Cucumis melo, better known as melon, is an angiosperm from the cucurbitaceae family. The plant, which originates
from the Caucasus area, is generally cultivated in countries with mild climates
and its fruits are sweet and flavoursome. Some claim that melons have Asian origins
(the Chinese use melons for their therapeutic properties) but, according to other
sources, their origin is actually African. Melons were introduced in to Europe
by Carlo VIII and became very common after the 15th Century.
Melons have a round shape that is slightly oval. The skin has a yellowish colour and the flesh, which is rich in small, flat seeds, is sweet and juicy. There are 3 types of melon: summer melons, characterised by raised streaks; cantaloupe melons, which have a smooth skin and are very fragrant; winter melons, that have a yellow skin and light coloured pulp and are generally sweet and flavoursome. 60% of the world’s melons come from Asia but those available in Europe mostly come from Spain, Romania, France and Italy.
Characteristics of melon
Melons have alternating, glaucescent leaves and the flowers are both male and female. Cross-fertilisation is carried out by insects, although artificial fertilisation is carried out in greenhouses. Melons need quite hot temperatures in order to grow and the soil needs to be exposed to sunlight. When planting melons, the ground needs to be quite deep and well hydrated so the water does not become stagnant. The seeds are usually sown in April/May as follows: small holes are made in long lines, that are 1m apart, and 4 seeds are put into each hole. If, however, you want to plant melons earlier than April/May, in March you can create artificial environments that should be quite hot and covered by a transparent, plastic tunnel. As for cultivation, there is nothing particular to do except this one thing: pruning. When the melon plant has 5/6 leaves, prune above the first 2 leaves and then prune any branches that grow following this. After the fruits have started to grow, prune the fruit-bearing branches again, starting from two leaves above each fruit. Regarding harvesting, melons should be picked when the stalks show signs of cracking (the skin will also start to become the typical colour at this point and the fruits will start to emanate their classic smell).
Vitamins and properties of melon
Melon is considered a very flavoursome fruit, fairly satisfying and quite thirst-quenching, thanks to its high water content. This, in turn, also means it can help to prevent dehydration and it is often served with raw prosciutto ham, which is a very enjoyable, low calorie starter. It can also be eaten cut up, with some yoghurt, which makes for a very good snack for those who are watching their weight. Melon is slightly laxative but it is also refreshing and good for those who suffer from anaemia, as it is rich in iron. It is also full of vitamins A and C and is recommended for those who are lacking these vitamins. Vitamin A, in the form of beta-carotene, stops the formation of free radicals, which are responsible for aging of the skin cells and stretch-marks. Vitamin B is also present in this fruit which, as well as being a toner, can help to recharge our moods and work against ‘emotional’ eating. Vitamin B can also improve our vision and it reinforces bones and teeth.
Melons also have diuretic, purifying and laxative properties and are recommended for those suffering from constipation, haemorrhoids and rheumatic pains. The presence of calcium, phosphorus, magnesium and potassium means melon is a good, natural supplement and is especially beneficial during hot periods: just one slice is enough to improve and ‘wake up’ lethargic intestines (which suffer in high temperatures) and stop feeling bloated. The anti-inflammatory, diuretic and fluidifying (for the blood) properties are therefore very beneficial for the body and the water and fibre that melons provide refresh the digestive system and improve circulation by removing excess cholesterol and triglycerides. Lastly, melon pulp, in the form of a paste, can even be used to treat injuries and burns.
Melon and cosmetics
In cosmetics, melon is used in the form of a mask which can tone the skin and make it soft and velvety. Here is how to prepare a cream for dry skin using melon: mix 100ml of melon juice (made by placing some melon in a blender) with 100ml of natural mineral water and 100ml of full fat milk. Put this mixture in the fridge to set (maximum for a week) and mix before use.
Another ‘do it yourself’ lotion that is often used is made of melon and clay: peel a mature melon, put the pulp in a blender and then sieve the liquid into a mixing bowl. Add a spoonful of green clay, mix for 1 minute and then leave the mixture to stand for a further 5 minutes. This lotion is ideal for putting on sunburn and it can be applied with some cotton wool: immerse a ball of cotton wool into the mixture and delicately dab the burnt areas until they do not hurt anymore. Leave it on for some minutes and then wash off with warm water. This lotion works well because melon has refreshing and astringent effects and relieves the symptoms of sunburn. Clay, on the other hand, has anti-inflammatory, soothing and healing effects.
NUTRITIONAL VALUES OF MELON
|ENERGY (calories)||Edible part||Water||Carbohydrates||Fats||Protein|
|33Kcal / 137Kjoule||47%||90.1g||7.4g||0.2g||0.8g|
Buying and preserving melons
When preserving melon, the storage temperature should not drop below 5°C, otherwise the fruit can deteriorate. The ideal place to store it is in the fridge, for 2-3 days, separating it from other foods that could be ‘contaminated’ by its strong fragrance.
Make sure to do the following when you buy a melon: knock your knuckles on the melon to check that it does not make any noise; press the ends of the melon to check it is not too hard or too soft; check that the skin is not broken or marked/bruised; smell the fruit, as it should give off a strong fragrance. Keep in mind that male melons are more tasty and these are the ones with a black dot on the stem.