Pumpkin Seeds (Nan Gua Zi)

Semen Cucurbitae MoschataePumpkin seeds, also known as Nan Gua Zi in mandarin, are one of fun snacks for entertaining. In China this is one of good old-fashioned treats for small get-together, especially when friends chat over a cup of tea. Homemade pumpkin seeds become less common these days. Instead, people tend to buy them from the grocery. Among all those flavors available, the spicy, salted, roast, and bake pumpkin seeds seem gain more popularity. In other words, raw and unsalted pumpkin seed is less favored. However, you may not know the fact that the raw one will provide you with more health benefits and medicinal uses. No wonder as a Chinese herb it is always used in the raw form. And medicinally it is widely used for killing intestinal parasites, preventing prostatic diseases, benefiting pregnant women, protecting gum and alveolar bone in the elderly, improving low milk supply, and so on. So, do you know how to cook them to squeeze out as much nutrition as possible? Are pumpkin seeds good for you? Now let’s shed some more light on these questions from the point of view of traditional Chinese medicine.

What are pumpkin seeds?

This herb, as its name says, refers to the dried ripe seeds of Cucurbita moschata Duch., which is a member in the family Cucurbitaceae. So, its other names include Semen Cucurbitae Moschatae, Semen Cucurbitae, Cucurbita moschata seed, etc. In China, it is mainly produced in Zhejiang, Jiangxi, Hunan, Hubei, and Sichuan. And it is usually harvested and dried in summer and autumn when the fruits are ripe. Medicinally it is used in the raw and powder form. The fresher it is, the better its efficacy will be.

Cucurbita moschata is a trailing annual herb. Stems are 2 to 5 meters. Nodes are often with roots, densely covered with white bristles. Leaves are alternate; petiole is stout, 8 to 19cm long, and with setae; leaf blade is broadly ovate or oval, 12 to 25cm long, 20 to 30cm wide, and with 5 angles or 5 lobes, acute apex, and deeply cordate base. Tendrils are slightly stout, hairy, and with 3 to 5 forks. Flowers are unisexual and monoecious; male flowers are solitary and with 5 to 6cm bell-shaped calyx tube. Female flowers are solitary, enlarged, and with 1 ovary, short style, 3 stigmas, 2-lobed apex, thick stem, 5 to 7cm grooves, and expanded horn-like base. Pepo is in variety of shapes and often with longitudinal groove outside. Seeds are numerous, gray, and in the shapes of long ovate or oblong. Bloom time is from June to July and fruit season is from August to September.

Seed contains 16.4% oil, in which main fatty acids are linoleic acid, oleic acid, palmitic acid, stearic acid, linolenic acid, and myristic acid. It still contains lipids, which include triglyceride, diglyceride, phosphatidylcholine, phosphatidylethanolamine, phosphatidylserine, cerebroside, and so on. And an active ingredient called cucurbitin can be isolated from the skim seed.

Pumpkin seeds health benefits

The high nutritional value of pumpkin seeds means a lot to the health of human body. They are rich in amino acids, unsaturated fatty acids, vitamins, carotenoids and other nutrients. Long term use of them can not only prevent the occurrence of kidney stones, but also promote the discharge of persistent stone.

They are rich in two major nutrients that are important to the health of gingiva and alveolar bone. Firstly, they contain plenty of phosphorus. To be specific, every 100g seeds contain about 1159mg phosphorus. And the loss of phosphorus is believed to be the main reason for alveolar bone atrophy in the elderly. Secondarily, they are rich in carotene and vitamin E, which can directly nourish the gums, and thus prevent gum atrophy.

In recent years, nutrition experts point out that pumpkin seeds are actually one of the best snacks for man. Research shows that prostate enlargement and prostatic hyperplasia are bound to happen when men lack zinc in their blood. Since mineral zinc is the required element in the synthesis of male androgen, normally its content in the prostate is much higher than in other body organs. That’s the reason why eating them on daily basis can relieve the symptoms of urgent urination, urinary frequency, dysuria, urinary incontinence, and nocturia.

Seed means the next generation of plants and new life. So, in TCM doctors’ mind’s eye, seeds have a special inborn benefit to the kidney. It resembles natural hormone and improves the human reproductive system. For men, it can prevent prostate problems; for women who have less milk production due to postpartum weakness, it can promote lactation. In addition, it benefits pregnant women and the fetus too by preventing and treating hand and foot swelling during pregnancy, preventing the occurrence of diseases, slowing down aging, and promoting quality sleep.

Modern pharmacological actions of pumpkin’s seeds

1. It is good at killing parasites like pinworm, hookworm, etc. It has paralyzing effect on the middle and posterior proglottis of beef or pork tapeworm;
2. It has a synergistic effect with Bing Lang (betel nut);
3. It has a good effect on inhibiting schistosome larvae too. That’s to say, it can cause the atrophy of the adult worms, genital degradation, and reduced intrauterine eggs. However, it can’t kill schistosome larvae;
4. The pantothenic acid contained can relieve static angina and lower blood pressure;
5. Its ethanol extract has anthelmintic effect.

Sample pumpkin seed recipes in herbal remedies

The Chinese Materia Medica believes that it is sweet in flavor and neutral in nature and it goes to meridian large intestine. Basic functions are killing parasites, promoting breast milk supply, and inducing diuresis to alleviate edema. Main pumpkin seed uses and indications include teniasis, ascariasis, bilharziasis, ancylostomiasis, enterobiasis, lack of milk production in new mom, hand and foot swelling after delivery, pertussis, and hemorrhoids. Recommended dosage is from 30 to 60 grams in decoction, powder, or emulsions.

1. According to Zhong Yao Yao Li Yu Ying Yong (Pharmacology and Applications of Chinese Herbs), pumpkin seed oil or emulsion can expel tapeworms.

2. According to Min Dong Ben Cao (Eastern Fujian Materia Medica), it combines with boiled water and honey or sugar to make paste to get rid of roundworm.

3. According to Yang Fang Xuan Ji (Proved Recipes Selection), it mixes sugar with water to cure schistosomiasis;

4. According to Jiang Xi Zhong Yi Yao (Jiangxi Chinese Medicine & Medicinals) (8):20,1953, its power is taken after mixed with brown sugar soup to treat pertussis.

5. According to Si Chuan Zhong Yao Zhi (Chinese Medicinal Herbal in Sichuan), it joins peanuts and walnuts to heal malnutrition and sallow complexion.

6. According to Ling Nan Cao Yao Zhi (Herbal in South of the Five Ridges), its decoction can be used to treat hemorrhoids by fumigating.

Pumpkin seeds side effects and contraindications

Pumpkin seeds are safe and harmless for our bodies. However, eating too much in short time may cause some toxic reactions and harm the kidney. Hence, eating it in moderation is highly recommended in all people, in particular in pregnant women. Pumpkin seed, after all, is also a nut. Too much of it will certainly promote fat storage which can lead to weight gain in the end. Since pregnancy is a fattening period itself, pregnant women should control the amount in order to avoid too much calorie intake. In addition, eating more of it may affect calcium absorption since it is high in fat, protein, and phosphorus content. TCM wise, people with stomach-heat should eat less. Otherwise, it might lead to abdominal distension.

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