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Squash leaves may refer to leaves that grow on any squash plant, but the term most commonly refers to the leaves of the winter melon plant. Squash leaves are broad, kidney bean-shaped leaves that can grow to 25 centimeters in length and 25 centimeters in width. The bright green, roughly-textured leaves feature 5 to 7 lobes, and grow on thick, hairy stems with curling tendrils. The plant grows as a trailing vine, either on the ground or on trellises, and has vibrant yellow flowers when in bloom. Squash leaves have a mild, spinach-like flavor with green nuances and toothsome texture when cooked
Squash leaves are available year-round.
Squash leaves most commonly grow on the winter melon plant, botanically classified as Benincasa hispida in the Cucurbitaceae family, alongside squashes, zucchinis, pumpkins and gourds. The robust plant is known by many names, including ash gourd, wax gourd and white gourd. All parts of the winter melon plant are edible, and Squash leaves, along with the stems and tendrils of the plant, are used as a vegetable in various parts of the world. The winter melon plant is widely grown throughout Asia, and is an important food crop in India and China. It is cultivated for its fruit, which is technically a gourd and not a melon, however Squash leaves can often be found in markets right after farmers prune their winter melon plants.
Leaves in Cucurbitaceae family, such as Squash leaves, have been found to be rich sources of minerals such as iron, potassium, zinc, calcium, and magnesium. Squash leaves in general are a good source of essential vitamins A, B and C, which have immune-boosting benefits and are necessary for good health.
Like any leafy vegetable, Squash leaves can be boiled, stir-fried, steamed, and used in stews and soups. They can be simply sautéed in butter or olive oil with garlic. In Asian dishes, they pair well with coconut milk, garlic, shallots, onions, and dried anchovies. Choose young Squash leaves for cooking, since older leaves are more tough and chewy. Some recipes call for the use of a vegetable peeler to remove the hairy skin of the stems or tendrils before cooking. It is not recommended to eat Squash leaves raw, as the scratchy outer layer may cause irritation. Squash leaves are best used fresh, as they are prone to wilting when being stored. Some home cooks recommend immersing the Squash leaves in a container of water, then placing the container in a plastic bag before refrigeration. This method helps keep Squash leaves from wilting for a couple of days.
Squash leaves are found in recipes throughout the world. In India, they are boiled then stir-fried with a paste made out of onions, garlic, turmeric, and coriander seeds, and eaten with boiled rice or chappatis. In the Philippines, the leaves are cooked along with the fruit of the winter melon in a stir-fry. In Nigera, Squash leaves are used in stews, or can be stir-fried along with garlic, onion, scotch bonnet peppers, stock, and dried crayfish or shrimp. Squash leaves are also used medicinally, as the winter melon plant is commonly used in traditional Chinese medicine and in Indian Ayurvedic science. For example, in some parts of India, Squash leaves are crushed and then applied to bruises.
Botanists are divided on the exact origins of the winter melon plant, but have listed Indonesia, China, Japan and India as contenders. The winter melon has been cultivated in China for over 2,000 years, and Chinese medicinal texts dating back to 695 AD mention the winter melon. The winter melon grows in loamy, well-irrigated soil. It requires warm weather of 24 to 31 degrees Celsius and full sunlight to thrive.