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The Incredible Edible Vine

The Incredible Edible Vine

Silver Oak's cousin's children sweetly watch their daddy and Silver Oak placing dirt on their much-loved aunt's grave...a burial the old-fashioned way.

This post was delayed by a quick trip north for the funeral of Silver Oak’s aunt. She was truly a special lady who left a legacy of selflessness and generosity which I could use a bit more of. She is blissfully at rest with Jesus whom she loved, and her dear hubby who preceded her. But she leaves a huge hole and is greatly missed. At the funeral we met friends and relatives we had not seen for years. The Lord worked things out at the last minute for our entire family to go, leaving the homestead in the hands of good friends.

The Incredible Edible Vine

The children pose with Grandpa & Grandma in their colorful flower garden

The Incredible Edible Vine

We enjoyed their northern vegetable garden

I am about to describe an amazing edible plant that has been providing us with lots of nutritious and tasty food, while requiring very little input. A blog reader graciously sent me seeds, so we tried them. It is a fantastic winner, growing vigorously even in the intense Florida heat and bugs. With the goal of eventually raising all our own food, high producing plants that are pest, heat, cold, and drought resistant are of great value to us.

The end of April we placed three of these unusual seeds in the raised mound under a leg of our windmill. They eagerly poked up, although one perished in an accident. The two remaining seedlings quickly developed beautiful deep green velvety leaves. Before we knew it the trailing vines had to be trained to the second leg of the windmill so they wouldn’t expand out of their alloted territory.

In June the first little fruits were found, and within a few weeks our family of eight was enjoying three to four meals weekly eating them and their greens. The vine soon reached the top of the 21 foot (6.4 meter) windmill tower. Last week Silver Oak climbed the ladder carefully to avoid trampling them, and cut off the ends threatening to interfere with the windmill blades. It is now trailing halfway down the opposite side of the windmill tower, making it at least 30 feet (9 meters) long, and still growing like mad.

The Incredible Edible Vine

The windmill makes a great trellis. As you can see the vine has now thinned out below but has much new growth up and over the top of the tower.

What is this mysterious plant? Jack’s beanstalk? Not quite. It is an edible gourd native to Italy which has many names. We know it as Cucuzzi. It is my absolute favorite plant this summer, partly because it makes me feel successful in growing our own food with little labor. It is also beautiful and produces delicious food enjoyed by the whole family and guests.

The Incredible Edible Vine

The leaves feel like soft velvet, and the gourds are similar to zucchini when young.

The Incredible Edible Vine

The delicate white flowers open at dusk and close when the sun comes up

The Incredible Edible Vine

Tied up with pantyhose

As the vines spread out, I used pantyhose stockings to tie them up to the legs of the windmill. Pantyhose is strong enough to support the vines and will flex with growth. I’ve become too much of a country gal and haven’t worn pantyhose for years, but a friend gave us some which we are putting to good use (thanks Ivylover!).

These long slender gourds can grow to be three feet (one meter) long, but by then they are reportedly too tough to eat. We keep out a sharp eye for young ones because they easily grow two to four inches each day and quickly get too large if we are not alert. We’ve read they are only edible up to 12” (30.5 cm) long, but we’ve found that at 18” (45.5 cm) long they are still quite tender and delicious, so we are letting them grow longer. We prepare them just like we would any summer squash like zucchini, with the skin.  Their flavor is quite mild so they can be used in a variety of ways.

The Incredible Edible Vine

We started harvesting the gourds quite small, and gradually increased their size without compromising quality.

The Incredible Edible Vine

You can almost watch them grow! By June 24 this one was around 27 inches (.7 meters).

This plant also provides endless greens. Several months ago I learned that the leaves of squash, pumpkins, and these gourds are very edible! This has opened a whole new world for us. In other countries people know they are edible and sell them in the markets. The vines produce more fruit when thinned out anyway, so twice a week I harvest many long shoots growing where I don’t want them. Since I can no longer reach the gourd vines high on the tower, I’ve been cutting more pumpkin greens growing on the back side of the windmill.

The Incredible Edible Vine

This pile of greens was harvested for the evening meal.

The Incredible Edible Vine

When Silver Oak climbed the tower to trim the upper vines he found a few gourds we'd missed.

The stems are edible but require lengthy cooking to not be stringy. So we use only the leaves, tiny developing buds, and about the last three inches (8 cm) of the tender tips for cooked greens. The rest are given to the goats who don’t like the fuzzy leaves anyway.

The Incredible Edible Vine

Gourd and pumpkin leaves, developing buds, and tips of vines used for cooked greens.

The gourd greens need only be simmered about 15 minutes to make delicious cooked greens easily substituted for spinach. I prefer it over spinach because it’s not as limp or slimy unless overcooked. We like it in pasta dishes, casseroles, mixed with other veggies over rice or potatoes, and as a side dish alone or mixed with the cooked gourds themselves. The fuzz disappears during cooking.

The Incredible Edible Vine

Here the greens and gourds are used as a side dish as well as one of the veggies in corn fritters.

Here is a very simple recipe for our family of eight:

  • 6-quart (5.5L) pot packed full of gourd greens (or squash or pumpkin greens)
  • One 18” (45.5 cm) or two 12” (30.5 cm) gourds or other summer squash
  • Water to cover bottom of pot (more if not using waterless cookware)
  • 1 Tbls olive oil
  • Salt to taste
  • Garlic to taste
  • 1 or 2 onions chopped (optional)
The Incredible Edible Vine

A pot full of greens ready to be cooked.

We use no chemicals near our plants, so we simply rinse the leaves, tear them into roughly 3×3” (8×8 cm) pieces, and stuff them into the pot. Like spinach, they greatly reduce in size during cooking, hence the “stuffing.” Add water, olive oil, salt and garlic to the pot to simmer for 15 minutes. Cut the gourds (and onions) into bite-sized pieces and add the last five minutes of cooking. When the gourd pieces are just barely tender it is done.

For fun we’re allowing the first gourd to mature to see how big it will grow. It is now 33½” (85 cm) long and 14” (35.5 cm) in diameter circumference (oops, I really goofed on that one) suspended from the tower by pantyhose. Any creative ideas how to use it after it’s fully dried? We will be sure to extract the seeds to share.  This plant not only provides lots of food, but practical materials as well.

The Incredible Edible Vine

The first gourd hangs majestically like a giant green pendant.

I forgot to mention that sometimes the leaves can make your arms itchy when handling them.  I’ve learned to wash any skin that comes in contact with them with soap and water after harvesting them, and it has always taken care of the itch right away.

Have you discovered any unusual plants that are high producers or have other remarkable qualities? I’d love to hear from you.

Blessings,

The Incredible Edible Vine

The Incredible Edible Vine

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The Incredible Edible Vine

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55 Responses to “The Incredible Edible Vine”

  1. Janet Westrup says:

    Where can we purchase seeds from these plants? I would love to grow them in my garden.

    • Rose Petal says:

      I did a search for “cucuzzi gourd” and came up with several seed companies that sell the seeds, but I have no idea which one to recommend. I noticed that none of the descriptions or photos show them as large as the big one we have hanging out there. If you want seeds like mine you can email me with your address (use the contact page) and I’ll gladly send you three of my seeds (first come, first serve as long as I have some), but if you want more you could try one of those seed companies.

  2. Katharina says:

    Awesome! I love discovering quirky plants. I am growing climbing malabar spinach for the first time, it’s loving this summer’s heat. Here’s a link to a post on my blog about three more fun edibles…

    http://thisonegoodlife.blogspot.com/2013/06/three-native-shrubs-with-edible-berries.html

    • Rose Petal says:

      I just got the first good harvest off of our malabar spinach today…it is a fun edible plant. Thanks for the link to your post about more perennial edibles. We have lots of poke berry growing wild on our property, and some day I’m going to actually harvest them! I just want to make sure I have my information straight before doing so because of the toxins they contain if you don’t pick them at the right time (and I hear the seeds are poisonous??). But they are powerful medicinal plants from what I’ve heard. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Cindy says:

    Wow! that was interesting! Thanks for sharing the story and pictures.

  4. So sorry to hear about the loss of your aunt – my her Memory be Eternal!

    I find your squash post quite interesting. This looks like (and I’m pretty sure it is) a squash that is commonly grown and eaten in Cyprus. It is cut in lengths of 3 to 4 inches, and then each length is hollowed out and filled with a stuffing similar to this one http://greekfood.about.com/od/stuffedvegetables/r/Stuffed-Tomatoes-With-Rice-And-Ground-Beef-Recipe-For-Yemista.htm
    and baked.
    I have only had the vegan variety (specially made for me without the meat) since I am vegan – but they are quite good!

    • Rose Petal says:

      That looks soooo good! I did read somewhere that cucuzzi is known as a squash in some places, so I’m sure it’s the same. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Jill says:

    I so look forward to your posts because they are always so informative and applicable to my location here in N. Fla. I am so sorry to hear about your husband’s aunt, but glad to know she is at rest with Jesus.

    I have read recipes from missionaries in Africa who have used pumpkin greens, but I have not used them personally. The cucuzzi (sp?) gourd is something I will have to try. I have grown birdhouse gourds, and love the beautiful white flowers, so next year I will grow your edible gourd variety.

    I do have sweet potatoes growing now and am going to try using those greens in a similiar way that you use the pumpkin and gourd greens. Here is a link I found with some info and recipes: http://www.epicurious.com/articlesguides/blogs/editor/2012/08/cooking-with-sweet-potato-greens.html

    Please tell your daughter my rabbits love to eat Moringa now :) Thanks!

    • Rose Petal says:

      Thank you so much for your input, Jill. Sometime we’ll have to visit each other’s homesteads. If you want a few of my seeds I’ll be glad to share if you send me your address (use the contact page). I am so glad for what you said about sweet potato vines. I’ve been wondering about them as I watch ours grow. They are good for animal feed, but I wasn’t sure if they were ok for us humans. I understand they will actually grow more tubers if the greens are cut back. Thanks so much for that link! It’s amazing how much food is available right around us that may not recognize!

      Ha! I’ll tell Evenstar about your rabbits.

  6. Audi says:

    Sorry for your loss, may the Lord comfort you all.

    I showed my husband your site and we both are so blessed to find you and your wonderful family! We soon will me moving to our homestead soon and your site is so informative . My husband loves the the gourd plant and would love some seeds! He figures it will do well in north Louisiana like it has for you. I also showed him the rocket stove and he is going to build me one, I am so excited.

    I pray the Lord will continue to bless your family.

    • Rose Petal says:

      So glad you stopped by. How exciting that you are moving to your homestead! It’s an adventure-filled life. I’m sure the gourd would do fine for you. Let me know how the rocket stove goes. I actually dismantled ours and moved it to another location with the help of 7 yr old Farmer Boy. It’s that simple.

  7. Sam says:

    I’m sorry for your loss.

    I had no idea that the greens of the squashes are edible! Thank you for sharing a recipe and we look forward to trying ours. I’m also quite impressed with the gourds your growing! Isn’t it amazing how plants grow when you give them the space to climb?

    • Rose Petal says:

      I just read since writing this post that pumpkin leaves are 40% protein! I’m sure squash and gourd leaves are similar. I’m like you, and most others in this country…I had no idea. The grocery bill just got lowered! :) Thanks so much for stopping by.

  8. Interesting post, especially with the time lapse photos of the vine crawling up the tower.

  9. What a fun post. I’ve never heard of this squash you write of but I love how you’ve demonstrated how quickly they grow. I’ve been growing squash all my life and I never knew the greens were edible – I’ll certainly be harvesting some tonight to try with our supper. Thank you SO MUCH for sharing this fun post! (visiting from the HomeAcre Hop)

    ~Taylor-Made Ranch~
    Wolfe City, Texas

    • Rose Petal says:

      Thank you for your encouraging comments. You’ll have to tell me how supper went. :)

      • We will be harvesting squash leaves from now on! I used volleyball-sized leaves & cut the stems as far down as I could. I brought them into the house & washed them well & separated the stems from the leaves. The stems were cut into 2″ lengths and split in half since they are hollow. I steamed them for a couple of minutes in advance since I knew they might take a little longer to cook. The leaves were cut into roughly 1/2″ strips and then cut about 4″ long. I sauteed onion in olive oil in my cast-iron skillet and then threw in the stems with a little smoked ham trimmings for about 4 minutes. Then I added the greens and covered the skillet for about 5-6 minutes. The stems tasted like green beans to me – I was very pleased. The leaves needed to be cooked just a bit longer to remove all of the squash-leaf texture from of them but RancherMan couldn’t wait any longer since it smelled delicious. LOL After it was on our plates we chopped a raw garden tomato & mixed in with them and it was delicious. We’ll be doing this more often for sure, but I’ll cook the greens just a little longer next time. Thanks for the info!

        ~Taylor-Made Ranch~
        Wolfe City, Texas

        • Rose Petal says:

          That sounds soooo delicious! What fun! I’m glad you are able to eat the stems too. We had tried them several times, but often they were so stringy even after cooking for 45 mins or so, so we finally gave up. We should experiment more to see if there is a difference between our pumpkin and gourd stems, or in the maturity of the plant. If you figure anything out on that let me know. Thank you so much for taking the time to share what you did!

  10. Like so many others have commented, I had no idea that the leaves of squash plants were edible. Thanks so much for posting about this. We will certainly be making use of the leaves when we have our own garden again in the future.

    • Rose Petal says:

      I didn’t mention that the leaves of beans and peas are also edible as potherbs…guess that will have to be another post. Thanks for your comment!

  11. That is crazy! I have never heard of this and it groes soooo fast! It reminds me of cudzu, but with the edible squash/gourd on it. Thanks for sharing!

    Please join us again Thursday at:
    http://summersacres.blogspot.com/2013/07/the-homeacre-hop-29.html

    ~Ann

    • Rose Petal says:

      Yea, cudzu. I guess that is quite edible too. Isn’t it just like God to create something that in our day of plenty is considered a plague, but in a day of “famine” could save lives if people are knowledgeable about it? Another example of how God’s ways are so much higher than ours.

  12. Vickie says:

    Wow, that plant is amazing! I have heard about eating pumpkin leaves, using them as you would grape leaves. You make a stuffing (ground beef, chunks of pumpkin and ricotta, I think) and then fold the steamed leaves around the filling, then bake in a creamy sauce. I have never done this before but ate it at a fancy, schmancy restaurant years ago. I guess you could do the same thing with any squash – butternut comes to mind. Does anyone have this recipe? I think it is actually a greek or italian dish and would love to make it.
    Thanks for sharing all this information. I will be adding my name to your list of one who would love to have a few seeds!

    • Rose Petal says:

      That sounds really good. It’s funny how “uppity” restaurants can dress up things that many people would consider “gross” and then sell them for a high price. Our ideas about what is good to eat is often determined more by our mindset than by flavor or nutrition.

      I’m so sorry all the seeds are now spoken for, but perhaps I can make more available when I harvest them from our big gourd. Stay tuned if you’re interested.

  13. tessa says:

    Had never even heard of this plant! We shared this with our FB/Twitter readers at homesteadlady.com.

    • Rose Petal says:

      Thanks for spreading the word, Tessa. It really is a plant worth recognizing and will become even more valuable in the face of tough times.

  14. Thanks for the post…very interesting! Your windmill was a perfect trellis too… :)

    • Rose Petal says:

      I managed to climb half-way up the tower the other day to harvest a gourd nearly two feet long. I’m not thrilled about heights so the only thing I don’t like about a windmill trellis is managing the ones out of reach. But so far it hasn’t been too bad.

  15. Katherine @ Mind Body and Sole says:

    That’s one amazing squash! My husband and I are sitting here trying to figure out where we can plant a vine that grows 30 feet long! Lol! I’m so glad you shared this post on Wildcrafting Wednesday! :)

  16. I loved reading this! What a wonderful source of food!

  17. sarita says:

    This vegetable is very common in India and is called bottle gourd or lauki in hindi.I am really pleased to see it grow in the States.

  18. Christi says:

    Wow! Great post. I am sorry for your loss, but glad you all were able to be there.

  19. michelle says:

    Wow I had no idea you could eat the leaves. Does it matter what squash you plant? This plant will find it’s way into my garden next year. I will probably use my windmill to grow it on also.

    • Rose Petal says:

      I’d love to see pictures of that! I’m not an expert but I don’t know that it matters what kind of squash or pumpkins. I believe they are all edible.

  20. Wow! This is a tremendous vine. I just love it. Really enjoyed the pics to so we could see it’s progress.
    Thanks for sharing on Natural Living Monday!

  21. Stephanie O says:

    Thanks for sharing. I would like to plant this next year when we buy a house. What a fun place for the kids to play.

    • Rose Petal says:

      It was a fun place for them. This past week the vine has really thinned out and it looks like it is finally ready to expire soon. It’s been very hot and the bugs are getting really bad here this time of year. Here in central FL fall is a much easier growing season, so I hope to get more going when it cools off a bit.

  22. D@TheShadyPorch says:

    I see now I have been wasting much of my garden by not using the greens! We have lots of zucchini and squash. I thoroughly enjoyed your post and the information about the cucuzzi. I will keep an eye out for the seeds for our garden next year. Thanks so much for sharing, D@TheShadyPorch

    • Rose Petal says:

      I think it’s already been mentioned that pea, bean, and sweet potato greens are also quite edible. I also always wasted them before this growing season. Tonight pigeon pea greens are part of our menu.

  23. Gretchen says:

    Wow – what an amazing plant. I’m going to have to find it somewhere and I’ll definitely try to cook some squash leaves.

  24. Sandra says:

    Very interesting post. I have never heard or seen this kind of plant!

    Thanks for sharing at the HomeAcre hop.
    Hope to see you again this Thursday!
    http://www.mittenstatesheepandwool.com

  25. Beth says:

    I think this is the same as Serpente di Sicilia. You can get seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds
    http://www.rareseeds.com/serpente-di-sicilia/
    I think it also goes by the name Zucchetta.

  26. ivylover says:

    Would love a seed or 2… do i need to send my address or maybe a return stamped envelope:)