Chinese cucumber is a vegetable that is in the gourd genus Trichosanthes. Also known as the Mongolian snake gourd, it grows on a vine along the ground or may climb up trellises or chicken wire. The plants are native to open forest and grassy areas of China. These types of cucumbers are edible and are sometimes pickled or eaten raw in salads. All parts of this ornamental plant are used for medicinal purposes.
This versatile tender perennial can be grown in light, loamy soil, as well as in heavy clay. The soil must be moist and have good drainage. When growing Chinese cucumber, it is important to provide plenty of sunlight, as it will not grow in shady areas. The plant produces shaggy white flowers from mid-summer until fall, which then go to seed and produce fruit. Mature fruits are about 4 inches (10.2 cm) long.
Though the Chinese cucumber plant tends to trail along the ground, it may also be trained to climb. This makes it great for small spaces, and may even be grown as a container plant if placed in a large pot with a small trellis. If grown in the garden, it should be given plenty of space to spread out. It is similar in growing habit to the more common English cucumbers or pole beans.
The Chinese cucumber fruits are usually used when freshly picked. The roots however, are dug in the fall and then cut into pieces and dried before being used. They are reconstituted by soaking them in water for several days. Roots are mashed into pulp and then steamed and made into cakes and dumplings.
Though the fruits may be eaten, the uses of Chinese cucumber are mainly medicinal. It has been popular in Chinese herbal preparations for centuries to treat many different conditions and diseases. The fruit, including the seeds, is said to be anti-fungal and anti-bacterial, and is taken as a laxative and expectorant as well. The fruit rind has been used to treat jaundice, sore throat, and even cancer.
The medicinal Chinese cucumber root itself has a variety of uses. It is said to be a powerful abortifacient, and, in the past, a sponge was soaked in the cucumber juice and then placed in the vagina to induce abortion, usually in the second trimester of a pregnancy. The root has also been given as a treatment for diabetes and to ease labor. In addition, Chinese cucumber roots contain trichosanthin, a protein that is being tested as of 2011 as a possible treatment for AIDS.