The Leaders in Natural Traditional

African Medicines



This exceptional plant has totally frustrated the scientific community for one reason only: - ignorance. The different, strong smells emitted by the plant indicate the presence of actives, something that the scientific community has not grasped yet. According to distribution, there are many subspecies, hence the spectacular but irregular results attained in laboratory studies. Just because they look similar, it does not mean that they are the same. The soil and environment play a pivotal role in its activity.

Momordica balsamina L. is a common species with a wide distribution from South Africa, northwards to tropical East and West Africa. Medicinally, it is perhaps the most widely used herb in Africa. Its value as a food source to humans and animals (domesticated and wild) cannot be overstated. Momordica balsamina L. was introduced into Europe by 1568 and was used medicinally to treat wounds.


Momordica balsamina L. is fairly common and widespread in Namibia, Botswana, Swaziland, Mozambique and all the provinces of South Africa except the Western Cape. It is also indigenous to tropical Africa and Asia, Arabia, India and Australia. It has been cultivated in gardens in Europe since the 1800's.


Birds, ants, mammals and humans eat the fruit. Domesticated, wild animals as well as humans consume the leaves. The leaves and fruit are cooked and eaten as spinach, sometimes with groundnuts or/and honey or simply mixed with porridge. The roots are mainly used for medicinal purposes. Elephant bulls in must are specifically fond of the leaves. What benefit the animal derives from the plant is not yet clear.

African Traditional Medicine:

Momordica balsamina L. is one Africa’s best-known medicinal plants, widely used by people of all cultures and races. It is listed in the Medical Research Council website under African Traditional Medicines together with a list of its traditional uses, treatment Information and indications.

When bruised the plant emits a strongly unpleasant smell hence the name of Umkaka by the Zulu. Umkaka is used it as a liniment, made by infusing the fruit (minus the seed) in olive or almond oil, as an application to chapped hands, burns and haemorrhoids. The mashed fruit is used as a poultice and bitter tonic. Extracts have been administered for the relief of dropsy.

Shangaans and Zulus make tea of the leaves for blood and liver deficiencies, stomach and intestinal complaints. Postnatal mothers often eat the leaves to stimulate milk production. In the south of Mozambique the leaves are taken as an anti-inflammatory, anti-malarial and urinary tract inflammations remedy. The Shangaan and the Kanuri of Nigeria appreciate the fruit for its bitter taste.

The Portuguese are particularly fond of the leaves and use them as an herbal medicine and culinary herb. The tea from the leaves is used for diabetes, digestive disorders, fevers, ulcers and a mild form of malaria, "paludismo". The tea is especially sought after as a liver detoxifier. A culinary specialty recommends the leaves, ground peanuts and honey be mixed together and used as a sauce in meat dishes. 

Momordica balsamina L. is much used in West Africa as a medicine in both man and horse, particular as a bitter stomachic, as a wash for fever and yaws, and as a purgative. The fruit pulp, or the pounded fruit mixed with oil is used as an antiphlogistic dressing. The root is sometimes an ingredient in an aphrodisiac preparation and in the treatment of urethral discharges. The fruit is used for making a poultice. The tender fruit and shoot are sometimes boiled with meat and both leaf and fruit are added to soup.

The Pedi use the young leaf and tendril as a potherb and as an anti-emetic. The Vhavenda take leaf infusions as anti-emetics and in the DRC (Congo) it is used for colic. Both fruit and leaves are widely used in the Okavango Delta for medicinal and spiritual purposes.

Dragendorff says the ripe fruit is used for colic, as an emetic and drastic purgative. He also reports the use of the seed with oil in the treatment of haemorrhoids, frostbite and burns, and the root for jaundice and diseases of the liver.

Other Medicine Uses:

Momordica balsamina L. is appreciated and used by all medicine types except orthodox medicine. It evidently possesses medicinal properties.

Homeopathy: -

 Gripping colic in hypogastrium and pain in back with excessive menstruation.

 Sensation of accumulation of flatus in splenic flexure of colon.

 Contents of head feel lighter.

European Herbal: -

 As a vulnerary, and an application to old sores, chapped hands & piles.

 To relieve muscular pains, lame back, and stiffness of joints.

Eastern Medicine: -

 In the Indian Peninsula, the whole plant mixed with other herbs is used for psoriasis, scabies and other cutaneous diseases. 

 In Japan the Momordica sp. enters in the composition of a remedy for skin ailments. 

Momordica sp. is widely used by the Chinese for skin ailments. 

King's American Dispensatory: -

 The root and fruit are both purgative.

 A preparation of the fruit (without the seeds), infused in almond or olive oil, has been employed considerably in prolapsus ani, hemorrhoids, burns, scalds, chapped hands, and old ulcerations.

 An extract of it has been praised for its curative effects in dropsy.

 Infused in whiskey, is quite largely employed by the German population as a vulnerary. It is often applied to chilblains. Internally, an alcoholic tincture and a jelly have been employed for the relief of pain in the chest from in acute colds, and in pulmonary congestion.

 Proper doses relieve gastro-intestinal irritation, and give relief in gastro-intestinal pains, particularly in colic.

Vetnary Medicine: -

Momordica balsamina is widely used in South Africa, Botswana, Mozambique and Nigeria as a medicine for horses and other domesticated animals.

Literature and Pharmacology:

Antimicrobial And Antiplasmodial Effects Of Momordica balsamina

The MeOH extracts of whole
Momordica balsamina was active against Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Salmonella typhi and not effective against Saccharomyces cerevisiae and Aspergillus niger. Malarial curative test with Plasmodium- berghei berghei parasitized albino mice exhibited survival periods (± SD days) of 20.60 ± 1.67 and 19.20 ± 1.79 at 100 mgKg-1 and 50mgKg-1 body weights respectively. These were compared with chloroquine phosphate (5mgKg-1 BW) 25.08 ± 1.48 and normal saline (20mlKg-1 BW) 7.60 ± 0.89.

Nig. J. Nat. Prod. and Med. Vol.8 2004: 11-12

Pharmaceutical Biology (Formerly International Journal of Pharmacognosy)

Publisher: Taylor & Francis

Issue: Volume 39, Supplement 1 / 2001

African Ethno botany and Healthcare: Emphasis on Mozambique

S.O. Bandeira, F. Gaspar, F.P. Pagula


The relationship between common medicinal plants and major health problems in Africa, specifically Mozambique, is presented here. Emphasis is given to plant species largely used to solve or slow down diarrhoea, malaria, respiratory, and sexual complaints. These diseases, together with malnutrition/anaemia, mental diseases, and rheumatism/arthritis are the main concern of healthcare countrywide. … Traditional medicine seems to be rather helpful in alleviating malaria symptoms such as fever, vomiting, and diarrhoea. Special reference is made to Momordica balsamina, which is highly used to cure vomiting apparently associated with bilis and fever.


Momordica balsamina L. contains a bitter principle, momordocin. The young leaf contains 3,6 µgm./100 gm of vitamin C and yields two resin acids and momordocin.

An extract of the leaf has given positive antibiotic tests with three out of five pathogens with which it has been tested. It has some hypoglycaemic action when tested in rabbits.

An infusion of the plant has shown mild, but not consistent, anti-malarial effects. Hence the use of the plant by the Portuguese for "paludismo" and fevers.

The plant contains a highly aromatic volatile oil, a fixed oil, carotene, a resin, two alkaloids one of which is momordocin and a saponin. Momordocin is an amaroid and is obtained as a crystalline powder. It also contains 0,038 % of an unnamed alkaloid.  The total carotenoid pigment is estimated at 8,53 µgm. and the vitamin A potency is 2,4 to 5,6 IU/gm. A clear reddish-brown oil from the seed assays 46,7 % α-eleostearic acid, 7,7 % of linoleic acid, 15,8 % of oleic acid and 29,8 % of stearic acid. The dried root yields 12,84 % of ash and the dried fruit 11,7 % and both ashes contain iron, phosphorus and calcium.


Momordica balsamina L. and osteoporosis: -

Where Momordica balsamina L. is consumed regularly, there are no occurrences of osteoporosis. This fact can partly be attributed to Momordica balsamina L.. In defence of this analysis, African herbalists point as evidence the fact that consumers show an increased strength in the nails, hair and healthy and strong bones. Momordica balsamina L. is rich in vitamin A, vitamin C, Calcium and Iron. These vitamins and minerals in their natural form are easily absorbed by the system, strengthening bones thereby avoiding osteoporosis.

In particular, Portuguese doctors used to comment on the bone strength of the Shangaan.  A famous episode occurred when during an argument a doctor hit a Shangaan over the head with a broom.  The impact broke the broom in half.  One half of the broom flew to the ceiling, hit the ceiling and returned striking the doctor’ head and causing a gash.  The Shangaan sustained a bump while the doctor had to have stitches. 

In the Kruger National Park, a bull elephant in musk was observed deliberately seeking the Momordica balsamina L. and eating it. Whether the elephant was consuming the plant for nutritional or medicinal purposes is unclear. It was also observed by Tr Dr de Carvalho that the Momordica balsamina L. is taller inside the bush camps than those outside the camps, which may indicate that herbivores browse on this plant.  

Toxicity: -

In Northern Zimbabwe the feeding of 1 lb of the leaf and flower to a sheep over three weeks has produced no ill effects. Millions of Africans consume Momordica leaves and fruits on a daily basis and have been doing so for thousands of years. Any signs of toxicity would have been noted by now.  

Nutrition: -

The consumption of wild food plants is rarely thought of by relief organisations for hunger alleviation. Many national and international organisations in Africa are working with rural people to increase food security and nutritional status and are increasingly focusing on wild food plants for diet diversification. This is due to the realisation that wild food plants make up a major part of the diet during normal harvests and food shortages.

Unicef field workers often advise the local populations to supplement their diets with Momordica balsamina L. for its nutritional and medicinal value. Significantly, emphasis is being placed on children, and parents are asked to ensure that Momordica balsamina L. forms part of their children’s diet.   

Emphasis has also to be placed on the nutritional requirements of HIV- Aids patients. Momordica balsamina L. will fill some of these nutritional requirements. Just as important is the favourable impact of this herb on the liver which is critical in the HIV- Aids battle.  

Overall, it must be emphasized that Momordica balsamina L. is one of the most important nutritional and medicinal plants of the African continent.



Common names: kakana (Shan, Port.); laloentjie (Afr); mohodu (Sotho); nkaka (Thonga); intshungu, intshungwana yehlathi, umkaka (Zulu); balsam pear (Eng.).

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