What’s a pumpkin’s favourite sport? Squash!

by MONICA MARCU

Maybe the joke is inspired by the fact that a pumpkin is a cultivar of the squash plant, specifically of Cucurbita pepo.

Jokes aside, I am going to introduce you the “big orange” as you never knew it before, from staple food to healing vegetable for humans and pets.

Cultivated for thousands of years by some Native Americans, the pumpkin was quickly adopted by the first pilgrims, and is now cultivated around the world. Almost every part of the plant is edible, including the leaves and flowers, while seeds are very nutritious and have established medical properties.

One of the main benefits of this plant is it can last for many months over the cold season, if properly stored. Its strong orange color derives from the carotenoid pigments, such as alpha and beta carotene, which are forms of provitamin A that is converted to vitamin A by the body. These carotenoids have potent antioxidant and antiaging properties and are valuable substances to delay or alleviate chronic diseases and premature aging of all tissues, especially eyes and skin.

Among the most important medicinal properties, the antioxidant, anti-diabetic, anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory have been studied the most.

The native tribes of North America used the pumpkin for kidney health, diverse inflammations and wound healing; this is not surprising since vitamin A plays a major role in healing of all tissues and it is found in large amounts in pumpkin.

The health food stores and integrative pharmacies offer products made from pumpkin seeds (also known as pepitas) that treat irritable bladder and prostate enlargement – the so-called benign prostatic hyperplasia that affects most men over 50. This is a safe and effective treatment without any side effects.

The polyunsaturated fatty acids, such as oleic and linoleic acid, contained in many seeds including those of pumpkin have been shown to prevent cardiovascular disease. The content of fiber in pumpkin is very high, and it can help with the digestion, gut’s health and good flora.

Pumpkin is rich in soluble fiber, which dissolves in water to form a thick gel that coats, protects and soothes irritated intestines. The soluble fiber delays the stomach emptying, thus slowing the intestinal transit and the frequency of episodes of diarrhea.
Interestingly, the pumpkin can be used for both constipation and diarrhea. When humans or animals have diarrhea, they lose many vital minerals/electrolytes, including potassium. Low potassium levels can lead to cramps, weakness and heart rate irregularities.
Pumpkin is an excellent source of potassium; therefore it is beneficial even more.

Pet owners should consider having always handy a can or two of pumpkin puree. Another application for pets (and humans) is against intestinal parasites of all types. The pumpkin seed oil, which is a delicacy in certain traditional cuisines, is also demonstrated to be anti-parasitic.

What else can pumpkin offer?

Iron, potassium, zinc, omega-3 fatty acids (potent anti-inflammatory), vitamins such as riboflavin, as well as plant specific substances called cucurbitacins, which were shown to have anti-cancer activity.

Fresh, raw seeds are the best since they preserve all nutrients, but if you prefer roasted pumpkin seeds, wash them first, spread them on a tray in a single layer, and bake them at 225 degrees F for about 40 minutes. Adding them to salads or soups is a good idea.

But if you do not like the big orange give it to the chickens — raw pumpkin fed during the winter can help maintain egg production, which drops during the cold season.

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