Name: Pumpkin (Cucurbita pepo)
Otherwise known as: Squash.
Habitat: An annual member of the Cucurbitaceae family, which takes on a trailing form with large, dark green, hairy leaves, yellow flowers, both male and female, producing large orange fruits. A native to North America, it can now be grown almost anywhere except the polar regions.
What does it do: The Maya applied the flesh to burns and used the seeds as a diuretic. Early American settlers made a preparation from the seeds to expel intestinal worms that proved so effective it was eventually accepted by the medical profession and became a standard treatment.
Pumpkin seeds contain vitamins A, B, and E, the minerals calcium, iron, phosphorus, zinc and selenium as well as linoleic and oleic acids. These compounds are the reason roast pumpkin seeds are so popular in China where they are believed to promote longevity. Zinc is a trace element essential at every stage of life: it helps form enzymes that enables proteins to build new cells. A deficiency of zinc can have serious consequences such as arrested foetal development, dwarfism, and mental health problems. Selenium occurs naturally in the soil but has an uneven distribution, it promotes blood cell activity, delays the ageing process and scavenges harmful free-radicals. A lack of this element can lead to anaemia, heart disease and liver disorders. It appears that the humble pumpkin has a lot to offer.
Pumpkin seed is now known to have a beneficial effect on the prostate and will reduce benign enlargement. Herbalists suggest eating a handful of seeds each day. Recent research indicates that cucurbitin may be a treatment for schistosomiasis.
Pumpkins, like all members of the family, are extremely easy to grow in Cyprus. Start the seed in pots and plant out when the seedling have formed their first two leaves. They like a rich moist soil and are thirsty devils. To ensure very large fruits, stop the runners after two or three small pumpkins have formed.