Villa Quetzal

Villa Quetzal

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Papaya ~ “Believe it or Not” ~

It is one of the user-friendly fruits available worldwide. 
I consider it user-friendly because every part of the plant, from “top to roots” can be consumed, and what is even more interesting is that each one of those parts has nutritional and healing properties. 
Personally, I think papaya is the gentle spirit of nature giving itself to us in a very colorful and sweet package with the purpose of nourishing and healing our bodies.

It seems like no one knows the exact area of origin of the papaya; however, many believe it is native to tropical America, perhaps southern Mexico, and Central America. and Distribution
There are some records suggesting that before 1525, the papaya seed arrived in Panama and Dominican Republic, and spread through warm elevations in places like South and Central America, Southern Mexico, West Indies, Bahamas, and Bermuda buy 1616. Around 1550, Spaniards introduced the papaya seed in the Philippines, traveling to Malaysia and India from there. In 1626, the seeds were sent from India to Naples, Italy. As you can imagine, this user-friendly plant spread like the wind all over the world. 

The papaya thrives under warm and humid conditions.
Some people believe papaya is a tree; some others consider it a large herbaceous plant. It is usually a single straight trunk reaching up to 30 ft. Its leaves are big and lobed. The old leaves fall as the new ones emerge, maintaining a palm-like shape. The flowers and fruits arise from buds growing on the trunk at the base of the leaves.

I never thought about papaya plants having gender, and of course; it didn’t occur to me that besides male and female, they have that “one-gender fits all (hermafrodite)," well, it actually makes sense.

By now, you might be asking yourself “why would that matter?” 

Well, it only really matters if you want to grow your own plants. You could actually grow them from the seeds of the fruit you eat; in this case, if you buy the papaya at the store, it would be convenient to buy the kind with an elongated shape, since it comes from hermaphrodite heritage, you will have a better chance of growing a producing papaya plant. Unfortunately, neither a female nor a male plant can produce fruit on their own, they need help, you know! The great thing about the bisexual plants is that they self-pollinate and produce fruits without additional help. 

Lets look into the benefits of all the papaya parts.

To get a better idea of why papaya is so well-known and appreciated by most of the world, I want to start talking about the health properties of the fruit since it is the most familiar part to many of us. 

The ripe papaya always shows beautiful orange color and a delicious sweet smell; it is

extremely rich in potassium and help us to meet our daily potassium requirements. Eating papaya on a regular basis can help to keep your blood pressure within the normal range, reducing  the risk of heart disease. It is also rich in vitamin A, C, and B complex, amino acids, calcium, iron, and enzymes. The protein in papaya is highly digestible, and helps to break up hard-to-digest proteins. Among the many compounds found in papaya, the two most important ones to provide health benefits are chymopapain and papain; they can be found in the fruit, latex, leaves, and roots.

Surprisingly, the papaya skin is edible and contains the same properties as the fruit; so if you are able to overcome the thought of eating the peelings, try eating your papaya with the skin on; it is good, especially if you sprinkle some sugar or honey over it. Yummy!

Ripe papaya is often used to promote good digestion. It is also used as a laxative and diuretic.

The unripe fruit is not usually eaten raw; it is commonly cooked either with honey or made into some savory dish where the chopped green papaya is the main ingredient, in Costa Rica ~picadillo de papaya~ is a traditional dish. This green fruit has higher nutritional value than the ripe one.

Let’s talk about the flowers; they are very fragrant and have five petals, ranging
from cream-white to yellow-orange, and the stamens are bright yellow.

The flowers are different in the male, female, and bisexual plants.

Female flowers are large and round at the base. They have a stigma, but lack the stamens. They have a miniature papaya fruit inside the base of the flower petals. They need to be pollinated to become productive. These flowers grow from the trunk.

Male flowers are thin and tubular. They seem to be perfect, because they contain the male and female organs, but the small vestigial ovary is nonfunctional. These flowers grow on a long flower stalk.

Now, the bisexual flowers have it all. They look identical to the female ones; however, they have the stamens around the miniature papaya inside the flower petals.

Surprisingly, the flowers are edible; some people in Costa Rica use them to prepare traditional dishes. More commonly, the extracts of the flowers mixed with honey are used to treat respiratory problems.

The leaves, to my surprise, are edible too, and plentiful in vitamins and minerals such as beta-carotene, calcium, carpaine, fats, flavonols, niacin, papain, tannins, and vitamin C, in higher concentration than in the fruit. 

Some physicians in the nineteen century used papaya leaves to treat bloating, nausea, and flatulence caused by the excessive consumption of fermented foods.

The “West Indian medical Journal” published in 2008 the use of papaya leaves extract in the treatment of gastric ulcers. 

Papaya leaves are good for the digestive system due to their content of chemical compounds that help to eliminate microorganisms.

  • Tea made with boiled papaya leaves is used to treat heart problems and fever.
  • Decoction of dried papaya leaves is used to treat stomach problems.
  • Papain extracted from the fruit, and leaves, is the main ingredient in many ointments destined to cure rashes, cuts, stings, and burns.
The papaya roots are less used than other parts of the plant because the healing properties are not very clearly determined; however, since ancestral times, the roots have been cooked as a tea, and used with the purpose of getting rid of intestinal parasites, alleviate kidney colic, and as aid in cases of jaundice.

  • Decoctions of pounded papaya roots are used as a digestive tonic, also to cure dyspepsia.
  • Papaya root extract can be used to treat insect bites.
  • There are some stories about women in the old days, using the extract from papaya roots to stop early pregnancy.

The papaya seeds are edible, and they have a peppery taste, sometimes they are dried, grounded, and used as a substitute for pepper.    

The seeds are full of two super enzymes: papain, myrosin, and the alkaloid carpaine. Some people use them to eliminate parasites because they have antihelminthic and anti-amoebic properties.

Papaya seeds have been used successfully in the treatment of liver cirrhosis.
The seeds have antibacterial properties; they can be used in the treatment of skin wound and ulcers. Whether they are fresh or dried, the seeds do not lose their healing properties.

Papaya plant may not be the most beautiful, outstanding, or scrumptious fruit in nature; however, it is without a doubt, a continuous source of healing nutrients in every bite and in every form you take it.

Here in Costa Rica, we have been blessed with great availability all year round; it is amazing to see the papaya plants growing in a wild fashion on the side of the road, on pieces of property that are empty because they are for sale or no one owns them. Of course, with a bit of love and care, homegrown papaya plants are spectacular. They are a gift of nature for so many of us, in Costa Rica and the rest of the world, and all we need to do is reach for them and enjoy them.

Talk about a cornucopia of natures’ wealth, “that is Costa Rica.

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