Whether it’s cheesy squash and zucchini casserole or a heart-healthy butternut squash salad, or even a traditional pumpkin pie, squash has amazing variety and taste. Many people think of squash as a vegetable. But among botanists, it is considered a fruit because it contains the seeds of the plant. Its origins are based in Mexico and Central America and it’s been a part of the indigenous native diet for thousands of years.

Squash belongs to the gourd family and falls into two main categories: summer and winter. But the seasonal terms aren’t based on botany, merely current usage. Summer squash can be purchased all year round and winter squash is available in the late summer, fall, and winter. Because of its many varieties, it comes in numerous different shapes and colors. There is the bottle-shaped butternut squash most of us are familiar with and the turban-shaped squash that comes in bright orange or green. There is also fairytale pumpkin squash and its deep copper-colored skin. Zucchini, West Indian pumpkin, sweet potato squash, acorn squash, Japanese squash, and Hubbard are all just a handful of fruits and vegetables that belong to the gourd family. Most parts of squash are edible: the leaves, shoots, seeds, and flesh of the fruit. There is little left to throw away once you are finished adding squash to your meals. As a rule: the larger the pumpkin, the harder the skin and the less tasty the flesh.

If squash is one of your favorite foods, then you are in good company. It was also a favorite of Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him [PBUH]). Narrated by Anas ibn Malik, “Allah’s Apostle [PBUH] went to (the house of) his slave tailor, and he was offered (a dish of) gourd of which he started eating. I have loved to eat gourd since I saw Allah’s Apostle [PBUH] eating it” (Bukhari). According to Amira Ayad, author of Healing Body & Soul, “No one is sure as to what kind of squash the Prophet [PBUH] ate, but nearly all varieties of squash contain vitamins E and C, potassium and fiber, alpha and beta carotenes.”

YaQutullah Ibraheem, a registered dietitian, concurs. She highly recommends eating this tasty and healthy fruit. “The high nutrient content of winter squash makes it a great addition to meals. In some varieties, the orange coloring is due to beta-carotene, which the body converts into vitamin A. It is also a good source of vitamin C. This is an important antioxidant that may help to reduce the risk of certain chronic diseases.” Ibraheem adds, “Winter squash contains many other nutrients such as potassium, niacin, and iron. One cup [one serving] has about nine grams of fiber. Fiber plays an important role in managing weight, preventing certain chronic diseases, and reducing constipation.”

There are many delicious dishes that can be created from this versatile plant. One famous dish is pumpkin pie, the heart-warming treat considered an American staple during the fall season. Zucchini, also known as courgettes, can be cooked whole or cut, stir-fried, steamed, or added to stews. Stuffed zucchini is also a Middle Eastern favorite. Pumpkin seeds are eaten as a healthy snack or are often added to salads, cakes, breads, and cereals. They are good for maintaining healthy skin and help to alleviate skin conditions like psoriasis. Because of the hard skin of some squash varieties, you can remove the insides and use the haul as a bowl to serve hot or cold dishes like pumpkin soup, stuffing, ice cream, or pudding. With a little research, this wonderful fruit (or vegetable) can provide an unending list of nutritious meals for you and your family any time of year.

Kelly Crosby is an artist and freelance writer living in Atlanta, Georgia.