The pumpkin is native to North America like other winter squash varieties. And while it’s celebrated here during the fall with traditional Halloween Jack O’Lanterns, Thanksgiving pumpkin pies, and seasonal pumpkin spiced lattes, it is now a food enjoyed across the globe. Many parts of the plant are edible: the stems, flowers, flesh and seeds. Most people are familiar with the fleshy part of the fruit which is pureed and used in soups or pies, especially during autumn when it is harvested. The seeds, also known as pepitas, are quite nutritious and are enjoyed year round as a snack or as an addition to salads, granolas and other dishes, both with the shell (white) or hulled (usually green).
Pumpkin flesh contains a large amount of water and is low in calories, but contains a lot of fiber and nourishment as well. According to the website Medical News Today: “Consuming one cup of cooked, canned pumpkin would provide well over 100 percent of our daily needs for vitamin A, 20 percent of the daily value for vitamin C, 10 percent or more for vitamin E, riboflavin, potassium, copper, and manganese, and at least 5 percent for thiamin, B-6, folate, pantothenic acid, niacin, iron, magnesium, and phosphorus.” The seeds contain manganese, magnesium, zinc, copper, iron, phosphorus, selenium and other nutritional elements such as antioxidants, omega fatty acids and tryptophan, and are a good source of protein.
Chinese medicine considers many foods to have healing qualities, especially depending upon how they are prepared. Like Chinese herbal medicine, foods are classified by their properties (hot, warm, neutral, cool, cold) and flavor (sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and pungent). Pumpkin is considered a food that is neutral, or slightly cold in nature, with a sweet and slightly bitter flavor. Due to these properties (and its high nutritional content), it is considered good for many health conditions, especially asthma and coughs. Pumpkin flesh may even be prepared and used for things like habitual miscarriage or night blindness and applied to the skin topically for burns. The seeds are also prescribed for parasitic intestinal infections as well. In Chinese diet therapy, the recipe of steaming 500 grams of pumpkin flesh and mixing it with honey or sugar before consuming once per day is often given for asthmatic patients to control their symptoms. For patients with bloody or purulent phlegmy coughs, the prescription is to cook 2 parts pumpkin to 1 part beef in water until the meat is well done and eat once per day for several days. Pumpkin flowers can be cooked with pig’s liver for night blindness, although most westerners wouldn’t find this appealing!
Here is a simple and delicious savory pumpkin recipe from Cooking Light online magazine. It contains Japanese pumpkin (called kabocha) and kale in a delicious salad: