Herb: Buffalo Gourd

Latin name: Cucurbita foetidissima

Synonyms: Cucurbita perennis

Family: Cucurbitaceae (Cucumber Family, Gourd Family)

Medicinal use of Buffalo Gourd:

Buffalo gourd was employed medicinally by many native North American tribes who used it particularly in the treatment of skin complaints. It is still employed in modern herbalism as a safe and effective vermicide. The leaves, stems and roots are laxative and poultice. The root is used mainly, but some caution is advised because of a report that it can be poisonous. A poultice of the mashed plant has been used to treat skin sores, ulcers etc. The seeds are vermifuge. The complete seed, together with the husk, is used. This is ground into a fine flour, then made into an emulsion with water and eaten. It is then necessary to take a purgative afterwards in order to expel the tapeworms or other parasites from the body. As a remedy for internal parasites, the seeds are less potent than the root of Dryopteris felix-mas, but they are safer for pregnant women, debilitated patients and children.

Description of the plant:

Perennial Climber

6 m
(20 feet)

July to

Habitat of the herb:

Dry or sandy soils from Mexico northwards to Missouri and Nebraska.

Edible parts of Buffalo Gourd:

Fruit - cooked. Used as a vegetable, it can also be dried for later use. The young fruit is used, it is bitter and becomes more bitter as it gets older. One report says that the fruit contains up to 23% protein, though this would be very unusual in a fruit. The fruit is up to 7cm in diameter. Seed - raw or cooked. The seeds can be ground into a powder and used as a thickening in soups or can be mixed with cereal flours when making cakes and biscuits. Rich in oil with a very pleasant nutty flavour, but very fiddly to use because the seed is small and covered with a fibrous coat. The seed contains 30 - 35% protein and 34% oil. An edible oil is obtained from the seed. Root - the source of a starch that is used as a sweetener, stabilizer or for making puddings like tapioca. Some caution is advised, see notes on toxicity. The flowers are said to be edible after preparation but no more details are given.

Other uses of the herb:

The fruit is used as a soap substitute. The fruit is cut up and simmered in water to obtain the soap which can be used for removing stains. The fruit can also be dried and stored for later use. It is often used with the root which is also a soap substitute. The soap is said to be effective in removing stains from clothing. The dried fruits have a tough, thick skin. They can be used whole as rattles or can be carved to make ladles, spoons etc. The root is a rich source of starch. (Industrial uses?)

Propagation of Buffalo Gourd:

Seed - sow early to mid spring in a greenhouse in a rich soil. Germination should take place within 2 weeks. Sow 2 or 3 seeds per pot and thin out to the best plant. Grow them on fast and plant out after the last expected frosts, giving them cloche or frame protection for at least their first few weeks if you are trying them outdoors.

Cultivation of the herb:

Dry or sandy soils from Mexico northwards to Missouri and Nebraska.

Known hazards of Cucurbita foetidissima:

The sprouting seed produces a toxic substance in its embryo. There is a report that the root is poisonous.

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.