Updated: Jan 9
I won’t lie, the word cerasee strikes fear in many Jamaican children. We all thought of ways to trick our grannies into thinking we drank the full cup of tea when you really threw it outside. I hope she never found out…for your sake.
Cerasee | Bitter Melon | Bitter Gourd | Balsam Pear
What is Cerasee?
Cerasee is scientifically known as Momordica Charente but across the globe it’s also known as the Balsam Pear or Bitter Melon/Gourd. It might be surprising to many that the green vegetable found in Asian groceries is also a staple Jamaican tea. Colonisation relocated many plant and animal species around the world. A staple in Indian and Chinese cooking, look out for bitter gourd in your next stir-fry, soup or curry.
Being a part of the Momordica family means that there are a few other similar looking vined plants that grow in tropical conditions. Cerasee/ Balsam Pear is easily confused with the Balsam Apple, the less edible version of the Balsam Pear. Both grow easily in Jamaica and other tropical regions and are often the object of curiosity to children playing in the bushes or gardens. While both plants have similar leaves & vine structures, the major differences between them are shape & edibility of the fruit. The Balsam Apple is smaller & more rounded than the elongated Balsam Pear. The fruit of the Balsam Apple vine are also considered toxic when consumed raw or cooked. The fruit skin & peeled seeds, when consumed, cause a delayed muscarinic toxidrome charaterized by nausia, vomiting & diarrhoea. However this side effect usually dissipates quickly and can be easily managed with fluid intake.
1st Balsam Apple (Momordica balsamina) & 2nd Balsam Pear (Momordica charantia)
In Jamaica, cerasee’s leaves are consumed and renowned for its bitter taste yet beneficial properties.
Uses & Active Ingredients
Diabetes: insulin– anti diabetic; rosmarinic acid– anti-viral, bactericide, viricide; verbascoside– bactericide; p-cymene– bactericide, viricide
Colds: rosmarinic acid– anti-viral, viricide; p-cymene– analgesic, viricide
Fever: p-cymene– analgesic
High Blood Pressure: gamma-amino-butyric acid– antihypertensive
Pain Killer: gaba: tranquilliser; p-cymene– analgesic
Rheumatism: gentisic acid-antirheumatic
Examples of Home Remedies in Jamaica
Consumed when someone is suspected of having “bad blood”, “sugar” or diabetes
Purges the body of parasitic worms, especially during back to school preparations children are often given Cerasee to drink during a full moon.
A bath to treat skin conditions such as eczema or joint pains, leaves are crushed and a bath is drawn for the ailing person.
A treatment for common colds and stomach aches
To ease menstral pain
Tea is consumed in order to have bright & clear skin
Tea is used to detox the blood
Around the world, the cerasee/bitter gourd fruit has various uses. In the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico it’s used as an aphrodisiac, a treatment for Diabetes in Puerto Rico as well as an alternative medical treatment for cancer in Brazil. You might even be familiar with bitter gourd soup (苦瓜汤) in Chinese restaurants, the green unripened fruit is usually what’s used. In India the Punjabi specialty Karela Sabzi uses dried bitter gourd (karela).
Karela Sabzi | Pork & Bitter Gourd Soup
Cerasee is rich in vitamins A, C, phosphorus and iron which makes it a common tea to drink when trying to detox or purge the body of toxins. However, detoxes and purgers can be extremely harmful to your health, please consult your doctor to see if a detox is safe for you. Drinking large amounts of herbal teas in a short space of time can harm the liver. All consumption should be in moderation.
Doctor’s Opinion: Dr. Knight @adventureswithelle
Cerasee can be safely consumed in small quantities for common diseases like the common cold and minor aches and pains. It can also be taken for its blood-pressure lowering effects and as alternative medicine for patients with pre-diabetes along with other dietary and lifestyle modificiations. However, it should not be used as the sole treatment for hypertension and diabetes as its ability to effectively get these diseases under control has not been fully studied. Also, exercise caution with consuming cerasee regularly as it can interfere with medications that are broken down in the liver, and cerasee has been known to cause liver injury/ toxicity when consumed regularly.
Ways to try Cerasee
Curry: Here’s a recipe for Karela Sabzi you can try, English subtitles are included.
Stir fry: Stir frying with pork tends to make things better, if you’re vegan or vegitarian maybe try firm tofu as a substitute. Here’s a recipe to follow, the vegetable in this recipe can be substituted with bitter melon.
Tea: Drinking the cerasee stem and leaves as a tea is the most common way it’s consumed in Jamaica, but as a warning, it’s called bitter gourd for a reason. No matter how much sweetener you add, you’ll never tame the bitter taste.
Use 2 tsp dried cerasee to 1.5 cups of water.
Allow it to come to a boil, turn off the heat and let it steep for 2 mins.
Using fresh Cerasee, 5-6 medium leaves should do the trick, following the same method.
Try infusing your Cerasee with other flavours such as mint, lemongrass or ginger to balance the bitterness.