(Carica papaya— Family Caricaceae)
Papaya, Pawpaw (Great Britain, South Africa), tree melon,
ketela, kepaya, ma-la-ko (Thai), pappali (Tamil)
In Australia and New Zealand, papaya (C. papaya) is called “paw paw”, while the paw paw (Asimina tribola – Family Annonaceae – see below) found in North America is not related to the papaya. The only thing the two have in common is that both can be used for medicinal purposes.
At least eight other species of the genus Carica, including babaco, bear edible fruits.
The mountain papaya of the Andes, C. candamarcensis,
is always cooked because of its high papain content.
Papaya is a fruit native to eastern Central America and was cultivated long before the arrival of the Europeans. Spanish and Portuguese invaders took to the fruit and quickly spread it to their other settlements.
It was found growing in the West Indies by 1513; and, by 1583, it found its way to the East Indies via the Philippines. It had also made its way into Africa at an equally early date, and spread through the Pacific islands as Europeans discovered it. By 1800, papaya was grown in all tropical regions, with Hawaii and South Africa now the main exporters.
The papaya plant
is a large herb that grows rapidly, reaching heights of more than twenty-five feet and producing a soft wood. The huge fingered leaves form a spiral similar to those of the palm tree. The plant grows quickly from seed and bears fruit within a year, continuing to do so for another two years before the tree is cut down.
The tree grows best in temperatures of 25°C (77°F) and does not like storms, winds, or frost. It also requires good drainage as the roots will rot if they become water-logged.
It does grow well in containers, making it an ideal house plant that can be put outside in the spring as soon as the fear of frost is past. Such strains as Hortus Gold of South Africa have separate male and female trees.
Seedlings are planted in threes, and the males are used only for pollination and then discarded once the sex of the trees have been established and pollination has been accomplished.
Others, such as the Hawaiian Solo,
have fruiting hermaphrodites, which are preferred, and the females are later thinned out. These two strains produce the majority of the papayas in the West.
The fruits hang in large clusters along a central stem from the top down. Elongated watermelon-size papayas are not uncommon in Mexico, Asia, Puerto Rico and other Caribbean countries, weighing ten pounds or more; but those sold commercially are rarely more than six to eight inches in length and weighing about a pound.
Some varieties remain green when ripe, but most have skins that turn a deep yellow or orange. The flesh of the papaya may be yellow or a beautiful deep, salmon-pink colour. No matter what the colour though, all will have an abundance of black seeds in the central cavity.
The seeds are edible and highly nutritious; but they have a very spicy, peppery flavour. These are often ground up for medicinal purposes.
The soft, juicy sweet flesh tastes like a cross between melons and peaches. The skin and the flesh are both edible and can be served the same way as melons, either eaten alone or in combination with other fruits.
The leaves are also used for medicinal purposes, and sprouts can be gathered for salads after they reach a height of about twelve inches. For medicinal purposes, fresh leaves are more valuable and nutrient-rich than the fruit.
Papayas are an excellent fruit for antioxidants, containing not only vitamin E, but also more vitamin A than carrots and more vitamin C than oranges.
It is also an excellent source of calcium, potassium, iron, B vitamins, and proteins. Along with these nutrients, it is the papain that most people are familiar with in this fruit.
Papain (an enzyme) assists in chemically transforming proteins into various amino acids, including arginine which influences the human growth hormone to increase muscle tone and decrease body fat. This enzyme is able to digest thirty-five times more protein than its own weight.
Scientists consider papain to be a more powerful protein-digesting enzyme than either the body’s own pepsin or pancreatin, which become inactive if the stomach acid is low. Papain, on the other hand, remains active whether it is in an acidic, alkaline, or neutral environment.
At the same time, research has shown that papain can be effective in fighting cancer as it breaks down a protein substance called fibrin, found on all cancer cells, and thus preventing metastasis, including inhibiting the growth of human breast cancer cells. Patients taking papaya enzymes have shown to recover faster from surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. (see more in Nature’s Pharmacy: Evidence-based Alternatives to Drugs)
However, what most people do not realize is just where this valuable enzyme is located. Almost no papain is found in fully ripe fruit, but there is an abundance found in the leaves and green fruit. In addition, papain varies considerably with the species.
Similar to papain, papaya also contains another enzyme, myrosin, and an alkaloid, carpaine, which calms the heart, bronchus, and muscles.
Blending green fruit, a few seeds, pulp, skin and all in a drink is one way to dramatically increase nutrients, as well as benefit from the vital digestive enzymes. Mature green papaya also contains another enzyme which works along with papain to digest carbohydrates and fats. It also possesses an antiseptic quality that helps prevent an overgrowth of undesirable intestinal bacteria and parasites.
Although the green fruit is not as palatable as the ripe, it does have only about two-thirds the carbohydrates of ripe fruit and twice as much digestible protein. However, it does contain less vitamin A.
The skin of the fruit is considered to be the most potent part to be used for medicinal purposes. It is well advised to use only organically grown papaya as the chemicals used during its growth are not conducive toward any health-promoting purposes.
About one-quarter of the seed consists of a highly digestible protein which can be ground up and used to eliminate intestinal parasites. Even though the seeds are soft enough to chew, they are very spicy and must be ground up and mixed with something or swallowed quickly with juice, if taking many of them for this purpose. It takes about twenty seeds for about five days to eliminate most any intestinal parasite effectively.
Papaya also effectively detoxifies the body, speeds metabolic processes, and increases elimination of toxins. Restoring enzymes to the body puts less strain on internal organs and strengthens the immune system. It also converts the amino acid arginine, which is an essential amino acid that influences proper cell function.
In 1875, a British physician, T. P. Lucas, discovered the medicinal value of papaya and started a hospital in Brisbane, Australia, to treat patients solely with papaya.
The people in Papua New Guinea use papaya for the skin and to treat rashes or sunburn or, with repeated applications, to remove the brown spots of aging. They also say that if you put papaya into the compost pile, they grow especially large!
Natives in the Pacific Islands use all parts of the papaya tree for medicinal purposes – leaves; skin; seeds; bark; roots; flowers; and, of course, the fruit.
South American women massage their breasts with thin slices of green papaya to stimulate the milk glands. Eating the fruit provides energy and nutrients for both herself and the baby.
Papaya bark is used as a toothache remedy and the flowers in teas, to treat bronchial infections. For centuries, teas made from the roots were used to expel parasites and to alleviate bleeding, kidney colic, and jaundice.
Papaw, pawpaw (Asimina triloba – Family Annonaceae)
is the fruit of a small North American tree that can be found as far north as New York State, and has for a long time been cultivated by Native Americans.
Its name is also used for a type of papaya, which is a completely different fruit. The papaw is yet another fruit referred to as a custard apple.
The papaw has a smooth, yellowish skin without the knobs or reticulations, which is characteristic of its tropical relatives. The shape is slightly elongated and curved, with the average length being four inches.
The pulp is yellow, soft, and smooth; and it has a rich creamy flavour like that of both the banana and the pear. It has a heavy fragrance that some find offensive, but it can be eaten raw or baked and made into various desserts.