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Category: Food



Introduction and description


The Cucurbita family of plants (Latin for gourd), also more generally known as squashes, is a genus of herbaceous vine in the gourd family, Cucurbitaceae, native to the Andes and Mesoamerica.

Five species are grown worldwide for their edible fruit.

We have sections for each specific plant as well as this general section.  This enables us to add observations when the paper only uses the general word ‘squash’, but to allocate the observation to a more specific variety if it is named.  The sections where specific plants are to be found are

Squashes are grown for their flesh and also for their seeds and again the section on seeds has been used to home in on seed use.



Cucurbita fruits have played a role in human culture for at least 2,000 years. They are often represented in Moche ceramics from Peru. After Christopher Columbus's arrival in the New World, they were brought to Europe by returning explorers and paintings of squashes started to appear in Europe early in the sixteenth century.

Other kinds of gourd, also called bottle-gourds, are native to Africa and belong to the genus Lagenaria, which is in the same family and subfamily as Cucurbita but in a different tribe. These other gourds are used as utensils or vessels, and occasionally as drums, and their young fruits are eaten much like those of Cucurbita species.

Cucumber (Cucumis sativus) is in the gourd family, Cucurbitaceae. It too is a creeping vine that bears cylindrical fruits that are used as culinary vegetables.

Watermelon (Citrullus lanatus var. lanatus) is also from the same family Cucurbitaceae.  It too is a vine-like (scrambler and trailer) flowering plant originally from southern Africa. It, however, is grown for its edible fruit, which is a special kind of berry botanically called a pepo.

There is some disagreement about how to handle the taxonomy of the genus Cucurbita; the number of species accepted by different specialists varies from 13 to 30. In addition, the ancestry of some of the species that have been cultivated for millennia is uncertain. The five domesticated species are Cucurbita argyrosperma, C. ficifolia, C. maxima, C. moschata, and C. pepo. All of these can be treated as winter squash because the full-grown fruits can be stored for months; however, C. pepo includes some cultivars that are better used only as summer squash.


Most Cucurbita species are herbaceous vines that grow several meters in length and have tendrils. The yellow or orange flowers on a Cucurbita plant are of two types: female and male. The female flowers produce the fruit and the male flowers produce pollen. Many North and Central American species are visited by specialist bee pollinators, but other insects with more general feeding habits such as honey bees also visit.

Medicinal uses

The very specific medicinal properties of each plant can be found by following the link to each plant.  There you will find Dr Duke’s analysis from his phytochemical database. 

Where more general medicinal properties applicable to all the family are mentioned in a paper they will be found here, but the specific nutrient content of each type is to be found in the section on that plant.

Related observations