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
  • Plant typeVine
  • Native regionNorth America
  • Main producer(s)China, United States of America
  • Main Economic UseFood industry, Culinary
Pumpkin

The pumpkin plant, thought to originate from North and Central America, has been used for its medicinal and nutritious benefits for centuries. Nowadays, pumpkin is most commonly associated with Autumn celebrations. The carved pumpkins are Halloween's signature decorations, and the pumpkin pie is arguably the most traditional Thanksgiving dessert. Keep reading to learn more about the medicinal benefits, botanical characteristics, history, and many uses of this versatile fruit.

Medicinal and Nutritional Information

Quick Facts (Medicinal and Nutritional Information)
  • Medicinal actionAnti-inflammatory, Hypocholesterolemic
  • Key constituentsCucurbitin, selenium
  • Ways to useCapsules, Liquid extracts, Food, Essential oil, Dried
  • 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, mainly:

  • Treating common skin conditions. Pumpkin has been traditionally used to treat burns, sores, and blisters, as well as for healing wounds.

  • Promoting heart health. Because pumpkins are rich in Omega-3, they contribute to keep cholesterol levels in check and lower blood pressure.

  • Reducing benign prostate enlargements. Pumpkin seeds have been traditionally consumed for preventing and treating prostate problems. 

Additionally, the consumption of pumpkin is recommended to relieve the symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), as well as for maintaining eye health.

How It Works

Did you know
The cucurbitacin in pumpkin seeds also helps repel intestinal worms.

A major compound in pumpkin is cucurbitacin E, a triterpene with strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It is mainly contained in the seeds and has been shown to inhibit cyclooxygenase-2, an inflammatory protein related to a number of health conditions, including Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH).

Other powerful anti-inflammatory compounds in pumpkin are selenium, Omega-3 fatty acids, and sterols, all of which also contribute to prevent cardiovascular diseases by reducing cholesterol levels and lowering blood pressure.

With its high levels of beta-carotene pumpkin offers protection against many diseases, as well as many of the degenerative aspects of aging, including skin damage and eyes health. Beta-carotene not only has a strong photo-protective action that helps prevent the damage caused by ultra violet radiation, but it also promote the natural formation of collagen. 

Pumpkins are also rich in potassium, fiber, and vitamin C, and therefore help promote healthy heart and kidney function.

Peppermint and cardamon also help reduce inflammation, and similar cardioprotective benefits can be found in herbs like olive and quinoa.

Pumpkin Side Effects

No side effects or drug interactions have been reported regarding to regular consumption or proper therapeutic doses of pumpkin (Cucurbita pepo). However, the over-consumption of bitter-tasting squashes - with higher levels of cucurbitacin - may cause diarrhea and dehydration.

How to Consume Pumpkin

Quick Facts (How to Consume)
  • Edible partsFruit, Seed
  • Edible usesOil
  • TasteSweet, Mild

There are many ways to incorporate pumpkin into a healthy diet. Most usually consumed as food, pumpkin can also be found as a supplement, which concentrates its medicinal benefits.

Supplements

Main preparations: capsule, extract

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.

Food

Main preparations: cooked, roasted, dehydrated

Did you know?

Because of their high nutrition value, roasted pumpkin seeds are a great, healthy snack food.

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, pumpkin seeds have 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.

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.

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.

Growing

Quick Facts (Growing)
  • Life cycleAnnual
  • Harvested partsSeeds, Fruit
  • Light requirementsFull sun
  • Soil pH5.6 – 6.0 (Moderately acidic), 6.1 – 6.5 (Slightly acidic)
  • Growing habitatTemperate climates
  • Planting timeRight after last frost
  • Potential insect pestsAphids, Mites, Cucumber beetles, Squash bugs, Whiteflies
  • Potential diseasesRoot rot

Available in a wide range of sizes and shapes, pumpkin can be easily cultivated in a home garden. However, it should be kept in mind that the vines need room to spread out up to 15 feet (4.5 m).

  • Pumpkins need to receive full sun and good drainage for optimum growth; with too much water, root rot could occur.

  • Pumpkins grow best in moderately to slightly acidic soil.

  • The ideal temperature for germination is be between 77 - 86°F (25 - 30°C) and the seeds should be planted after the last frost.

  • Pumpkin seeds should be sown about two inches (5 cm) deep, roughly in the center of where the vines are expected to spread.

  • The plants should be watered deeply but not too often.

More detailed information about growing pumpkin can be found in the herb garden section.

Additional Information

Plant Biology

The pumpkin 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.

  • Classification

    Pumpkin, or Cucurbita pepo, is a member of the Cucurbitaceae family; which comprises about 990 species, including cucumber and melon. The genus Cucurbita, exclusive from the New World, includes over 27 species, including a variety of squashes, gourds, and pumpkins. 

  • 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.

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 seven million tonnes per year, and worldwide, a massive two million hectares of land is dedicated to growing them.

Other uses

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.

Additionally, both extract and essential oil of pumpkin seeds boast emollient and antioxidant properties, and are used in the cosmetic industry as ingredients for facial moisturizers, hair conditioners, shampoos, lip balms, foundations, and anti-aging treatments.

Bibliography

  • USDA Plants Database, Cucurbita pepo L. var. pepo field pumpkin
  • Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine, p. 196
  • FAOSTAT, Pumpkin
  • The Herbal Kitchen, p. 212
  • Power Foods
  • Oregon Health & Science University, Toxic Squash Syndrome: A case series of diarrheal illness following ingestion of bitter squash, 1999–2011
  • The FACEB Journal, Isolation of cucurbitacin E from pumpkin seed and analysis of its anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory activities, 2008
  • Handbook of Medicinal Herbs, Second Edition, p. 595
  • Dermato-Endocrinology, Discovering the link between nutrition and skin aging, 2012
  • The Environmental Working Group, Skin Deep, Cucurbita Pepo (Pumpkin) Seed Extract, Cucurbita Pepo (Pumpkin) Seed Oil
  • Theoretical and Applied Genetics, Genetic relationships and evolution in Cucurbita pepo (pumpkin, squash, gourd) as revealed by simple sequence repeat polymorphisms, 2011
  • University of Illinois, Pumpkin Nutrition