Photo and article by Donna Iverson
If you’re a gardener, exploring a farmers market is like exploring an art museum to the artistically inclined.
And if it’s fall, there is one veggie that is almost certain to catch your eye: snake gourds. Shaped like giant writhing green beans, the snake gourd is a subtropical vine native to southeast Asia. They are a member of the pumpkin family.
In Michigan, it is sold as a decorative craft item that can be carved into anything from musical instruments to bird houses. Birds that will nest in a snake gourd house include wrens, chickadees, swallows, blue birds, titmice, and nuthatches.
Before carving out a birdhouse in a snake gourd, it is necessary to dry the plant until it is well hardened. This could take up to a year, according to a local farmer. Instructions can be found at: https://www.thespruce.com/gourd-bird-houses-4070291
Most people just use snake gourds as fall decorations, especially around Halloween….taking advantage of their scary appearance.
With the warmer summers of late, Michigan farmers are now able to grow snake gourds locally. Seeds are available from Baker Creek at https://www.rareseeds.com/ If you do grow your own snake gourds, they are edible when they are very young …about the size of a cucumber. And reportedly, they taste a lot like a bitter cucumber. They are also a staple of Ayurvedic medicine.
The snake gourd (Trichosanthes cucumerina) arrived in Europe from China around 1720. By the 1820’s, Thomas Jefferson was growing it in his garden at Monticello. It is classified by some as a heritage plant. Technically, it is a fruit and not a vegetable.