66 pounds (30 kg), which can be anything from spherical to very long in shape. The fruit is normally orange in color, but other colors are possible. As well as the edible fruit, the plant also produces attractive yellow flowers and lobed leaves, which grow on its twining stems.

Varieties and Subspecies of Pumpkin

The three recognized subspecies of Cucurbita pepo are C. pepo subsp. fraterna, subsp. pepo, and subsp. texana. Within these, there are countless varieties and cultivars, many of which have been manmade and some of which have developed in the wild. The most commonly cultivated subspecies is pepo.

Growing

Quick Facts (Growing)
  • Life cycleAnnual
  • Harvested partsSeeds, Fruit
  • Light requirementsFull sun
  • Soil pH6.1 – 6.5 (Slightly acidic)
  • Growing habitatCool temperate regions, Temperate climates
  • Planting timeSummer
  • Potential diseasesRoot rot

Pumpkins need to receive full sun and good drainage for optimum growth; with too much water, rot could occur. Another consideration when deciding where to plant them should be space; the vines need room to spread out, and can sometimes reach up to 30 ft (9 m). Since their growth and direction is difficult to predict, it is best to use both trainers and constant pruning. For best results, choose a neutral to slightly acidic soil, and use plenty of organic fertilizers.

With regards to time of the year, the ideal temperature should be between 77 – 86°F (25 – 30°C) before the seeds are planted, and the last frost has to have passed as pumpkins are very frost sensitive. However, June should be the latest they are planted, as winter frost could kill them off if they are planted any later, and they do not deal well with temperatures below 50°F (10°C). Set the seeds about 2 inches (5 cm) deep, and plant them roughly in the center of where the vines are expected to spread. The plants must not be watered too often; drinking deeply and less often is the pumpkin's secret to success.

Additional Information

Historical Information

The origin of pumpkin is obscure and there is some debate, although it is generally thought to hail from somewhere in the Americas.

PUMPKIN IS THOUGHT TO BE ONE OF NORTH AMERICA'S MOST ANCIENT DOMESTICATED PLANTS, WITH THE OLDEST KNOWN LOCATIONS IN MEXICO CLOCKING IN AT ABOUT 10,000 YEARS AGO.

Archaeological evidence suggests that the Aztecs used to snack on pumpkin seeds, meaning their nutritious benefits have been of historical importance as well as their medicinal properties. Historically, it has played an important role in healthcare. The Mayans applied the sap to burns, the Menominee people recognized and used the seeds for their diuretic properties, and European settlers created an effective worming remedy, by mixing the seeds with water, milk, or honey.

Economic Data

Today, the pumpkin is commonly associated with jack-o'-lanterns and the Halloween holiday, but it is also widely used as a culinary ingredient. China is the world's leading producer of pumpkins and squashes with 7 million tonnes per year, and worldwide, a massive 2 million hectares of land is dedicated to growing them.

Bibliography

DISCLAIMER: The information provided is intended only as a general reference for further exploration, and is not a replacement for professional health advice. This information should be used only under the direct supervision of a qualified health practitioner such as a naturopathic physician. Information contained in HerbaZest.com is based on pharmacological records, scientific research, traditional knowledge and historical data, both old and modern. HerbaZest.com cannot be held responsible for the accuracy of the information provided.