San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Plants at a Glance: Sorosí

Common Name: Sorosí, pepinillo

Latin Name: Momordica charantia

Family: Cucurbitaceae

Geo-distribution: Sorosí is widely distributed in tropical regions of the neotropics, as well as the old-world tropics. It is commonly found in Central America and the Antilles, and has been used frequently as a popular folk medicine. In Costa Rica the plant is more often found in the hotter coastal regions, extending into the mid-range elevations of the country. It is commonly found growing along roadsides, lots and pastures, particularly on fences.

Botanical Description: Sorosí is a wild, vining plant of the cucumber or cucurbit family. The leaves are five-lobed palmate in shape, with yellow flowers with five petals and a yellow, cucumber-like fruit covered with soft spines and a wrinkled skin. The seeds are red with a gelatinous cover that many birds feed on.

Medicinal Uses: In Costa Rica, a tea made from the leaves is used externally for treating skin infections. More frequently, the leaves are employed as an infusion taken internally for treating liver and pancreas problems, such as hypoglycemia and diabetes.Women also use an infusion of the leaves internally for stimulating menstruation and as a douche for treating leukorrhea. The fruits are used as a purgative and deworming medicine.

Caution: Despite the above, sorosí should be used only for external application. Research conducted during the 1980s by a team of international ethnobotanists studying folk uses of medicinal plants in the Caribbean region revealed that sorosí contains several highly toxic alkaloids that demonstrate potential toxicity to the liver. The team suspected that the high rate of liver disorders in Jamaican children may have been a result of the popular medication of sorosí by their mothers.

Though most of our folk medicinal plants are safe to use, modern research in plant biochemistry is helping to identify plants that may be potentially harmful to our health.


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