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Buffalo Gourd (perennial)

 
master pollinator
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Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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I've been collecting a lot of Buffalo Gourds, Cucurbita foetidissima, a native squash with edible seeds. The squash themselves are extremely bitter, and all the flesh needs to be removed from the seeds before eating. They are very tasty toasted like pumpkin seeds. It's a very good year for these plants, so I've been gathering as many fruits as I can. I want to try to get them established on our place as an emergency food supply.



This article claims the immature fruits can be eaten but I've not tried them yet, I suspect they may be nasty: http://www.pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Cucurbita+foetidissima They aren't easy to see on the plants compared to the bright yellow mature fruits.
 
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We have something similar that we called egg gourds and picked when hard (and white) . I don't know genus and species and am not sure if we didn't make up the name. They were about 2 inches across, larger than a large egg. The kids would always gather them along the creek and bring them home to draw and paint on. Maybe we were missing out on a food source.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Oh neat, I wonder what they were....
 
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The northern range goes up into Michigan.  Anyone from there seen this plant?  Would love some seeds from the north.
 
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Greg Martin wrote:The northern range goes up into Michigan.  Anyone from there seen this plant?  Would love some seeds from the north.



Greg, I am not sure you would be successful planting this in Maine.  I call this plant "stinky melon".  It is really hard to get rid of and has a huge root.

"A malodorous plant with large, gray-green, triangular leaves growing along long, prostrate stems. The plants are often 20-30 feet across, with rough, hairy leaves as much as 12 inches long. The large, bell-like flowers, 2-4 inches long, are yellow to orange, 5-lobed at the opening, with stamens that have large anthers deep inside the throat. The globular fruits, about 4 inches across, are green-striped when young, maturing to tennis-ball size and turning yellow. The plant supposedly gets the name stink gourd from its foul odor.

Use Medicinal: Pulverized root in tea to speed protracted labor in childbirth. Tea made from boiled peeled roots used to induce vomiting. Powdered seeds and flowers mixed with saliva to reduce swellings. Dried root ground to a powder, mixed with cold water and drunk for laxative.
Use Other: The inedible fruits are easily dried and often brightly painted for decorative use.
Warning: The foul-tasting mature fruit is poisonous to humans if eaten. Sensitivity to a toxin varies with a person’s age, weight, physical condition, and individual susceptibility. Children are most vulnerable because of their curiosity and small size. Toxicity can vary in a plant according to season, the plant’s different parts, and its stage of growth; and plants can absorb toxic substances, such as herbicides, pesticides, and pollutants from the water, air, and soil. "

This website also gives places to obtain seeds:

https://www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=CUFO
 
Greg Martin
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Hi Ann,

It's a good question regarding if this species will survive or not up here for me.  I've read that it can survive zone 5, but I suspect I'd have to try it in the best draining soil I can provide.  I'm thinking that in order to have the best chance possible that I need to get seeds from the coldest winter locations in it's range, but no sure as I haven't tried growing it yet.  One concern I have about siting it is that I've read that it's pollen getting on C. pepo flowers ruins the flavor of those squashes, which is pretty shocking to me.

Anyhow, the reason that I want to experiment with it is that I have some ideas for trying to breed perennial good tasting crops from it.  Probably a long shot, but I can't help trying to follow up on my long shot ideas.  I'm really hoping that someone can help locate seeds for me from plants growing in cold winter areas.

I really appreciate your post, thank you.  I do agree that most people would want to avoid introducing this species to their gardens.
 
Anne Miller
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I admire you choice to try to come up with something perennial.

This one probably might be the best one to try based on its huge root.  I don't know how long it took to develop the root that the one we dealt with had.
 
pollinator
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This sounds like it could be the start of an interesting breeding project. I don't know enough about the species involved, but might it be possible to create a cross with a more tasty squash to introduce the hardy perennial nature to the more delicate cultivated squashes?
 
pollinator
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Ho I have it too! It stinks but a smell that can feel good, as so special! Strange, but you can at the same time like it and hate it.... What is sure is its ability to survive draught, as I tested it with a few months with no water, and it survived. The grey leaves are a nice covering if there is enough water.

I thought the root was edible and was going to try it! But after searching better, the STARCH is edible, and thus we have to EXTRACT it, if my conclusion is logical.... I am sure the starch is edible, as I had found a study for its industrial cultivation for both starch from root and oil from seed. At home level, the seed is too small to be processed easily.

Also, the fruit is supposed to be used as soap...
 
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Last week I found a big patch of it in the Los Angeles harbor area.
I will gather a basket of gourds and save them for this spring. Then I will mix it with water and use that water on a batch of seedlings.
The experiment is to see if the seedling leaves pick up the bitterness.
Anything to beat the critters at this game.

 
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To those of you who have access to buffalo gourd, can you tell me if it smells from far away, or only when the leaves are crushed?  I was thinking of growing one in a dry ditch at the front of our property.  But if it is malodorous from more than let's say 10 ft away, I'm not sure my neighbors will appreciate it.  Thanks in advance for your help.
 
Xisca Nicolas
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Debbie Ang wrote:To those of you who have access to buffalo gourd, can you tell me if it smells from far away, or only when the leaves are crushed?  I was thinking of growing one in a dry ditch at the front of our property.  But if it is malodorous from more than let's say 10 ft away, I'm not sure my neighbors will appreciate it.  Thanks in advance for your help.



When leaves are crushed. And it is a curious "bad smell" that some people like!
 
Debbie Ang
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Nicolas, that is excellent.  I'm glad to know that some people may enjoy the smell.  And for those who don't, at least they won't be trampling my plants!  Thank you for your reply.
 
pollinator
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This gourd and a related species, C. digitata, the five-finger gourd, are common in Arizona and we had lots of uses for them when I was a kid. Mostly they revolved around batting practice, or things like ornaments for the christmas tree. In O'odham tradition the gourds are called coyote gourds, after Coyote the trickster, and one of the vernacular names is chichicoyota (trickster breast). When mothers wanted to wean their babies they would rub a little of the juice on their breasts. The extreme bitterness would convince the kid that maybe solid food was the way to go after all. They are important  components of traditional medicine from Mexico well into the Southwest. I never did try eating the seeds. The concentration of cucurbitacins is such that they are some of the bitterest plants out there and that kind of put me off trying.

The flowers are edible and taste like any squash blossom. The underground tubers can grow to 30-40 cm in diameter and allow the vines to grow even in summers when the monsoon fails to deliver. The juice is also full of saponins and both the unripe gourds as well as the root of both species have been used as laundry soap. I bet there would be some interesting cross pollination between these gourds and cultivated squashes and pumpkins. Joseph Lofthouse may have some valuable input on this topic...Gary Nabhan found lots of examples in northern Mexico of cucurbit crops growing alongside wild gourds. The farmers tended to delay planting their squashes so that the flowering times would not overlap, because they didn't want the bitterness expressed in the next generation's seed.
 
Xisca Nicolas
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Debbie Ang wrote:Nicolas, that is excellent.  I'm glad to know that some people may enjoy the smell.  And for those who don't, at least they won't be trampling my plants!  Thank you for your reply.


I really felt both the like and dislike and it was surprising. Just try to change the software program in you and try both attitude, and you might have a surprise! And actually, somebody in my garden asked me for the plant when we stepped on it, because he directly loved the smell!!

Phil, I really wonder how it is possible that we still have some purebreeds of cucurb! Maybe the tendency to want to have many different varieties instead of just the ancient local ones is doing more good to the seed sellers than to the defensers of heirlooms!
 
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I was revisiting this thread just now when a detail struck me that I had missed on several previous reads: the buffalo gourd is perennial! Presumably because of that enormous root.

I have one sitting on my windowsill that I collected a couple of years ago from a roadside ditch while I was taking a wildcrafting class from a local knowledge resource who has since, sadly, passed away.  She told us the seeds were good eats, but warned us cross-pollination could poss a problem with other cucurbitae in our gardens.  I meant to plant the seeds somewhere on the "back 40" but never got around to it, and it seemed kind of silly for an annual.  Because cucurbits are annuals, right?  They always are, right?  Right? RIGHT?

Grrr.

This thread was right here, saying different, and I know I've read it before.  But my wildcrafting expert didn't happen to mention that the plant were perennial -- that wasn't a thing that would have mattered to her -- and I just missed the detail, reading fast, whenever I saw this previously.  

I really like Greg's idea of cross-breeding with less-bitter cucurbits to try and develop a perennial that's at once drought-tolerant enough for local conditions and non-bitter enough to eat.  I wish I'd seen/understood/comprehended it the first time I passed through the thread.

And Tyler's notion of getting them established as an emergency food source is very much in line with the sort of thing I'm trying to do here. I need to at least grow one plant on the back of the property to see if the seeds are worth bothering with, food-wise.  (The distinction between "not gonna bother with this when I'm not hungry" and "OMG I would totally process these on a day when my belt buckle was knocking my backbone" is something I am pretty good at making even when I'm not hungry.)
 
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