Kakana; Momordica balsamina L.
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.