Maybe you may remember the first time your mom sliced open a papaya when you were a kid? Probably the first thing you noticed was its deep coral color. The second was likely its unique aroma. Unfortunately, in the USA, a first experience with papaya is often with an overripe fruit, and so the odor can be overbearing. But a perfectly ripened papaya, on the other hand, smells and tastes like a dream! The mild, sweet and floral flavors are unique, and so the papaya remains one of the most beloved and ubiquitous fruits across the world’s tropics!
The paw-paw trees that produce papaya are native to the southern Mexico, and the tropics of the Americas. But, today you can find papaya from Malaysia to Africa. It’s also a versatile plant — the entire fruit, its leaves, its seeds, and latex are used commercially. And, the uses the papaya are equally prolific: beyond being a mere table-fruit, the papaya is used in medicines, and is ingested raw (or as a smoothie) to improve digestion (due to its high beta carotene content — more on that in a moment).
To the Mayans, papaya trees were symbolic of the “Tree of Life” — and Christopher Columbus called it “the fruit of angels” (Chris did have a flare for marketing, in case you didn’t know).
Papaya’s hue reveals its richness in carotenes (vitamin A precursors) and antioxidants. It’s a wonderful source of vitamins (so much C that 1 medium papaya provides 200+% the RDA), including folate, B5 as well as potassium and magnesium — both of these minerals essential for the consistent and efficient functioning of the entire body, and reduce muscle cramps/spasm and also promote sound sleep. Its bioactive constituents (like papain) are wonderful for digestion. Its soluble fiber not only protects against colon ailments, including cancer, but also supports cardiovascular health. In fact, papain cultures, which can break down the tough protein-chains in muscle meat, have used papaya to tenderize meat for thousands of years.
And, like many other deeply orange foods, there is a relationship to purification. The papaya ‘flesh’ and its black glistening seeds (and yes they’re edible and taste a bit peppery), have been used in ancient medicine to rid the body of parasites (like ringworm), and ailments from diabetes to hypertension to malaria. And these aspects above, are actually what comprises the 4 Praises for Papaya we’ll be singing today:
- Moon Timing (Ladies first)
So papain, the very same enzyme which helps us with inflammation and digestive needs, is also prescribed by folk medicine practitioners in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, to soften and reduce the pain of cramps and, in general, regulate woman’s cycles. It’s also considered a botanical prophylactic (I’ll leave it to you to explore why on Google). However, and this is an important WARNING: it’s not for pregnant women, as the latex in papaya is believed to induce contractions of uterine muscles in pregnancy.
The leaves, seeds and the milk of the papaya tree are used to cure intestinal problems and kill intestinal worms and parasites. A 2007 study of 60 Nigerian children with strong evidence of intestinal parasites “showed an over 75% clearance rate of infection in just seven days. This was after the children received a 20 ml dose of crushed papaya seeds and honey as a parasite treatment” making papaya seeds just as “efficacious in treating human intestinal parasites and without significant side effects” as some prescriptions. However, my advice with the seeds is to start slow.
- Happy Hearts
Concentrated pro-vitamin A carotenoid phytonutrients in the papaya work to prevent the oxidation of cholesterol. This is powerful! Why? Because it is oxidized cholesterol that sticks to and gunks up the blood vessel walls. Paraoxonase (an enzyme) in papaya enables your body to absorb much more vitamin C and E from supplements or other foods you eat: and it is this enzyme which actively inhibits LDL cholesterol and HDL cholesterol oxidation.
- Immunity & Papaya
Further, its abundance of carotenoids (pre-vitamin A and C) are ideal pathways to boost your body’s natural immunity expression — so, if you feel run down, or are suffering from a cold, fever, or flu, add a papaya a day to your diet. These antioxidants can also reduce inflammation, fight disease and help keep you looking young, treat sports injuries, other causes of trauma, and allergies.
So, the next time you’re at the market, grab a papaya. It’s not just for vacations anymore!
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Franco MRB, Amaya D, Rodriguez MH, Damasio and Carrillo JLI. Volatile Components and Flavour of Paw paw (Carica Papaya). A Reappraisal. Alimentose Nutrcxao. 1993:99–108.
Oke JM. Antidiabetic Potency of Pawpaw. African Journal of Biomedical Research. 1998;1:31–34.