Bitter Apple

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  • Botanical: Citrullus colocynthis
  • Family: Cucurbilaceae
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Bitter Apple


Citrullus colocynthis



Known as

Colocynth Pulp. Bitter Cucumber.

Old Use

medical, culinary, industry

Parts Used



bladder disease, bile weakness, constipation, diabetes

Stomach & Intestinal

bladder disease, bladder weakness, bile weakness, constipation, kidney weakness


antibacterial, anti inflammatory


It is an annual plant resembling the common watermelon.The roots are large, fleshy and perennial leading to a high survival rate thanks to the long tap root. The vine-like stems spread in all directions for a few meters looking for something to climb over. If present, shrubs and herbs are preferred and climbed by means of axiliary branching tendrils. The leaves are very similar to watermelon leaves: they are palmate, angular with 3-7 divided lobes.

The flowers are yellow and solitary in the axes of leaves and are borne by yellow-greenish peduncles. Each has a subcampanulated five-lobed corolla and a five-parted calyx. They are monoecious therefore the male (stamens) and the female reproductive parts (pistils and ovary) are borne in different flowers on the same plant. The male flowers’ calyx is shorter than the corolla. They have 5 stamens, 4 of which are coupled and 1 is single with monadelphous anther. The female flowers have 3 staminoids and a 3-carpels ovary. The two sexes are distinguishable by observing the globular and hairy inferior ovary of the female flowers. A Citrullus colocynthis female flower. Iranian Citrullus colocynthis. Ripe fruit of Citrullus colocynthis.

The fruit is smooth, spheric with a 5–10 cm diameter and extremely bitter at taste. The calyx englobe the yellow-green fruit which becomes marble (yellow stripes) at maturity. The mesocarp is filled with a soft, dry and spongy white pulp, in which the seeds are embedded. Each of the 3 carpels bears 6 seeds. Each plant produces 15 to 30 fruits.

The seeds are grey and 5 mm long and 3 mm wide. They are edible but similarly bitter, nutty-flavored and rich in fat and protein. 

Properties & Uses

Despite serious safety concerns, colocynth is used in combination products for treating constipation, liver, and gallbladder ailments.

Other use

Desert Bedouins are said to make a type of bread from the ground seeds. There is some confusion between this species and the closely related watermelon (Citrullus Ianatus (Thunb)), whose seeds may be used in much the same way. In particular the name "egusi" may refer to either or both plants (or more generically to other cucurbits) in their capacity as seed crops, or to a soup made from these seeds and popular in West Africa. The seed flour is rich in micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), calcium and niacin and could therefore be used in food formulations especially in regions with low milk consumption like West Africa.A normal dose of fluid extracted from the fruit pulp is 2 to 5 minims (120 to 310 µL), and for the powdered extract 1 to 2 grains (60 to 130 mg).

Since colocynth is not strongly used as staple food, its seeds might become an interesting source for biofuel production. In addition, colocynth can grow on marginal lands and may improve soil quality as experienced with intercropping. The oil obtained from the seeds (47%) can also be used for medicinal and soap production.The production is not very time and energy consuming due to the ability of colocynth to grow on poor soils with just a little moisture and organic fertilizer. The fruits are harvested still unripe by hand, the rind is removed by peeling and the inner pulp filled with seeds is dried at sun or in ovens. The seeds yield is about 6.7-10 t/ha, which means that for an oil profit of 31-47%, oil yields may reach up to 3 t/ha.Oleic and linoleic acids isolated from C. colocynthis petroleum ether extracts show larvicidal activity against mosquitoes.


Taking even very small amounts of colocynth can cause severe irritation of the stomach and intestine lining, bloody diarrhea, kidney damage, bloody urine, and inability to urinate. Other side effects include convulsions, paralysis, and death. There have been reports of death following ingestion of just 1-1/2 teaspoons of the powder.

In case of poisoning, a dilute tannic acid solution should be taken, followed by large quantities of drinks that contain eggs (albuminous drinks).


Native of Turkey abounding in the Archipelago; also found in Africa (Nubia especially), Asia, Smyrna and Trieste.


The pulp contains Colocynthin, extractive, a fixed oil, a resinous substance insoluble in ether, gum, pectic acid or pectin, calcium and magnesium phosphates, lignin and water.

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For educational purposes only This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

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