I'll let you in on a little secret: You can do a lot more with pumpkins than turn them into Halloween decorations or pumpkin pie. Sure, you might have heard of pumpkin spice lattes, pumpkin cheesecake, pumpkin ravioli, and other fun ways to eat this delicious fruit (yes, it's a fruit — actually, more specifically, it's a berry), but did you know that there are even more ways to use pumpkins?
Before we delve into some fun uses for pumpkin, you need to know that as long as a pumpkin or related squash has been kept whole in a cool dry place, it's safe to eat for weeks, and sometimes months. (Signs that it's not safe include soft spots, obvious mold and discoloration, and, you know. Common-sense indicators like rats taking up residence inside.) However, once a pumpkin has been carved, the shelf life goes down rapidly. Sitting out for more than 48 hours renders it effectively inedible, and we don't recommend eating carved pumpkins due to health risks.
So what can you do with pumpkins?
Pumpkins have a huge number of beauty uses! Pretty cool, right?
1. Pumpkin face mask or peel
Pumpkin is great for the skin. It exfoliates, nourishes and helps tighten up the skin to increase skin tone. All these factors make it great for masks and peels. Mix pumpkin, milk (a classic skin soother), and spices you like to make a smooth cream to apply to your face, and then enjoy the results. Honey makes a fantastic addition, as it will provide a moisturizing effect. Here's another great pumpkin facial care recipe.
2. Pumpkin exfoliating scrub
As discussed above, this fruit can help moisturize the skin in addition to enriching it with vital minerals and vitamins (all that beta carotene is good for you). Try mixing your own scrub with some pumpkin puree and an exfoliant like large-grain sugar, oatmeal, walnut shells or coarse salt. You can add spices and any other ingredients that intrigue you and use your scrub anywhere on the body. If you have sensitive skin, test your scrub on the inside of your elbow first ot check for a reaction.
P.S. Make sure to rinse with your drain trap in; otherwise pieces of the scrub might clog your plumbing, and that would make for an awkward story.
3. Pumpkin body butter
Yes. It's luxurious, great for your skin, and it feels amazing. After you've scrubbed your skin to lift up all those dead cells and get a refined polish, try applying a rich and creamy blend of 1:1 pumpkin butter to coconut cream (or the solid part from a can of coconut milk). Add spices if you want to smell like pumpkin pie!
In the garden
Hey, it's traditional. Pumpkins go great with compost, where they will help enrich the soil as they break down. So say boo! to your landscaper with some pumpkins in the compost.
A word of advice, though: Don't throw pumpkin and other squash seeds in the compost, because they'll sprout, or weather the composting process and come up in your flower and vegetable beds after you spread the compost. Instead, set the seeds aside and either roast them for yourself (yum) or offer them up to the birds.
Biodegradeable planters come in mighty handy, and this one doubles as fall decor. Now that you have a hollowed-out pumpkin on your hands, fill it with soil and bright plants like fall mums. For the first few days, you can leave it in place on your porch or somewhere else you want on your porch, and then you can bury the whole setup. The pumpkin will protect the roots from frost while the plants get established, and as it breaks down, it will provide lots of needed nutrition.
Photo: Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism/Flickr
6. For the birds and other critters
If you haven't already scrapped the seeds and pulp after carving, toss them in the yard for birds and other critters. You can also offer up whole pumpkins; wild animals love to pick them apart and they'll have them cleaned up in no time. (There's a reason zoos like to give their animals used pumpkins every year: They make great puzzles and fun toys, and they provide some nutritional variation.)
7. Gastrointestinal distress
Pumpkin is very high in fiber, so if any mammals in the house (including the people) happen to be having some discomfort (a big problem with rich fall foods), try eating some plain pumpkin puree. Dogs and cats alike enjoy pumpkin and it can help regulate their digestive tracts, while humans may appreciate it with some flavoring (try making pumpkin oats as a mild, fiber-rich snack). Of course, if the problem persists, it's time to call a doctor. Or a vet.
8. No really, for the birds
It turns out that feeding pumpkin to chickens can help to naturally stimulate or prolong egg production in the cooler months when they start thinking about taking a break. If you want to keep your backyard chickens going just a little longer, try giving them some pumpkin to eat — if nothing else, they'll enjoy playing with a jack-o'-lantern.
9. DIY DNA extraction
Try this one at home, kids! This fun little science experiment lets you see DNA in action. Now, sequencing it is another matter.
Related stories on MNN: