Object of the Month

Buffalo Gourd

Buffalo Gourd

by Amanda Mather

Since we are about to (finally!) start into the hot long days of summer I thought I would talk about something that always makes me think of those fun spicy days!

Buffalo Gourd, or Curbita foetidissima if you want to get fancy science talk about it, is an indigenous species from the squash family that grows in Northern Mexico and throughout the Western and Southwestern United States. If you are lucky enough to live in the west, you have surely seen this plant. It grows like crazy on the side of the road all summer long, sending out long green tendrils dotted with big yellow squash blossoms and small green gourds.

The Buffalo Gourd has been found within archaeological contexts here in New Mexico dating back to about 5,000 years ago. We and the Buffalo Gourd go way back.

When young, the squash can be and is eaten by both animal and human. As it ages however the squash takes on a bitter taste and strange smell, which is why it is sometimes referred to as “stinking gourd.” I distinctly remember this trait of the gourd from childhood when after playing with those gourds for far too long I would come home smelling…less then good, to put it mildly.

Other than being eaten young, this plant has many other helpful and delicious traits. The root of the Buffalo Gourd as well as the fruit contain saponin, which means that when introduced to water it creates soapy foam. The Buffalo Gourd was used by Native cultures as a soap and shampoo along with yucca root, which also contains the magical chemical saponin.

The seeds are tasty when roasted and also contain a high amount of oil, making them a great source of fat, which is a rare and precious thing in the desert.

Many Native American cultures of the southwest and plains used Buffalo Gourd medicinally. Most of the references I found regarding medicinal use was for skin disorders in both humans and animals. It seems the gourds were ground and used as a poultice for all kinds of unpleasant skin things.

So this humble little squash gives us so many things! Things we need here in the less than forgiving desert. And at least for right now this sweet squash is giving me some major summer nostalgia!