Can You Eat Decorative Gourds?

Find out the differences between gourds and squash, and which ones are edible.

pumpkins and gourds assorted colors
Photo: Blaine Moats

As soon as fall rolls around, gourds are everywhere–small, large, lumpy, smooth, orange, green, and everything in between. But as you’re browsing all of the options, you might find yourself wondering if you can eat a gourd, instead of just using it as decoration. After all, some gourds look similar to popular fall squash such as acorn, butternut, and delicata, so it’s not unreasonable to think they might be edible. Learn if there are any gourds you can eat, how to prepare them, and what the difference is between squash and gourds, and then you’ll truly be ready for autumn!

Can You Eat Decorative Gourds?

The simplest answer to whether or not you can eat gourds is technically yes; decorative gourds aren’t poisonous or toxic. However, you probably don’t want to eat gourds, especially when there are much tastier options available. The decorative gourds you see on display have hard, tough skins, and also don’t have very much flesh on the inside. So if you were to try cooking a gourd, it wouldn’t be very easy to prepare, and also wouldn’t taste great.

Gourds, squash, and pumpkins are all part of the same botanical family, Cucurbitaceae. It’s a huge category of plants that’s further divided into smaller categories, like gourd, summer squash, and winter squash. However, though they’re related, the Missouri Botanical Garden distinguishes gourds as having a hard shell and mainly being used for decorative purposes, while squash may have thin or thick skin and edible flesh. So by definition, gourds aren’t squash because they usually aren’t edible.

If you’re really determined to try eating gourds, there are some varieties that may be better than others. For example, apple gourds are shaped like a large fruit with a light green skin. In India, young apple gourds may be added to curries. Most gourds are better left as decoration, though.

Can You Eat Gourd Seeds?

So, can you eat ornamental gourds? Probably not. But can you eat the seeds from gourds? Again, technically, the seeds aren’t dangerous to eat, and if you want to eat part of a gourd, the seeds might be the best option. Similar to pumpkin seeds, you’ll want to remove the seeds from the gourd and wash them. Then, spread them out on a parchment-lined sheet pan and bake at 325°F for about an hour. This will dry out the seeds and make them crunchy and delicious. You can also toss them with seasoning for more flavor, if you’d like, then bake them for an additional 10 to 15 minutes.

If you do try sampling decorative gourds, or their seeds, there are a few tips you should keep in mind. Like squash, never eat a gourd that’s gone bad, or that’s been sprayed with a clear pumpkin-preserving spray. It’s also good practice not to eat gourds that have been left outside, and always wash produce before slicing into it. And, if you’re asking yourself can you eat birdhouse gourds, the answer is only if they’re fresh, and haven’t already been used for a craft project. If you wanted, you could remove the seeds from a birdhouse gourd, then still use the hard outer shell to make a decoration. Ultimately though, if you’re craving a cozy harvest meal, you’re much better off making a delicious squash recipe or cooking a sugar pumpkin than trying to cook a gourd. Leave them as adorable fall decor and stick to much-easier-to-cook squash for recipes.

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