Above all, hobby gardeners who grow decorative pumpkins themselves are often faced with the question of whether the rich harvest is only for decorative purposes or whether the pumpkins can also be used in the kitchen. But usually only the squashes are suitable for consumption. As the name suggests, ornamental gourds should only be used for autumnal decoration of the terrace, balcony or apartment.

The name says it all

Even the title ornamental pumpkin should make the buyer sit up and take notice. Because this pumpkin is mainly suitable for ornament and decoration in autumn and is not intended for consumption. Because pumpkins like the Hokkaido or others are called edible pumpkins. For this reason, ornamental gourds are often not offered at the vegetable counter, but are more likely to be found in the flower shop or in the supermarket with the cut flowers or green plants offered here. It is also clearly pointed out here that the “real ornamental gourds” in particular are not suitable for consumption.

Recognize ornamental gourds from the outside

It is not always easy to distinguish an ornamental pumpkin from a edible pumpkin only from the outside. But even at the first inspection you can often determine whether it is an ornamental gourd, which should generally not be eaten due to its toxicity. So the ornamental gourds have the following external characteristics:

  • often significantly smaller than squashes
  • unusual shapes and colors
  • lighter than squash
Tip: Recently, ornamental gourds that are not poisonous have also been bred. These pumpkins are also edible, especially when they are young. These include claw and crown gourds. These can be easily recognized by their unusual shape.

Recognize ornamental gourds from the inside

As a rule, the interior of an ornamental pumpkin can be easily distinguished from a edible pumpkin. So if you are not sure what kind of pumpkin is in front of you, you can simply cut it open. Ornamental gourds are not only inedible because of their toxicity, but also because they have very little pulp. And also the shell is very hard and thick.


If you are still not sure whether the pumpkin in front of you can be eaten, ideally do the taste test. If you want to try the pulp to see if it is an edible pumpkin, then you should carefully take a very small piece. It should be chewed on for just a moment.

As soon as a bitter taste develops, the piece of pulp must be spit out again immediately and under no circumstances should it be swallowed. After trying it, it is also helpful to immediately rinse your mouth out with plenty of water. The water should also not be swallowed. The following should also be taken into account:

  • Always do a chew test before cooking
  • after that, the pulp loses its bitter taste
  • however, the toxin cucurbitacin remains
Tip: Since people do not like to eat very bitter food, it is a completely natural reaction that they spit out the pulp immediately at the slightest hint of bitterness and the taster thus protects himself from the toxicity of the fruit. However, when boiling or cooking, this natural protection is lost, which can lead to serious poisoning.


In most cases, the ornamental gourds are unfortunately poisonous. This is because they are also labeled as “non-consumable” and “for decoration purposes only” in every store where they can be purchased. And even the hobby gardener who plants his ornamental gourds in the garden himself should stick to this. Because the ornamental gourd contains the bitter substance cucurbitacin, which can be poisonous when eaten in large quantities.
This substance has been bred from commercially available squashes and from the sister plants cucumber and zucchini, so it no longer causes any damage. The well-known poisonous ornamental pumpkin varieties, which should not be eaten under any circumstances, include:

  • Autumn Wings
  • Ball Orange
  • Cucurbita andreana
  • Kelle bicolor
  • Shenot Crowns
  • Triamble
Tip: You should check the taste of all these vegetables before cooking, not just the ornamental squashes. If they taste bitter, they should not be used in the kitchen. Because zucchini, squash or cucumbers, which have been cultivated in the second or third generation in your own garden from seeds you have obtained yourself, can also contain the toxic bitter substance again.

Consequences after consumption

If pumpkins were on the menu and decorative pumpkins were also used here by mistake, then various inconveniences can occur after consumption. These include above all:

  • severe nausea
  • Vomit
  • severe abdominal pain
  • severe diarrhea
  • overall malaise

Vomiting is a natural defense of the body to get rid of ingested toxins and should not be suppressed if it occurs after eating pumpkin food. Otherwise, if the toxin is not excreted immediately, it can find its way through the stomach walls into the body cells.

emergency after consumption

Children in particular are at risk because they are not yet able to utilize the toxic substances as well as adults. Therefore, if the conspicuous symptoms of cucurbitacin poisoning are detected, immediate action must be taken. Depending on how the person is doing, it is advisable to see a doctor or even call an ambulance. Because not everyone reacts the same way to the poisoning.

This can only lead to slight symptoms of poisoning, which the body excretes itself. However, if the symptoms are very severe, a doctor must always be consulted. Because depending on how severe the cucurbitacin poisoning was, it can also lead to death. Therefore, you should also refrain from setting up ornamental gourds if:

  • there are small children in the household
  • free-roaming rodents or birds have access
  • Dogs or cats are part of the family

Because this group in particular is more likely to be endangered, as the round, oval or colorful shapes encourage play, and small children also put everything in their mouths. Birds, rodents or even dogs and cats could also bite into the decoration with ornamental gourds. Therefore, neither children nor pets should have access to the poisonous ornamental gourds.

Tip: Cucurbitacin poisoning is severe food poisoning and should not be taken lightly.

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