Ash Gourd (Winter Melon), the “Cool” Vegetable: Benefits & Recipes
If you live in a tropical or subtropical region, you’re likely feeling the heat right now! This time of year, known as Agni Nakshatram, is the hottest part of the year in these areas of the world. Agni Nakshatram refers to the period when ‘Surya’ or the Sun passes through the ‘Krittika’ star. This star is also popularly known as ‘Agni Nakshatra’. The period of Agni Nakshatram marks the onset of the summer season and corresponds to the month of May-June in the Gregorian calendar.
Incorporating ash gourd or winter melon, into your diet is a simple way to beat the heat, enjoy a powerful energy boost and add tasty variety to salads, juices, snacks and even sweets. This incredibly versatile vegetable boasts a laundry list of benefits for health and wellbeing. Learn more about these benefits and enjoy a wide selection of delectable ash gourd recipes below.
What is Ash Gourd?
Ash gourd, Benincasa hispida, is a unique melon eaten mostly in India and China. It is often cubed and added to soups in Asian cooking. However, the yogis of India have long regarded ash gourd as one of the most naturally energizing foods due to its high quotient of what yogic science refers to as “prana”, or vital life energy.
Ash gourd is also known by a variety of common and regional names:
Wax gourd (denotes one sub-type of ash gourd)
Kushmanda, brihatphala, ghrinavasa, gramyakarkati, karkaru (Sanskrit)
Petha, pethakaddu (Hindi)
Neer poosanikai (Tamil)
Boodida Gummadikaaya (Telugu)
Budekumbalakayi, boodu gumbala (Kannada)
Kumra, chalkumra (Bengali)
Immature ash gourd is coated in fine hairs which disappear as the gourd ripens. The exterior color can vary between dark green to a pale gray. Mature gourds are coated in a distinctive white ash. This powdery coating is where the melon derives its other common name, “ash gourd”. The shape of the gourd can also vary between round and oblong.
Taste and Use
The taste of ash gourd is very mild, like a cucumber. It has virtually no taste of its own, so it is easy to incorporate into all kinds of salads, smoothies, and juices on hot days. On colder days, you can add either honey or black pepper to the melon to reduce the natural cooling qualities in the fruit while retaining its raw energy boost. To retain maximum vital energy, ash gourd should be eaten raw.
Finding and Choosing
Ash gourd is widely cultivated in India, Bangladesh, Southern China and other parts of South East Asia. Outside of Asia, while ash gourd may not be stocked by your local supermarket, in most cities it can be found at Chinese markets, Indian markets, or international farmers’ markets.
When selecting a ash gourd, choose a gourd with no bruised marks or indentations. The melon should feel heavy for its size, and can be recognized as being approximately the same size, shape and color of a watermelon, but with a characteristic white, ash-coated surface. This powder is harmless to eat, but becomes sticky when it is wet. It should be rinsed from the surface before slicing the melon open. The interior should be white with a crisp and even texture. Uncut, a ash gourd will keep for a month or more in a cool, dry storage area.
History of Ash Gourd
Ash gourd’s ancient roots make it difficult to trace a precise origin, though botanists speculate that the gourd likely originated in Japan, Indonesia, China, or Indo-Malaysia. In all of these regions, ash gourd has been in use for thousands of years. Descriptions of the gourd’s medicinal value can be found in Chinese texts from the 5th-6th century AD.
Sadhguru describes some of the lore surrounding ash gourd’s qualities and uses in Indian tradition
Sadhguru: They have told you this is a very auspicious vegetable. If you build a new house, you hang it in front of your house. If you want to do any ceremony, it comes into your house. Traditionally it was fixed up like this, that even if you happen to grow an ash gourd in own house, you should not eat it. You must give it away as a dana to a Brahmin. If you give it away to a Brahmin, you will get punya somewhere, but he will get good food right here.
A shudra was not supposed to eat ash gourd. If a shudra was found to eating an ash gourd, he would be killed, because they said if a person eats ash gourd, he will become articulate and sharp in his head. So a shudra should not be allowed to eat ash gourd. Today you have no such problems. Everyone can choose and eat what they want.
Traditionally, this vegetable has been put to use in so many ways. One reason why it is hung in front of new homes is, when you enter a newly built building, sometimes certain negative energies get trapped. So they advised people to hang an ash gourd because it creates so much positive vibration that it clears the negativity. I think it is better to put it into your body. Now instead of putting it in front of your house, if you put it into your stomach, you will become a source of good vibrations. Wherever you go, everything is fine with you.
Nutrition of Ash Gourd
While ash gourd is composed primarily of water (about 96%), it also boasts a variety of beneficial vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C and B-complex vitamins such as niacin, thiamine and riboflavin. Ash gourd is also a valuable source of minerals like iron, potassium, zinc, calcium and magnesium. The gourd also provides a good amount of protein, carbohydrates and dietary fiber.
Read the full nutrition information for ash gourd here.
Ash Gourd Benefits
Sharpness of Mind
Sadhguru: Just drink one glass of ash gourd juice in the morning and you will see tremendous amount of coolness in the body, while at the same time it brings alertness into you. Daily consumption of ash gourd greatly enhances your intellectual capabilities. Especially children must drink ash gourd juice. If you drink it for one week, you will notice a distinct change in the sharpness of your mind. This is very highly pranic. Every day, if you drink a glass of ash gourd juice in the morning, you will see it will do wonders for your intellect. Your intellect will be very sharp and it brings energy without agitation in the system. Daily consumption of ash gourd will do miracles to you.
Sadhguru: Consumption of ash gourd brings an enormous amount of energy, at the same time it keeps your nerves very calm. If you drink coffee, it gives you energy with agitation. If you drink a glass of ash gourd, it gives you enormous amount of energy, and still keeps you calm.
Constipation, Piles, Boils
Sadhguru: If you consume a little bit of ash gourd juice, it cools down the system. This is beneficial for people who excess heat in the body, which can produce problems like boils, piles (hemorrhoids) and constipation problems.
Sadhguru: People who are susceptible to problems such as colds, asthma, and sinusitis should be a little careful with ash gourd because it creates too much sheeta, or coolness, in the system. Such people should always mix it with honey or pepper and drink it, so that the cooling effect is neutralized to some extent.
Scientific studies also reveal a number of additional health benefits of ash gourd
Ash Gourd Recipes
Ash Gourd Juice
Ash Gourd and Watermelon Smoothie
Blend equal parts ash gourd and watermelon in a blender with water or plain yogurt and add honey or agave syrup to taste.
Ash Gourd Raita
Grate ash gourd and mix with plain yogurt, add lemon or lime juice, salt, black pepper, and a sprinkling of roasted cumin seeds. (Raita is a great counterpart to any spicy Indian or Mexican dish.)
Lime and Ash Gourd Cooler
Juice 2-3 cups of ash gourd in a juicer, add fresh lime juice and salt to taste. Blend in a sprig of mint or cilantro for a fresh twist.
ER Nurse Gets a Health and Energy Boost from Ash Gourd Juice
Because of her participation in the Inner Engineering program, Los Angeles resident Jennifer Carlson has learned a few uncommon yogic recipes to healthfully boost her energy without stimulants. For Jennifer, these simple recipes, in combination with the daily Shambhavi Mahamudra Kriya practice she learned during the program, helped her eliminate a serious caffeine dependency that was robbing her of her health. This meditation and simple dietary additions can provide an alternative method of maintaining high levels of energy throughout the day.
“I am a night-shift nurse, which means I work as long as 12 hours through the night. In an emergency room situation, every moment someone’s life depends on my alertness,” Jennifer emphasized. “I used to drink coffee and soda throughout my shift to maintain my effectiveness. When I came home, I was completely drained, nauseous, and jittery. I would have to eat something really heavy just so I could settle my stomach and sleep for a few hours—then I would begin this cycle all over again. The night-shift was taking such a huge toll on my body. Mentally also, I was feeling depressed. I knew I couldn’t survive this much longer, but I value my career.”
Then, Jennifer remembered a dietary tip she learned in the Inner Engineering program. “Sadhguru mentioned a white melon that naturally cools the system and gives a natural energy boost without caffeine or other stimulants,” she said. Desperate for something to replace caffeine, she tried it. “It has helped dramatically. It makes me feel highly energized and alert, but not at all jittery, nervous or agitated like coffee does—there’s no subsequent ‘crash’ after. It gives me a really healthy-feeling boost, not an adrenaline rush.”
“This one addition to my diet, in combination with my daily meditation practice, has enabled me to break the unhealthy cycle of ups-and-downs. I drink 2-3 glasses of ash gourd juice while I am at work to stay energized through the night, and then I sit for about 20 minutes of meditation when my shift is over to rest and re-charge my system,” Jennifer explained. “My Shambhavi practice also greatly reduces my need for sleep. So when I come home now, I eat a healthy meal and then sleep for about 5-6 hours.” Together, these simple lifestyle changes have even allowed Jennifer to spend time with her kids after school and make them dinner before she goes off to work again.
Editor’s Note: Looking for more tasty and beneficial Isha recipes? Taste of Well-Being, packed with recipes from the Isha Yoga Center kitchen, is a book that will help you discover the potential that lies within you and the joy you can derive from the simple act of eating. Interwoven throughout the book are Sadhguru’s insights into digestion, nourishment, classification of foods and more. Download now.