As Fall beckons and Winter looms ahead, many of us here in the United States, and around the world as well, will be greeted by the familiar sight of Winter Squash. These bright colored and oblong shaped fruits come in many forms. From the spooky pumpkins that decorate many a house for Halloween and fill delicious pies, to the hearty Butternut and Acorn Squash, to countless others that could not be included unfortunately. While many of us enjoy the aesthetic appeal and taste of these fruits, people today especially in the West may not be aware of the practical benefits of consuming Winter Squash or even how to utilize the fruit to its maximal potential. By illustrating these benefits and uses, we hope not only to empower you to lead an awesome and healthy life but also to help the environment around us.
Originally domesticated in what is now Mexico, the genus of plant known as Cucurbita was extensively cultivated and diversified by the Indigenous People of the Americas. The seeds of the Pumpkin were especially prized by many First Peoples for their medicinal and nutritional value. Over time the squashes came to be grown together alongside maize and beans, forming the “Three Sisters” triad of agriculture. These three crops combined to produce not only a reliable, varied, and rich diet but also maintained soil quality and health. After the calamitous contact with Europeans it spread across the globe, finding favor by many people in some form or another. It was especially beloved by the North American colonies as delicious, versatile, and reliable food that could be counted on during harsh and long winters. Over time the Pumpkin became used as part of an ornamental staple in the Christian holiday of All Hallows Eve, which bore its origins from a Gaelic holiday known as Samhain. Part of the festivities would include carving faces into turnips, which is thought to have transformed into today’s pumpkin carving. Today Winter Squash comes in a variety forms and functions ranging from ornamental to edible and more importantly medicinal.
The Pumpkin we all know and love, is a true superstar in the field of consumable health benefits. Research has linked it to have and brace yourself for the list): anti-diabetic, anti-carcinogenic, antioxidant and antimicrobial potential. There are even reports of inhibiting kidney stone formation, anti-inflammatory properties and blood coagulatory effects. While further testing on human subjects needs to be done to confirm these health benefits, the possibilities and potential benefits are too great to ignore. Researchers have found that the seeds and skin of this fruit contain powerful antioxidant compounds such as polyphenols and bioactive peptides. Antioxidants help protect the body from free radicals, which potentially play a role in causing diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and inflammatory disorders. Further extraction revealed that seed protein hydrolysate and skin phenol extract have the capacity to lower blood sugar, and the seed protein hydrolysate also has antihypertensive properties (lowering blood pressure). Pumpkin seeds themselves contain significant quantities of phytoestrogens, which are plant derived sources of estrogen. These phytoestrogen rich seeds are being linked with certain sources and dietary practices to aid in hormone regulation and reproductive health. Disclaimer: Sadly, you’re not likely to gain many health benefits from eating a pumpkin pie topped with whipped cream and ice cream.
When it comes to squashes and pumpkins, we all know the meat and seeds are prized the most and can be prepared, in a myriad of ways from baking, sauteing, to grinding down and turning into flour or pulp. Dishes ranging from pies, soups, bread, and other meals can be made from these two products. Pumpkin seeds can also be taken in conjunction with other seeds at specific intervals in a process known as Seed Cycling. Seed Cycling is the dietary practice of ingesting specific seeds at specific points in the menstrual cycle for the purpose of aiding female reproductive health and assisting the process of the menstrual cycle (see sources below for my information). However it’s not just the fruits and the seeds that can be ingested. The leaves and greens can be eaten, the flowers can be battered, fried, and stuffed. The skin can be peeled and cooked into chiplike foodstuffs (Disclaimer: if the skin appears shiny and waxy it is probably coated in food wax, do not consume). All of these additional parts of the squash plant are just as tasty and filled with nutrients as the meat and seeds. In this day and age, where being more food conscious and limiting our environmental footprint is on the forefront of many people’s minds, Pumpkins and squashes as whole deserve so much more attention than just being ornaments to be discarded once we phase through the holiday seasons.
If you are interested in applying these principles to your healing, schedule a discovery call with Dr. Nicole Shusterman for naturopathic holistic care.
By: Dr. Nicole Shusterman, ND and Romulo Bahamon
Li H. (2020). Evaluation of bioactivity of butternut squash (Cucurbita moschata D.) seeds and skin. Food science & nutrition, 8(7), 3252–3261. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/fsn3.1602
Yadav, M., Jain, S., Tomar, R., Prasad, G., & Yadav, H. (2010). Medicinal and biological potential of pumpkin: An updated review. Nutrition Research Reviews, 23(2), 184-190. doi:10.1017/S0954422410000107
Glazier MG, Bowman MA. A Review of the Evidence for the Use of Phytoestrogens as a Replacement for Traditional Estrogen Replacement Therapy. Arch Intern Med. 2001;161(9):1161–1172. doi:10.1001/archinte.161.9.1161
Paterni, I., Granchi, C., & Minutolo, F. (2017). Risks and benefits related to alimentary exposure to xenoestrogens. Critical reviews in food science and nutrition, 57(16), 3384–3404. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10408398.2015.1126547?journalCode=bfsn20