Momordica charantia L.

Last updated: 26 Oct 2015

Scientific Name

Momordica charantia L.


Cucumis argyi H.Lév., Cucumis intermedius M.Roem., Momordica chinensis Spreng., Momordica elegans Salisb., Momordica indica L., Momordica muricata Willd., Momordica sinensis Spreng., Momordica thollonii Cogn., Sicyos fauriei H. Lév. [1]

Vernacular Name

Malaysia Peria [2], peria laut,periok [3], peria pahit, peria katak [4]
English Bitter melon [3], bitter gourd [5], balsam pear [6] balsam apple, african cucumber   [7]
India Karela, karabella, pavakka [3], kerela, tita kerala [6]
China Lai pu tao, jin li zhi, ku gua ye [6]
Philippines Ampalaya [5], paria, palia [3]
Indonesia Paria, pare [4], papari [3]
Thailand Maha, mara, phakha [6]
Vietnam La khoqua (leaves) [5]
Cambodia Mreah [3]
Laos 'hai1, 'phak 'ha, sai1 [3]
France Margose, margose amère, momordique amère, concombre amer, concombre africain [6].

Geographical Distributions

Momordica charantia is pan tropical plant grows in moist tropical areas. It is widely grown in the Amazon rainforest, east Africa, Asia and the Caribbean. [6]

Botanical Description

M. charantia comes from the family of Cucurbitaceae [8]. It is a monoecious plant with 5-ridged stem where the young parts densely hairy, annual vine up to 5 m long and have a simple tendrils. [3]

The leaves measures 2.5-10 cm x 3.0-12.5 cm in dimension, broadly ovate to suborbicular leaf blade, sinuate-toothed margin, smooth or sparsely pubescent [3].

The flowers mostly solitary measures 2.0- 3.5 cm in diametre, yellow in colour. The male flowers are on a long peduncle measures 0.5-3.0 cm long with an apical bract up to 2.2 cm long. The pedicel is 2.0-5.5 cm long. The female flowers existed on a 0.2-5.0 cm long peduncle with an apical bract up to 1.2 cm long. The pedicel of the female flowers is 1-10 cm long [3].

The fruit is 3-11(-45) cm x 2-4(-8) cm and the surface of the fruit is roughly warty. The colour of the fruit is green and turns to orange. [3]

The seeds are brown, dehiscent, sculptured on sides, 8-16 mm x 4-10 mm x 2.5-3.5 mm in dimension. The testa ornamented [3] [8].


No documentation.

Chemical Constituent

Butanol-soluble fraction of a methanol extract of M. charantia leaves has been reported to contain glycosidic compounds (e.g. (4ξ)-α-terpineol 8-O-[α-L-arabinopyranosyl-(1→6)-β-D-glucopyranoside] and myrtenol 10-O-[β-D-apiofuranosyl-(1→6)-β-D-glucopyranoside]). [9]

Methanol extract of M. charantia leaves has been reported to contain cucurbitane glucoside (e.g. 7-O-beta-D-glucopyranosyl-3,23-dihydroxycucurbita-5,24-dien-19-al, (named momordicine IV), and momordicine II) [10], cucurbitane triterpenoid (e.g. 7,23-dihydroxy-3-O-malonylcucurbita-5,24-dien-19-al, and momordicine I) [11], and cucurbitane-type triterpenoids (e.g. (23E)-3β,25-dihydroxy-7β-methoxycucurbita-5,23-dien-19-al, (23E)-3β,7β-dihydroxy-25-methoxycucurbita-5,23-dien-19-al, (23S*)-3β-hydroxy-7β,23-dimethoxycucurbita-5,24-dien-19-al, (23R*)-23-O-methylmomordicine IV, (25ξ)-26-hydroxymomordicoside L, 25-oxo-27-normomordicoside L, karavilagenin D,and 25-O-methylkaravilagenin D) [12].

M. charantia leaves also have been reported to contain a triterpene glycoside (e.g. kuguaglycoside C) [13] and cucurbitane glucoside (e.g. 23-O-β-D-glucopyranosyl-7-hydroxy-3-O-malonylcucurbita-5,24-dien-19-al, (named momordicine V), and 3-O-malonylmomordicine I). [14]

M. charantia stems and leaves have been reported to contain cucurbitane-type triterpenoids (e.g. karavilagenin F, karavilosides XII, karavilosides XIII, momordicines VI, momordicines VII, momordicines VIII, 5β,19-epoxy-25-methoxycucurbita-6,23-diene-3β,19-diol, 5β,19-epoxycucurbita-6, 23-diene-3β,19,25-triol, kuguacin R, and (19R,23E)-5β,19-epoxy-19-methoxycucurbita-6,23,25-trien-3β-ol). [15]

M. charantia vine has been reported to contain an iridoid lactone (e.g. plumericin). [16]

Ethanol extract of M. charantia fruits have been reported to contain cucurbitane-type triterpene glycosides (e.g. kuguaosides A, kuguaosides B, kuguaosides C, kuguaosides D, charantoside A, momordicosides I, momordicosides F1, momordicosides F2, momordicosides K, momordicosides L, momordicosides U, goyaglycosides-b, goyaglycosides-d, 7β,25-dihydroxycucurbita-5,23(E)-dien-19-al 3-O-β-d-allopyranoside, and 25-hydroxy-5β,19-epoxycucurbita-6,23-dien-19-on-3β-ol 3-O-β-d-glucopyranoside). [17]

Ethanol extract and nonsaponifiable fraction of ethyl acetate extract of M. charantia fruits has been reported to contain cucurbitane-type triterpenoid (e.g. 5β,19-epoxycucurbita-6,24-diene-3β,23ξ-diol, cucurbita-6,22(E),24-trien-3β-ol-19,5β-olide, 5β,19-epoxycucurbita-6,22(E),24-triene-3β,19-diol, 3β-hydroxycucurbita-5(10),6,22(E),24-tetraen-19-al, 19-dimethoxycucurbita-5(10),6,22(E),24-tetraen-3β-ol, and 19-nor-cucurbita-5(10),6,8,22(E),24-pentaen-3β-ol). [18]

M. charantia fruit pulp have been reported to contain cucurbitane-type triterpenoids (e.g. 5β,19-epoxy-23(R)-methoxycucurbita-6,24-dien-3β-ol, 5β,19-epoxy-23(S)-methoxycucurbita-6,24-dien-3β-ol, and 3β-hydroxy-23(R)-methoxycucurbita-6,24-dien-5β,19-olide). [19]

M. charantia fruit also has been reported to contain cucurbitane-type triterpene glycosides (e.g. charantagenins D and charantagenins E) and a sterol (e.g. 7-oxo-stigmasta-5,25-diene-3-O-β-d-glucopyranoside). [20]

M. charantia seeds has been reported to contain vacine, mycose, 3-O-(β-D-glucopyranosyl)-24 β-ethyl-5 α-cholesta-7, trans-22E, 25 (27)-trien-3 β-ol, momorcharaside A and momorcharaside B). [21]

Unspecified extract of M. charantia has been reported to contain an alkaloid (e.g. momoridicine) [22], a linolenic acid derivative (e.g. 13-oxo-9(Z),11(E),15(Z)-octadecatrienoic acid (13-oxo-OTA)) [23] and other compounds such as steroids, charine, cucurbitins, cucurbitacins, cycloartenols, diosgenin, elaeostearic acids, erythrodiol, galacturonic acids, gentisic acid, goyaglycosides, goyasaponins, guanylate cyclase inhibitors, gypsogenin, hydroxytryptamines, karounidiols, lanosterol, lauric acid, linoleic acid, linolenic acid, momorcharasides, momorcharins, momordenol, momordicilin, momordicinin, momordicosides, momordolo, multiflorenol, myristic acid, nerolidol, oleanolic acid, oleic acid, oxalic acid, pentadecans, peptides, petroselinic acid, polypeptides, proteins, ribosome-inactivating proteins, rosmarinic acid, rubixanthin, spinasterol, steroidal glycosides, stigmasta-diols, stigmasterol, taraxerol, trehalose, trypsin inhibitors, uracil, vacine, v-insulin, verbascoside, zeatin, zeatin riboside, zeinoxanthin [24][25], 5-α-Stigmasta-7,25-dien-3-β-ol, 5-hydroxytryptamine, α-elaeostrearic acid, ascorbigen, β-sitosterol-δ-glucoside, charantin, citrulline, cryptoxanthin, cucurbitane, triterpene, triterpenoid, elasterol, flavochrome, fluoride, gaba, galacturonic acid, lanosterol, lectin, lutein, lycopene, α-momorcharin, β-momorcharin, γ-momorcharin, momordin, momordicin, momordicoside-G, momordicoside-I, monocyclic alcohol, mutachrome, oxalate, oxalic acid, pipecolic acid, polypeptide-p, rubixhantin, sterol, stigmasta-5,25-dien-3-β-ol, and zeaxanthin [26].

Plant Part Used

Stems, leaves, fruits, and seeds. [27][28][29][30]

Traditional Use

M. charantia, known as Karela in Hindi is grown by indigenous people in the Amazon region for use as a food and medicinal plant. The leaves, shoots and fruits are eaten as a food regularly despite the bitter taste. The uses vary widely by region and include use as a digestive aid, anti-viral, antibacterial, parasiticide, blood sugar regulator, blood pressure regulator and hormonal balancer. The sap of the plant is used for fevers and colic [31][32][33]. In West Africa, Karela is most often used as to treat gastrointestinal disorders. More than 50% of traditional healers in Togo viewed Karela as being useful in treating general gastrointestinal debility [27]. Other particularly notable traditional African applications of Karela include use as a hepatoprotective [29] and cardioprotective [8].

In Congo, macerated leaves are steeped in water and then ingested in order to treat general abdominal pain [30]. A similar application of the leaves has been used traditionally in the Ivory Coast in order to treat diarrhea and dysentery and also used as a mild purgative. In Western Nigeria, leaves of Karela are steeped in lemon juice, and used in order to treat diarrhea, cholera and dysentery [35]. Either an extract or an infusion of the fresh leaves, applied as an enema, has been used as an anthelmintic and astringent, respectively [27][34]. Topical application of a decoction of the leaf is used as an astringent for the skin and to treat age spots. Leaves are used to treat blood sugar imbalances and to stimulate appetite [31][32][33]. In Western Africa, malignant ulcers, and certain cancers are treated by applying a dressing containing the pulverized Karela leaves directly to the infected area [28].

In other areas of Western Africa, the fruit of Karela is used, either directly or as a decoction has been applied to burns ulcers and general wounds [29]. M. charantia is traditionally used as a hypoglycemic in the treatment of diabetes. Most commonly, it is the fruit that is used in this way [35].

A decoction made from the stems and leaves have been used in order to treat ulcers, septic swelling and boils. Typically, the decoction is applied directly to the wound or bathed in [27]. Meanwhile in Ayurvedic medicine, the leaves and the root have similar purpose, however milder effects on blood sugar. [35]

The fruit of M. charantia was used as an ingredient in cooking. The fruit of the plant is soaked with salt water before used in the cooking. The young fruit may also be pickled. In Java and Philippine Islands, the young shoots are used as a flavouring agent. [28]

Preclinical Data


Antidiabetic activity

Aqueous extract of M. charantia juice showed antidiabetic activity by reducing STZ-induced hyperglycemia in mice and STZ-induced lipid peroxidation in mice pancreas, RIN cells and isolated islets in vitro. The extract also reduced the STZ-induced apoptosis in RIN cells. [36]

Numerous studies have been done on the possible antidiabetic effect of M. charantia L. In these studies at least three different groups of constituents were found in all parts of the plant with hypoglycemic potential and /or other benefits for diabetes mellitus. A host of hypoglycemic agents include a mixture of steroidal saponins known as charantins, insulin-like peptides, and alkaloids have been identified in M. charantia. The hypoglycemic effect has been found to be more pronounced in the fruit of this plant where these chemicals are present in greater abundance. From experiments with isolated pancreatic islets of obese hyperglycemic animals it has been shown that this plant stimulates insulin secretion in vitro. In another experiment, M. charantia has been shown to affect key enzymes involved in the carbohydrate metabolism, it has been found to restore the activity of these enzymes in diabetic animals. Another study showed that juice extract of M. charantia fruit fed to STZ-induced diabetic in rats not only led to preservation of islet morphology but also caused a raise in beta-cell numbers. Extracts of M. charantia have also exhibited hyperinsulinemic activity. To date, almost a hundred different in vivo studies with M. charantia L. have documented hypoglycemic property of this plant. [25][37][38][39][40][41]

Alcohol extract of M. charantia pulp (500 mg/kg) administered orally to streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats showed antidiabetic activity by significantly (p < 0.002) reduced 26% of plasma glucose at 3.5 h compared to metformin caused 40-50% reduction at 1, 2 and 3.5 h. The extract also caused a 4-5-fold increase in the rate of glycogen synthesis from U-14C-glucose in the liver of normally fed rats. The study suggested that the M. charantia hypoglycaemic action mechanism could be relatively attributed to elevated glucose utilization in the liver rather than an insulin secretion effect [42]. However there are studies claimed that the hypoglycemic activity of M. charantia is to be mediated through an insulin secretagogue effect or through an influence on enzymes involved in glucose metabolism [43].

M. charantia administered in the diet (0.5%) of streptozotocin-induced diabetic Wistar rats for duration of 6 weeks showed considerable lowering hyperglycemic activity. [44] Furthermore a research indicates that the extract of decorticated M charantia seeds may contain the molecules with insulin-like bioactivity. [45]

M. charanatia fruit administered to streptozotocin (STZ)-induced Type 1 diabetic rats for duration of 10 weeks showed significantly (p < 0.05) lowered the plasma non-esterified cholesterol, triglycerides and phospholipids, accompanied by a decrease in high density lipoprotein (HDL). The extract also managed to normalize the elevated level of plasma (LPO) product, malonedialdehyde (MDA), and kidney LPO in the STZ-induced diabetic rats. [46]

Anticholesterol activity

The freeze-dried M. charantia powder administered to rats fed which diets supplemented with and without cholesterol for duration of 14 days resulted in a consistent decrease in serum glucose levels in rats fed cholesterol-free diets, but not in those fed cholesterol-enriched diets, with no dose-response noted affected the serum glucose level and lipid parameters of the serum and liver. The result also showed that M.  charantia product had little effect on serum lipid parameters, except for high density lipoprotein (HDL)-cholesterol; however, HDL-cholesterol levels tended to decrease by dietary cholesterol, while they were consistently elevated by dietary M.  charantia both in the presence and absence of dietary cholesterol, indicating an antiatherogenic activity of M.  charantia. In addition, M. charantia exhibited a marked reduction in the hepatic total cholesterol and triglyceride levels both in the presence and absence of dietary cholesterol, with the reduction of triglyceride levels in the absence of dietary cholesterol being in a dose-dependent manner. [47]

Antiulcerogenic activity

Olive oil extract and dried-powdered M. charantia mature fruits in filtered honey showed significant and dose-dependent antiulcerogenic activity against ethanol-induced ulcerogenesis in rats. A potent and dose-dependent inhibitory activity also was observed by the administration of ethanol extract of the fruits in ulcerogenesis induced by HCL-EtOH in indomethacin pretreated rats and diethyldithiocarbamate-induced ulcer model. [48]

Antimicrobial activity

Several extracts of M. charantia leaves also have shown in vitro antibacterial activities againstEscherichia coli, Staphylococcus, Pseudomonas, Salmonella, Streptobacillus and Streptococcus. An extract of the whole plant has shown to have antiprotozoal activity against Entamoeba histolytica. The fruit and fruit juice has exhibited the same type of antibacterial properties. [49]

Antibacterial activity

Ethanol extract (95%) of M. charantia leaves showed antibacterial activity against E. coli, Salmonella paratyphi and Shigella dysenterae. [50]

M. charnatia fruit extract showed antibacterial activity against one standard strain and eight clinical isolates of stomach ulcer-causing bacteria Helicobacter pylori by using the agar dilution method with MICs value between 1.95 and 250 µg/mL. [51]

Antiviral activity

A plant protein MAP30 identified as anti-HIV was isolated from M. charantia and has been studied as part of the fight against HIV, the virus that leads to AIDS. The protein is capable of acting against multiple stages of the virus’ life cycle. MAP30 also possessed antitumour activity, topological inactivation of viral DNA, inhibition of viral integrase and cell-free ribosome-inactivation activities. [52]  

MAP30 of the M. charantia showed antiviral activity by inhibiting infection of HIV type 1 (HIV-1) in T lymphocytes and monocytes as well as replication of the virus in already-infected cells. MAP30 are nontoxic to normal uninfected cells because it is unable to enter healthy cells. MAP30 also exhibited dose-dependent inhibition of HIV-1 integrase. The total inhibition achieved in the presence of 20 ng of viral substrate, 50 ng of target substrate, and 4 µM integrase was at equimolar concentrations of the integrase and the antiviral proteins, with EC50 values was about 1 µM. [53]

Isolation of the MAP30 from M. charantia seeds and fruits also exhibited inhibition of cell-free HIV-1 infection and replication in a dose-dependent manner with ID50 of 0.83, 0.22 and 0.33 nM for quantitative focal syncytium formation on CEM-ss monolayers, viral core protein p24 expression, and viral-associated reverse transcriptase (RT) activity in HIV-1 infected H9 cells assays, respectively. [54]

Furthermore, MAP30 in combination with low pharmacological doses of dexamethasone and indomethacin may improve the efficacy of anti-HIV therapy when measured the reduction in p24 expression in acutely infected MT-4 lymphocytes. In addition to anti-viral action, the protein, termed MAP30, also possesses anti-tumor activity, topological inactivation of viral DNA, inhibition of viral integrase and cell-free ribosome-inactivation activities. [55]

MAP30 of M. charantia administered to Herpes Simplex Viruses (HSV)-infected human lung WI-38 fibroblasts culture for duration of 24-48 hours also showed antiviral activity when measured by ELISA. The EC50 values were 0.1-0.2 µM for HSV-2, and 0.3-0.5 µM compared to acyclovir (ACV), a commonly used anti-HSV drug with EC50 of 0.2 for HSV-2 and 1.7 µM for HSV-1. [56]

An in vivo study showed that M. charantia leaf extract has the ability to increase resistance to viral infections as well as provide an immunostimulatory potential by increasing the production of interferon and natural killer cells in humans and experimental animals. [57]

The concentrated protein compound MRK29 isolated from M. charantia ripe fruit and seed (0.175 µg/mL) in the 30-60% salt precipitated fraction showed inhibition towards HIV-1 reverse transcriptase with IR50 at 18 µg/mL and exerted 82% reduction of viral core protein p24 expression in HIV-infected cells. [58]

A compound α-momorcharin (α-MMC) isolated from M. charantia fruit was found to inhibit HIV-1 III B-inducing C8166 syncytia formation and markedly reduced both expression of p24 core antigen and the numbers of HIV antigen positive cells in acutely but not chronically HIV-1-infected culture. [59]

Antitumour activity

M. charnatia ripe fruits and leaves showed inhibitory activity against guanylate cyclase (GCI), an enzyme believed to be involved in the pathogenesis of psoriasis, leukemia and cancers. [60]

Ethanol (80%) extract of M. charantia (0.1, 0.5, and 1.0 g/kg body weight) administered to azoxymethane (AOM)-induced aberrant crypt foci (ACF) in male F344 rats for a duration of 5 weeks during the initiation stage showed antimutagenesis activity by significantly inhibited aberrant crypt focus formation in the colon decreased the average of O6-meG DNA adduct in the colonic mucosa in a dose-dependent manner. Meanwhile the administration of the same extract (1.0 g/kg body weight) during postinitiation stage significantly inhibited ACF formation in the colon, especially the formation of ACF with four or more crypts per focus, remarking the potential M. charantia as chemoprotective nature against colon carcinogenesis. [61] 

Conjugated linolenic acid (CLN) isolated from M. charantia administered to azoxymethane (AOM)-induced colonic aberrant crypt foci (ACF) in male F344 rats once a week for duration of 2 weeks has been found to have chemopreventive activity in the early phase of colon tumerogenesis through modulation of cryptal proliferation activity and apoptosis. Dietary administration of CLN caused a significant reduction in the frequency of ACF: 87 +/- 14 (19.4% reduction, p < 0.05) at a dose of 0.01%, 69 +/- 28 (36.1% reduction, p < 0.01) at a dose of 0.1% and 40 +/- 6 (63.0% reduction, p < 0.001) at a dose of 1%. CLN administration also lowered the PCNA index and induced apoptosis in ACF. [62]

The MAP30 protein of the M. charantia (10 µg/injection EOD for 10 injections) administered to estrogen-dependent human breast cancer tumour (MDA-MB-231)-induced tumour in SCID mice showed antitumour activity by inhibited the cancer cell proliferation and the expression of breast tumour antigen (HER2) gene in vitro. It also increased the survival rate of the mice where it caused about 20-25% of the mice remaining tumour free for 96 days. [63]

Momordin, a plant toxin isolated from M. charantia has shown potential inhibition activity against CD 5 positive leukaemias and lymphomas. The immunotoxin showed very high inhibition of protein and/or DNA synthesis on peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) with IC50 of 1-10 pM and was not affected by blood components. The conjugate was also very efficient as an antiproliferative response in a mixed lymphocyte reaction with IC50 of 10 pM. For in vivo study, momordin was administered to Jurkat leukemia-beared nu/nu mice model where it significantly (p < 0.01) inhibited the tumour development for about 80 %. [64]

M. charantia peel, pulp, sees, and whole fruit extract (100 μL/animal per day) has been reported to show inhibitory activity on mouse skin papillomagensis with the modulatory influence of biotransformation system enzymes. Topical application of the extracts showed significant increase in the sulfhydryl (–SH) level in the liver and skin tissues, as well as the elevated in the hepatic levels of cytosolic glutathione S-transferase (GST) and microsomal cytochrome b5, except for pulp extract. The maximum chemopreventive potential was found from peel extract while M. charantia seed and whole fruit have equivocal efficacy.[65]

While capable as antiviral activity, protein MAP30 of M. charantia also possessed antitumor activity, topological inactivation of viral DNA, inhibition of viral integrase and cell-free ribosome-inactivation activities. [66]


No documentation.

Clinical Data

Clinical findings

The effect of M. charantia on fasting and post prandial serum glucose levels was studied in 100 cases of moderate non-insulin dependent diabetic subjects. Drinking of an aqueous homogenised suspension of the vegetable pulp led to a significant reduction of both fasting and post-prandial serum glucose levels. This hypoglycemic action was observed in 86 (86%) cases. Five cases (5%) showed lowering of fasting serum glucose only. [67]

Investigations were carried out to evaluate the effect of M. charantia on the glucose tolerance of maturity onset diabetic patients. The fruit juice of M. charantia was found to significantly improve the glucose tolerance of 73% of the patients investigated while the other 27% failed to respond. [68]


No documentation.

Interaction & Depletion

No documentation.


No documentation.


No documentation.

Poisonous management

No documentation.

Line drawing

No documentation.


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