Papaya fruit, from the papaya tree (Carica papaya), is native to central and southern America. It was first cultivated in Mexico but is now commonly grown in most tropical countries. Prized for its luscious yellow or reddish orange pendulous fruit the tree also has other uses, such as medicinal ones.
A large tree-like plant, with a single stem, from the top half of which large spirally arranged leaves grow, the papaya tree develops small flowers from the base of the leaf stalks. These, when pollinated by insects, in the case of the female or hermaphrodite plants, develop into the fruit that we know.
Papaya plant showing flowers and green fruit
Papaya plants grow from seed and develop either male, female or hermaphrodite (bi-sexual) flowers. A female plant requires the presence of a male plant for pollination of its flowers to occur but the hermaphrodite plant pollinates itself. From the point of space efficiency the hermaphrodite type would seem to be the best to grow, especially if it is likely to become a small 'tree', hence easily harvested.
In Australia there is the yellow, larger and slightly bitter variety and the redder, sweeter, orange coloured bi-sexual type (Solo or Hawaiin papaya), which is oval in shape and quite small. Larger red papayas grow on tall plants and are known locally as New Guinea pawpaw. The common names ‘papaya’ and ‘pawpaw’ to describe papaya carica seem to be interchangeable in Australia.
Small orange/red Solo papaya fruit showing seeds
The fruit contains Vitamin C, Vitamin A, Vitamin E, Vitamin K, Potassium, Calcium, Magnesium and the B Vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6, B9 as well as a small amount of Phosphorus and Iron.
Rich in an enzyme named papain, papaya has a role in meat tenderizing. It is helpful for digestive problems including nausea. Papayas’ skins are used topically for cuts and abrasions as well as for muscular strains - an ointment is available for chapped lips. The papain from the sap of green papayas is used in the textiles and cosmetics industries, so it is a very useful plant.
When used green in large quantities it apparently has an abortive effect so don’t eat a box full of hard, unripe papaya fruit all at once if you are pregnant! However, a small amount of green fruit, for example, grated in a Thai salad adds an exotic touch to tropical cuisine for everyone.
They taste good! I am especially fond of the small red papayas (also called pawpaw in Australia) and eat a half most mornings, filled with plain yoghurt, chopped banana and passion-fruit, if there are any on my vine. Yum!
Research and anecdotal reports indicate that papaya fruit and papaya seeds can stimulate the immune system, hence prevent colds and ‘flu’, inhibit the growth of some cancer cells, and have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.
These anti-inflammatory properties of papaya can assist in the prevention of heart disease and arthritis and promote lung health. Papaya helps to reduce pain caused by swelling (eg arthritis, bruising etc).
Papaya seed tea or papaya ‘pepper’ is also used by some for weight loss and digestive problems. The fruit is low in calories and high in nutrients – win, win!
Anti-oxidants in the fruit help to prevent the oxidation of cholesterol and assist in the prevention of heart disease and possibly colon cancer.
Papaya seeds have been used traditionally to eradicate intestinal parasites.
Papaya fruit and seeds also have been touted as being ‘anti-ageing’.
Sounds good! I have a neighbour who turned eighty recently. He goes for swimming ‘workouts’ most mornings; maybe his robust good health and strength is partly due to the daily banana ‘smoothie’ with papaya and coconut oil that he enjoys!
Here’s to your continued good health!