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Snake gourds

Updated: Jul 5

Trichosanthus cucumerina

The snake gourd, also called serpent gourd, viper gourd, snake tomato, chichinda, padwal, or puḍalangai, is a wonderful, heat-loving plant grown in parts of Africa, India, and southeast Asia. It is quite versatile, with a range of culinary and medicinal uses. And we must say, the plant’s obnoxiously large fruits are so amusing! If you have the garden space, it’s worth growing them just to experience these crazy things.

Growing snake gourd in Texas

Our way of adapting to our warming climate is to look beyond the traditional garden veggies we’re used to growing and start cultivating some of the crops that thrive in places that are historically hotter than here. Snake gourds are particularly suited to Texas to because they love the heat and humidity.

There are different varieties of snake gourds. We’ve been growing a cultivated variety called Trichosanthus cucumerina var. anguina. Seeds can be started indoors 4-6 weeks before your average last frost date or direct sowed outdoors after the danger of frost has passed. The plants do great in full sun, and yes - even in Texas in August! Quite the feat. These are impressively resilient vining plants that, once established, will continue to grow and produce throughout the hottest of the summer months. Give them something to climb like a fence or arch trellis and they will thrive. The gourds get quite long and heavy, so they benefit from support. We’ve found that the plants don’t have much pest pressure, if any, which is another benefit of growing snake gourds. Perhaps their strong, musky smell keeps the bugs away.

Snake gourd flowers are gorgeous, with white, lace-like blooms that bring a nice luminous glow to the evening garden.

Harvesting snake gourds

You can harvest snake gourds when they are young and tender (about 12 - 30 inches long). They can be cooked with just like a summer squash and at this stage, they taste like green beans. It's good to harvest them young at first to keep the plants producing. The plants can quickly get quite large if you let them. We’ve been doing that this year just to see what happens and some are close to touching the ground.

You can also allow the snake gourds mature on the vine further, getting huge and thick and long. At this stage, you can scoop out the pulp on the inside and it makes a good tomato paste substitute. Here is a video showing how to do that and here is another one.

When saving snake gourds for seeds, it's best to wait until the fruits start to turn reddish-orange. They will be huge and may be starting to crack on the outside at this point. You can scoop out the red, pulpy bits and the seeds will be inside.

Sowing snake gourd seeds

Sow the seeds when temperatures are warm and there’s no risk of frost. They are quite hard and may benefit from scarification, but we’ve also had success just sowing them as is.

Snake gourd recipe idea:

Snake gourds are common in Indian cuisine and they can be incorporated into curries, stir fries, and all sorts of vegetable dishes.

To make a simple snake gourd curry, sauté onions, garlic, ginger, and curry leaves; add spices like turmeric, coriander, cumin, paprika; and tomatoes; add sliced snake gourd and other veggies, simmering until the gourd is tender, then stir in coconut milk to make a gravy. Serve with rice and/or roti. Snake gourd is also commonly stir fried with coconut and served with lentils. We think we might try stuffing one of the larger ones and roasting it. We’ll update this post once we do!



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