The plant family Cucurbitaceae offers an abundance of edible plants, from sweet melons and cucumbers to savory squash and gourds. Pumpkins and squash (Cucurbita spp.) are native from Argentina to Mexico. The related watermelon (Citrullus spp.) is mostly likely native to the region around Sudan in northeastern Africa, while many other melons come from Central Asia. Cucurbits (members of the Cucurbitaceae family) lend themselves to easy cultivation; they are fast-growing, and their seeds can be stored easily for long periods.
Archaeological evidence from northern Peru and Mexico indicates that one of the members of the squash family, the gourd (Lagenaria spp.), may be among the oldest domesticated crops in the world, first domesticated over 10,000 years ago. However, the first gourds were probably not domesticated for eating. Instead, they were likely cultivated for the hard, waterproof containers their shells provide, a use that continues in many parts of the world today.
Food as Medicine
Incredibly nutritious, some members of the gourd family are among the most-planted vegetable crops in the world. Winter squash are rich in vitamins A, B, and C, as well as potassium. Cucumbers’ high water content can help maintain hydration. In many places, squash are also a medicinal food. Some are used in Chinese traditional medicine to aid digestion. In India, the squash’s soft flesh is used as a parasite treatment and laxative. The Zuni peoples in the American Southwest use a local squash, Cucurbita foetidissima, as an anti-inflammatory for arthritis.
Squash may be known for their fleshy fruit, but the flowers, young tendrils and leaves of many squash are edible, too. In many parts of central America squash blossoms are a much-loved food.
Learn more about squash with these fun facts!
- The leaves, tendrils, shoots, stems, flowers, seeds, and fruit of the squash can be eaten.
- The word “squash” comes from the Narragansett word askutasquash, which means “eaten raw or uncooked.”
- Squashes are commonly made into candies in Latin America.
Explore some recipes for all parts of the squash here, and share your dishes with us using #AroundTheTable.