Its actions were described as bitter in taste, non-toxic, expelling evil heat, relieving fatigue and illuminating in the famous Compendium of Materia Medica by Li Shizhen (1518-1593), one of the greatest physicians, pharmacologists and naturalists in China's history. Balsam Pear-Bitter Melon was introduced to Europe in 1710, and was recorded as a garden plant in France in 1870. It has long been used as an important medicinal herb and as a food plant in tropical Asia, Africa, the Caribbean and South America. In India, it is eaten as a vegetable or in curries (after it has been soaked to remove its bitterness), and it is an important ingredient in Chinese cuisine for its bitter flavor. As the name implies, this vegetable is a melon that is bitter. There are two varieties of this vegetable: One grows to about 20 cm long, is oblong and pale green in color.