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Cucurbita foetidissima

Cucurbita foetidissima


     Family:   Cucurbitaceae

     Genus:    Curcurbita

     Species: foetidissima


Common Names:

     Buffalo Gourd, Wild Pumpkin, Wild         

     Gourd, Missouri Gourd, Fetid, Fetid

     Gourd, Coyote Gourel, Chilicote,



By Dayna Drollinger and Claudia Rodriguez

Summer 2002





Cucurbita foetidissima is commonly known as buffalo gourd and is native to the southwest, it’s often recognized by its fetid odor and bitter gourds. Despite its odor, various Native American and Mexican tribes have used buffalo gourd for at least nine thousand years. It has been used traditionally in various ways as a food, cosmetic, detergent, insecticide and ritualistic rattle, to name a few. As research discovers the important resources of buffalo gourd’s past, it can be expected this plant will become a valuable asset to the future.



Buffalo gourd grows predominately along roadsides and in disturbed soils. It is an extremely fast growing plant well adapted to arid conditions. The vine crawls along the ground acting as a good soil binder. This plant is recognizable by its rough textured triangular leaves that are longer than they are broad. The flowers are bright yellow reaching 4 inches. Gourds that reach 2 to 3 inches long are also found with this plant having green or yellow stripes (Tull 1999).



Buffalo gourd has a long white-fleshed perennial taproot with annual stems and leaves, whose lengths can exceed 650 ft. It is a dicot hardy to zone 10. The flowers are monoecious (both sexes are found on the same plant), which are pollinated by insects. The plant flowers from July to September and the seeds ripen August to October. To propagate by seed, sow early to mid-spring with rich soil in a greenhouse. Sowing 2 to 3 seeds per pot creates the best results. Germination will take approximately two weeks. After germination, plant outdoors with a frame for protection during its first few weeks outdoors (Morris 2002).

Non medicinal

Buffalo gourd has a diversity of practical uses that various tribes have cherished for thousands of years. The Navajo used the gourds as ritualistic rattles. The crushed leaves act as a very useful insecticide. Today research prevails using this plant as an alternative to chemical pesticides (Areawide Pest Management 2002). The oil is used in cosmetics. The fruit is a useful soap. The root can be used as laundry soap and shampoo. The gourds are very practical for the kitchen also (Armour 2002). The gourd will clean grease spots on wooden floors. It can be used as a spoon or ladle. Also, the gourds make great art for the home. Not only is buffalo gourd useful for daily practicalities, it is also a wonderful medicine (Moore 1990).




Several plant parts of buffalo gourd have medicinal attributes that tribes implement into their culture. The Isleta-Pueblo Indian boiled the roots applying the infusion to chest pains. The Tewa grind the root into a powder drinking it with cold water for laxative effects (not safe: can cause diarrhea and irritation of the digestive tract) ( Dunmire and Tierney 1995) The roots are eaten as food because of its sweet starch content. The juice of the root is also disinfecting and remedies toothache. The baked fruit rubbed over rheumatic areas will relieve pain (Curtin 1976). The seeds and flowers help control swelling. The seed also acts as an effective vermicide (kills worms). The poultice of the smashed plant will remedy skin sores and ulcers (Curtin 1976).




  • Dry gourds until they brown. Cut open gourd; wash the removed seeds. Sun dry and roast for 15 to 30 min. Salt and enjoy
  • Grind seed into flour or meal
  • Boil prepared seeds for mush (Tull 1999)



  • Mix root with olive oil; apply to infected area
  • Cut the fruit; simmer in water to obtain soap


  • Grind seed into a fine flour; mix with water and drink (Morris 2002)




Phytochemistry/ Toxicology

    Among the active chemical constituents in buffalo gourd are cucurbitacins B, D, and E concentrated in the roots and fruits and saponins.  

    Principally the characteristic horrid-smelling chemical disagreeable to humans and livestock is a direct result of these cucurbitacins.  These chemical compounds are a group of tetracyclic triperpens known as “bitter principles of curcurbits” (The Merck Index 1983) .  They are known for their toxic beneficial properties often taken advantage in insecticides. Commonly the properties of these cucurbitacins have allowed the plant to be used in narcotics, livestock poisoning in South Africa, antimalaria, and vermifuges (The Merck Index 1983).  Specifically cucurbitacin B is one of the bitterest principles have been accredited to relieve liver damage along with cucurbitacin E when induced by carbon tetrachloride in lab rats.  Cucurbitacins strengthen immunity, are anitleukemic, and are believed to be anitcancergenic for cervical and nasopharyngeal carcinomas (Bionatural African Cucumis wedpage  1-3).   About seventeen cucurbitacins have been isolated form the Cucurbitaceae family.


The other major active ingredient in buffalo gourd is saponin found in 500 plant genera.  Saponins are glycosides with aglycone (the sapogenin); these rings are either steroidal and triterpenoidal (The Merck Index 1983).  Among the associated properties of saponins are bitter tasting compounds, formation of stable foams when agitated in water, the formation of oil-in-water emulsion, and hemolytic activity (caution: when injected into the bloodstream causes dissolving of red corpuscles in extreme dilutions) (The Merck Index 1983). Other properties of saponins include hormonal modulation, anti-inflammatory, diuretic, anti-microbial; stimulate mucosal secretion, and emulsifier (Hoffman, 1-57). 



Areawide Corn Rootworm Project. Areawide Pest Management. June. 2002.

Armour, Gerald. Pipewine Feature Articles. California Native Plant Society. June. 2002

BioNatural website. BioNatural African Cucumis page. 1-3. June. 2002.


Curtin, L.S.M. Healing Herbs of the Upper Rio Grande. Laboratory of Anthropology Santa Fe, New Mexico. 1997.

Dunmire, William W. and Gail D. Tierney. Wild Plants of the Pueblo Province. Santa Fe, New Mexico. 1995. Pp.214-215.

Hoffman, David. Therapeutic Herbalism. David Hoffman. Pp.1-57.

Moore, Michael. Traditional Herbal Remedies. Red Crane Books, 1990.

Morris, Rich. Cucurbita foetidissima. Plants for a Future. June. 2002

Naturesongs and Doug Von Gausig. Buffalo Gourd. Naturesongs. June. 2002.

Natural Resources Conservation Service. USDA. June. 2002.

The Merck Index (tenth edition). Merck & Co. New Jersey, United States of America. 1983. Pp. 375/1204.

Tull, Delena. Edible and Useful Plants of Texas and the Southwest. University of Texas Press, Austin, 1999.



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Updated February 13, 2008

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