Achocha Is One Wild Cucumber You Will Love

Close up of a lime green achocha fruit growing on the vine.

Achocha (Cyclanthera pedate) is a twisting, vining medicinal plant in the cucurbit family – a rather large family that also includes cucumbers, gourds, melons, squashes and pumpkins.

The fruit on achocha vines look something like a pepper in a cucumber costume. It’s about 6 inches and tapers into a slight curve toward the end, giving it a “slipper” shape. The fruit is covered with soft cucumber like spines, hence a common name for achocha is wild cucumber.

Its origins are unclear, but the achocha is thought to be native to certain regions of the Andes Mountains in Peru and Bolivia. What is known is that achocha was an important crop to the Incas.

However, for the past decade, achocha has been widely cultivated in the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America and South America.

In the United States, achocha has been gaining traction as a vining plant. It’s not frost hardy but is tolerant of cool fall weather when it produces the greatest quantities of edible fruit. 

Achocha grows especially well in mountainous or hilly, humid, subtropical regions. It is a self-sowing, fast growing annual vine, which has been considered a weedy pest in certain areas of Florida.

In spring, achocha leafs out with deep green, palmate foliage that can be mistaken for Japanese maple or cannabis. Its midsummer blooms are small, white-cream and pretty unremarkable to humans, but pollinators love them.

After the short-lived bloom period, achocha vines produce its freaky-looking signature fruit.

Medicinal Benefits

Young fruits are best eaten raw while soft and tender and still under an inch long. This size fruit can also be lightly stir fried or steamed.

When the achocha fruit is full-sized it should be cooked. People often remove the seeds and stuff the mature fruit with cream cheese, etc.

Seeds of the achocha can be made into a tea that is used as a remedy for high blood pressure.

Achocha fruit is also believed to lower cholesterol levels and help with other circulatory issues. Besides heart health, dried and powdered seeds have been used in the treatment of intestinal parasites.

Other plant parts have been used to treat gastrointestinal problems, arteriosclerosis and diabetes.

How to Grow

The achocha plant is started from seeds, which you should be able to find at local nurseries or online.

The seeds can be started indoors like tomatoes or peppers to get a head start on the growing season.  Even then, achocha takes a long time to produce; probably 120 days or so.  Zone 7 might be the northern limit.

You might also start the large jagged seeds in pots in April by lightly covering them in compost. In cooler locations, transfer the seedlings to a cool greenhouse or frost free place to harden off. Only transplant them to their final location once all danger of frost is past.

If available, allow the plants to clamber up a hedge, sturdy trellis or fence in a sunny position. The plants produce male and female flowers in July/August and pollination is carried out by flying insects.

Although achocha is self-pollinating, two or more plants will produce better yields than just one. Achocha will grow in almost any soil type, provided it is well draining. In hot climates, achocha vines will need regular irrigation, as plants will go dormant when water is scarce.

Saving achocha seeds is easy if you allow some fruits to mature. Scrape the dark jagged seeds from the fruit and dry on paper towels.

Hand full of freshly picked achocha fruit
Achocha Fruit