scientific name: Annona muricata
other common names: Guanabana, guanavana, gua-naba, anona de broquel
growing areas: Said to be native to the West Indies; has spread from southern Mexico to Brazil
physical description: It is a tall, slender tree that grows to a height of about 24 feet. The leaves, which stay evergreen in tropical areas, are dark green and glossy. When crushed, the leaves give off a strong odor. The fruit is described as heart-shaped with a green skin that is covered with spines. The inner flesh of the fruit is juicy and aromatic and has numerous black seeds, according to Julia Morton.
traditional uses: Graviola is a plant that has many medicinal uses in folk traditions but has to be used cautiously, as noted below in the discussion of special precautions. In Panama and Venezuela it is reported to be used to treat diarrhea, while Mexicans use it for fever and dysentery and as an astringent. Researchers also note that it is used to combat a number of gastrointestinal ailments in Puerto Rico, where it is used as an antispasmodic, anti-diarrheal, and stomachic. Julia Morton reported that graviola is a popular bush tea in the Caribbean and Bahamas, where it is sweetened and consumed by children and adults. It is also in the Caribbean that graviola is used to treat colds and fever, according to Morton.
availability and dosage: Available in powdered leaf form. Dosages vary. Herbalists recommend that a half cup of the leaf infusion be taken one to three times daily.
contraindications: None noted.
special precautions: Consult your physician before beginning any use of an ethnobotanical substance for medicinal purposes.
Though it is widely used in the Caribbean and in parts of Latin America, Annona muricata is considered by some doctors and researchers to be a potentially toxic plant. Its seeds are reported to be toxic and have been used as an insecticide and fish poison. In fact, parts of the fruit and a decoction from the leaves are reported to be used as a vermifuge in the Caribbean. Perhaps more troubling are results of tests showing that leaf extracts from the plant injected into rats produced fibrosarcomas in one-third of the animals at the point of injection, something researchers attributed to the high tannin content of the extract.
medical research: Annona muricata was one of twelve medicinal plants tested by researchers in Brazil examining the analgesic effects of popular folk remedies. The researcher administered extracts from the plants to the animals and tested their reaction to stimulus. They found that Annona muricata was virtually inactive as an analgesic but that all of the animals receiving it died within twenty-four hours.