Calabash Tree
(Crescentia cujetea)

Calabash Flower

Kapok pod

open calabash

Carved gourd

    Family: Bignoniaceae
    Genus: Crescentia
    Species: Crescentia cujete
    Common Names: Jicaro, Calabash Tree
    Parts Used: Wood, seeds and leaves

Locally known as the Jicaro or Calabash Tree, is species of flowering plant that is native to Central and South America. Largely pollenated by bats eating the inside of the fruit with the seeds. Not to be confused with the calabash gourd used in Sherlock Holmes pipe. It is a dicotyledonous plant with tripinnate leaves whose gourds grow out of the branch of the tree.

The fruit plays a role in one version of the Popol Vuh (book of myths of the Mayan civilization). After the first generation of hero twins, 1 Hunajpu and 7 Hunajpu, fail and are killed in the ball game in Xibalba, the demonic Xibalbans hang their skull in this tree. This is presumably a mythic justification for the resemblance of the fruit to skulls and the carrion smell of the tree in flower (scientifically justified because it is pollinated by flies). The skull later spits in the hand of the Xibalban princess Ixquic, thus impregnating her and begetting the second, successful generation of Maya Hero Twins.

Growing to the size of a soccer ball, the calabash provides local artists the chance to display their talent. A knife is used to carve away the outer skin parts of which are left to provide the picture. These are not gourds (which grow on vines) but are the fruit of a tree, growing like a giant plum from a branch. The calabash vine on the other hand (Lagenaria siceraria) (known locally as morro or jcaro) has seeds which are toasted and ground with other ingredients (including rice, cinnamon, and allspice) to make the drink horchata.

The fruit seeds contain an oil that's used as a medicine against colds. Phytochemical studies of the fresh fruit pulp reports the presence of crescentic acid, tartaric acid, citric, and tannic acids, two resins and a coloring matter than resembles indigo. Studies yielded tartaric acid, cianhidric acid, citric acid, crescentic acid, tannins, beta-sitosterol, estigmasterol, alpha and beta amirina, estearic acid, palmitic acid. Study yielded flavonoids quercetin, apigenin with antiinflammatory, antihemorrahgic and anti-platelet aggregation activities. Fruit considered aperient, laxative, expectorant. Considered anthelmintic, analgesic, antiinflammatory, febrifuge, laxative. Phytochemical study of the fruit yielded eight new compounds, along with four known compounds, acanthoside D, -D-glucopransoyl benzoate, (R)-1-0--glucopyranosyl-1,3-octanediol.

Ethnomedical Uses:
The parts used include the fruit and seeds. A fruit decoction is taken orally to treat diarrhea, stomachache, colds, bronchitis, cough, asthma, and urethritis. The leaves are used to treat hypertension. As previously revealed, calabash can be referred to as a valuable medicinal herb because various parts of this tree contribute to treating and alleviating different ailments.

For example, the pulp is well-known as a herbal remedy for its efficiency in dealing with respiratory problems such as asthma and cough. The juice from the pulp is used along with cinnamon, anise and nutmeg to prepare a herbal syrup which lessens chest disorders and treats gastrointestinal aches. It contains vitamin B1 and a rich amount of vitamin C. Its nutritional content includes calcium, iron, sodium and potassium.

  • In India, used as a pectoral, the poulticed pulp applied to the chest.
  • In the West Indies, syrup prepared from the pulp used for dysentery and as pectoral.
  • In Rio de Janeiro, the alcoholic extract of the not-quite ripe fruit used to relieve constipation
  • For erysipelas, the fresh pulp is boiled in water to form a black paste, mixed and boiled with vinegar, spread on linen for dermatologic application.
  • The bark is used for mucoid diarrhea.
  • Fruit pulp used as laxative and expectorant.
  • In the Antilles and Western Africa, fruit pulp macerated in water is considered depurative, cooling and febrifuge, and applied to burns and headaches.
  • In West Africa, fruit roasted in ashes is purgative and diuretic.
  • In Sumatra, bark decoction used to clean wounds and pounded leaves used as poultice for headaches.
  • Internally, leaves used as diuretic.
  • In the Antilles, fresh tops and leaves are ground and used as topicals for wounds and as cicatrizant.
  • In Venezuela, decoction of bark used for diarrhea. Also, used to treat hematomas and tumors.
  • In Costa Rica, used as purgative.
  • In Cote-d'Ivoire, used for hypertension because of its diuretic effect.
  • In Columbia, used for respiratory afflictions.
  • In Vietnam, used as expectorant, antitussive, laxative and stomachic.
  • In Haiti, the fruit of Crescentia cujete is part of the herbal mixtures reported in its traditional medicine. In the province of Camaguey in Cuba, is considered a panacea.
  • In Panama, where it is called totumo, the fruit is used for diarrhea and stomachaches. Also for respiratory ailments, bronchitis, cough, colds, toothaches. headaches, menstrual irregularities; as laxative, antiinflammatory, febrifuge. The leaves are used for hypertension.

  • Phytochemicals: (1) Previous studies have yielded naphthoquinones and iridoid glucosides. The fruits yielded 15 new compounds, 3 iridoid glucosides, five iridoids, 3 2,4-pentanediol glycosides, along with known compounds. (2) Study fruit constituents yielded 16 iridoids and iridoid glucosides,
  • Nutritive and Anti-Nutritive Composition of Calabash Fruit: Pulp was found to have high mineral concentrations; sodium, highest; calcium, lowest, with high values of thiamine and found to be free from HCN toxicity and suggests useful contributions to human health and nutrition.
  • Bioactive Furanonaphthoquinones : Study isolated new and known bioactive compounds showing selective activity toward DNA-repair-deficient yeast mutants.
  • Antibacterial: In a study of extracts against E. coli and S. aureus, Crescentia cujete showed activity against S. aureus.
  • Snake Venom Neutralizing Effect: In a study of t5 plant extracts used by traditional healers in Colombia for snakebites, 31 had moderate to high neutralizing ability against the hemorrhagic effect of Bothrops atrox venom. C cujete (unripe fruits) was one of 19 that showed moderate neutralization.
  • Antidiabetic: In a non experimental validation for antidiabetic activity, study yields cyanhidric acid believed to stimulate insulin release.

    Wood and uses: Sapwood pinkish to reddish brown; heartwood light brown, moderately hard, heavy, 865 kg/m3 (specific gravity 0.87), strong and flexible, elastic. Wood used for cattle yokes, tool handles, wooden wheels, ribs in boat building; gourds used for cups, bowls, fruit and water containers, made into musical instruments, hand bags; bent wood used for baskets and hampers; roots easily and used for live fences; bark stripped for fibre. In some countries, the dried shell of the fruit is used to make bowls and decorated with paintings or carvings. Used in making maracas or musical rattle. In Brazil, the fibrous lining of the fruit is sometimes used as a substitute for cigarette paper.