Wild Cucumber

At first glance, the thicket-laden banks of regional waterways appear to be chaotic zones of undecipherable growth. But from the perspective of the naturalist, such areas are rich troves of tangled treasures, providing food and shelter for many species of birds and other creatures.

One of the plants—actually an herb— found in such areas, is wild cucumber, also called manroot due to the massive taproot from which the plant grows. Wild cucumber is a climbing plant from the gourd family, characterized by graceful coiled tendrils and six-petaled white flowers. Leaves are lobed and roughly heart shaped, up to four inches across. The fruit is a green ovoid globe covered with prickles containing oblong brown seeds within. It dries to a tan husk as the growing season concludes.

According to Peterson’s “Medicinal Plants and Herbs,” American Indians made a bitter tea from the plant’s roots to treat stomach and kidney ailments, rheumatism, chills and fevers. Roots were also ground and prepared as poultices for headaches. But perhaps the plant’s most interesting use was as a love potion.

Only two weeks ago, along the same stretch of river where these husks fluttered, three bluebirds gathered sustenance to fuel their migration.

TRR photo by Sandy Long
These prickly globes, found along the banks of the Delaware River in Narrowsburg, NY, are the faded fruits of wild cucumber, otherwise known as balsam apple. (Click for larger version)