Watermelon – Food As Chinese Medicine

Benefits of Watermelon

Need one more reason to enjoy some watermelon this holiday weekend?

Did you know that watermelon, aka Xi Gua (Shee Gwa) has been used as a Chinese medicinal herb for centuries? It has appeared in Chinese herbal medical texts since 1350 CE. This favorite summertime treat is not only delicious, it can also help keep you cool and hydrated.

Chinese herbs, some of which are actual foods, are categorized by their taste, temperature, associated meridians and their effects on the body.

Watermelon has medicinal properties of being sweet and cold and is associated with the heart, bladder and stomach meridians. It clears heat, reduces irritability and promotes urination. It is effective in treating summer heat, the TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) equivalent to heat stroke, which has symptoms of fever, restlessness, sweating, dizziness, and nausea. It also has a beneficial effect on the liver and, in some cases, can help expel jaundice. Mixed with other cooling herbs, watermelon is used to treat mouth sores, tooth infections and sore throats as well as burns and ulcers.

Ginger, cinnamon, cloves, mung bean, and lotus leaf are just a few other examples for common foods that are used in Chinese herbal medicine.

I asked my favorite nutritionist (and younger sister) Carolyn Brown, RD for her take on the benefits of this sweet treat. Here’s what she had to say: “Watermelon is the perfect summertime snack because just like it’s name implies, that juicy sweet fruit is mostly water – 92% water content! It’s hydrating and has tons of good-for-you nutrients, like lycopene which is great for heart and bone health and cancer prevention.

Another nutrient, citrulline, helps with circulation and soothes sore muscles. It’s also loaded in vitamin A, C and potassium too! Make sure that in addition to the fleshy part, you nosh on the white part closer to the rind too, because that’s where the highest concentration of nutrients is (even if slightly less tasty!).”

But remember— everything in moderation. Too much of this cold fruit can cause upset stomach, cramping and diarrhea– symptoms of cold-invasion of the stomach in TCM. If you experience these symptoms, warming herbs like ginger and cinnamon can help.

Here are a few of my favorite Watermelon inspired recipes:


4 cups diced watermelon
Juice of 1 Lime
1 tsp cayenne pepper
Flaky Sea Salt
Directions: Toss watermelon in lime juice and cayenne, add sea salt right before eating.


4 cups diced watermelon
2 diced heirloom tomatoes
1 cup crumbled feta
1/2 cup torn mint or basil
1 tbsp good quality olive oil
1/2 red onion thinly sliced
2 tsps balsamic vinegar
Flaky Sea Salt
Directions: Toss watermelon, tomatoes, onion and feta in olive oil and balsamic. sprinkle feta and add torn mint or basil. Right before serving, add flaky sea salt. (If you add this too soon, it will suck the water out of the melon and you will end up with soup!)


8 cups of seedless watermelon, diced
½ red bell pepper, finely diced
1 medium cucumber, peeled and seeded and finely diced.
¼ cup of chopped flat-leafed parsley
3 Tablespoons of red wine vinegar
¼ cup of chopped fresh basil
2-3 Tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
3/4 teaspoon salt
¼ jalapeno pepper

Directions: Mix all ingredients in a large bowl. Using a hand blender, puree 3 cups of the mix, transfer to another bowl. Puree 3 more cups and add to pureed mixture. Stir in 3 cups of the remaining mixture. Serve slightly chilled or at room temperature. Makes 6 servings.

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