Saturday Magazine
The lowly papaya - A medicine tree

Apropos Kingsley Goonatilake’s article on the "Decline of papaw cultivation", perhaps readers may be interested in the following analysis on the "Medicine Tree" culled from a little booklet published in Australia on the papaya tree.

The medicine tree

All parts of the tree have medicinal value.

All parts of the plant can be used as medicine, the fruit, flesh, the flowers, the leaves, the seeds, the stems, the latex, the bark and even the roots.

The ripe fruits are rich in vitamins. They contain vitamin A, C and the vitamin B complex, amino acids, calcium, iron, enzymes and so on. The protein in papaya is highly digestible. Papaya is of great value to people with insufficient digestion or unhealthy diets and too much indigestible protein. It is also of benefit for people with a fast-food diet, when food is micro-waved, cooked in oils and re-heated. Papaya is not only a highly digestible protein itself but it also helps to break up hard-to-digest protein. The semi-ripe fruit tastes very good from most of the papaya species and when soaked in a little bit of lemon juice and honey - is a treat for the taste buds.

The green fruit has even higher nutritional properties than the fully ripe fruit but doesn‘t taste as pleasant. The green fruit is cooked and treated with salt or taken with syrup, honey or sugar. The green fruit has only 1/3 of the calories of the ripe fruit but has approximately twice as much of highly digestible protein as the ripe fruit. The green fruit has only 2/3 of the carbohydrates. The fruit flesh of the green fruit has less beta carotene than the ripe fruit, but more in the skin.

The leaf of the tree is probably the most valuable part of the plant as you can see in the table below. Fresh leaves are of higher value than the dried leaves as some beta carotene is lost in the drying process due to oxidation. The leaves are richer in protein with approximately 15 times more than the ripe fruit. The fully ripened fruit has nearly no papain, however, on the other hand the leaves are rich in papain.

The skin of the unripe fruit and also from the ripe fruit, is treasured by many as the most potent part of the plant.

The skin of the fruit should never be disregarded. One can make it tasty without decreasing the healing properties conserving it.

The seeds are the richest in digestible protein containing over 24%. They contain 32% carbohydrates and 25% oils including some essential oils. Similar to the super enzyme papain, the enzyme Myrosin is also present as well as the alkaloid carpaine. Carpaine has a similar action as foxglove (digitalis) with a calming effect to the heart, bronchus and muscles. However, if injected in overdose amounts it can lead to cardiac arrest.

If possible, one uses fresh seeds but the seeds may also be dried and stored in airtight containers for 2-3 years in a cool place. If needed, the seeds are ground or pulped and used as medicine.

The bark and the inner bark of the tree can be used as remedy for toothache.

The flowers cooked as a tea and sweetened with sugar can be used for jaundice, bronchitis and other illnesses.

The roots is used in many countries for healing. There is not much known about the components. The roots are cooked as a tea for the elimination of intestinal parasites, jaundice, kidney colic and for bleeding.

The latex (as the milk of the leaves, young shoots and unripe fruits is called), is after the fruits, the second best money earner in the papaya industry. Latex contains 5.3% papain. Fresh latex is used for a variety of skin problems. Some farms grow papaya only to produce latex. Young shoots, leaves and fruits are cut with a knife which has many little blades. The blades cut approximately 2 mm into the skin to produce the latex flow. Containers are placed under the tree to catch the latex which is then dried and packed in airtight containers and sent to industrial countries.

The publication referred to above is by Harold W. Tietze named "Papaya (Pawpaw) the Medicine Tree". Interestingly, the author has listed several cases of persons vouching that they had been cured of cancer with "papaya medicine."