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Ever Heard of a Miracle Fruit?

by Ellon Labana


Text and Photos by Henrylito D. Tacio

In Mindanao, there’s a strange fruit that never fails to catch the attention of whoever sees it. Although not very popular yet, it looks like a young coconut in appearance and watermelon in size.

Its name is even strange: calabash.  In the science world, it is called Crescentia cujete.  It is known as calabacero in Spain, totumo in Colombia and Panama, mate in Ecuador, pate in Peru, jicaro in Mexico, higuera in Puerto Rico and rum tree in Sri Lanka. 

But most Filipinos call it miracle fruit.  The reason: it cures some diseases, even cancer. In General Santos City, a group of students from the Notre Dame of Dadiangas University found that “calabash extracts have the ability to prevent blood vessel growth and development.”  As such, it “could be used to help prevent the cancer cells in the human body.”

The students have analyzed the effects of fruit and leaf extracts of calabash to duck eggs.  In their study, they found that the “extracts have successfully halted toe formation of new blood vessels as shown by the lower number of branching points in ducks embryo compared to the controlled samples.”

According to the Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (PCHRD), a line agency of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), the students’ analysis showed that the tree’s “fruit and leaf extracts contain flavonoids such as quercetin and anthraquinone, the important phytochemicals for antiangiogenic activities, a process that inhibits the growth and development of new blood vessels in the body.”

Antiangiogenesis controls the spread of tumor cells in the body by disabling the transport of nutrients toward the cancerous cells, the PCHRD explained.  Tumor cells, as they normally do, start with a single cell, which then divides into more cells.  “The growth of malignant cells will depend on the availability of specific nutrients being transported by blood vessels,” it said.

In Davao City, the Davao Medical School Foundation has confirmed that calabash fruit has blood sugar lowering effect on the tested animals.

On the website of PCHRD, it was reported the researchers administered calabash fruit decoction (juice from boiled calabash fruit) to hyperglycemia-induced rabbits and compared effects to Metformin, a standard drug for the treatment of diabetics (positive control) and a mineral water treatment (negative control).

The analysis revealed that calabash fruit decoction and Metformin treated rabbits showed “a significant decrease in the amount of blood sugar in the body. While rabbits administered with mineral water solution have constant high blood sugar levels.”

According to the study, “the decrease of blood sugar level was attributed to the effects of phytochemicals found in calabash fruit responsible for the release of insulin that lowers blood sugar in the tested animals.”

Calabash is native to Central and South America.  In fact, it is the national tree of St. Lucia.  How it came to the Philippines, no one knows.  In countries where it is common, it is popular because of its medicinal properties.  It contains vitamin B1, vitamin C, calcium, iron, sodium, and potassium.

The pulp, for instance, is very efficient in dealing with respiratory problems such as asthma and cough.  The juice from the pulp is used along with cinnamon, anise, and nutmeg to prepare a herbal syrup that lessens chest disorders and treats gastrointestinal problems.

The decoction of the bark can be used to cure wounds.  The leaves have the ability to decrease blood pressure and headaches.  The leaves can also be crushed and applied to wounds to stop bleeding.  If mixed with castor oil, it also acts as a purgative and laxative herb.

Calabash is not only known for its healing powers but also as an ally in food preparation.  In Chinese cuisine, it is often fried and added to soups.  In Japan, people buy it in the form of marinated strips which they use in making rolled sushi.  In Burma, the leaves are boiled and eaten with a hot and spicy fish sauce.

In Central America, where it is native, the leaves are carefully toasted and combined with other ingredients to prepare a drink called horchata.  Other edible parts are the shoots and the tendrils.

But don’t use calabash too much in food preparation.  It has been reported the fruit contains a toxic compound called tetracyclic triterpenoid cucurbitacin, which can trigger stomach ulcers.  Pregnant women must also avoid consuming it as the fruit was once used to induce labor.

There are several other uses of calabash.  In Africa, it is called the Tupperware tree because of its multifarious uses.  When dried, the fruit’s shell can be used to make various kinds of utensils, ornaments, and musical instruments.  The dried shells can be used to create bowls for drinking and eating or for carrying water.  The wood is used in making cattle yokes, wooden wheels, and ribs in boat building.

Indeed, there’s a lucrative business waiting for those who grow calabash.  One lady who discovered it is Bilma Masamloc Fuertes, the woman behind Mary’s Miracle.  “I realized that there’s a demand in miracle fruit,” she told Marid Agribusiness Digest.  “So I’ve gone into much researches to prove the benefits.  And Mindanao is abundant in miracle fruit.”

She came to know the calabash because of her husband who experienced a stroke four times.  Since they didn’t have sufficient money for the medicine maintenance, she tried to process the calabash juice for him.  She asked him to drink it and within 10 days her husband was cured.

“I won’t stop researching not only about the juice but also about the other beneficial results from miracle juice and other possible products from the fruit itself,” Fuertes was quoted as saying.  “And I am very proud to tell everyone that generally we see the great potential to expand our business not only here in Davao or in the country but also to export it.”

So, how do you extract the juice out of the fruit?  Chris Dearne, a foreigner who has lived in General Santos City for several years now, gives some tips in his blog, “Live in the Philippines.”

But before extracting the juice, be sure to select a mature fruit.  Here’s the reason why: “If you choose an immature fruit, (the juice will have a smell) reminiscent of a football stadium urinal which has been starved of flushing water for a while!”

A fruit that has pleasant but not strong smell is best for making juice.  Now the preparation: “Open the fruit and scrape out all the inside material.  Chop them into small pieces and then squash it.  Once is it well-squashed into a mush, boil it for 30 minutes before draining the juice through a clean cloth.  Let the extracted juice cool before putting it into bottles.  Place the bottles inside the refrigerator and simply drink it.”

Now, you know why calabash is touted to be a miracle fruit!

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