scientific name: Caricapapoya other common names: Paw paw, melon tree, put, papaya real
growing areas: Native to Mexico and Central America; cultivated in the Caribbean and Asia, as well as other tropical areas
physical description: Papaya is a tree with a thick trunk that can grow up to 25/reet high. Its leaves are lobed, can grow up to 2 feet across, and resemble those of an oak. The papaya tree produces a large (up to 11 pounds) oval-shaped fruit that hangs from the trunk; its yellowish pulp is sweet. A latex substance is obtained from its stem, leaves, and fruit.
traditional uses: For centuries, people in the Caribbean knew of papaya's ability to tenderize meat, and the leaves are still used for that purpose today. This characteristic is attributed to a number of enzymes, notably papain, which are contained in the latex of the unripe papaya fruit and help to break down protein. In traditional medicine, papaya has been used to aid digestion, most certainly because papain acts similarly to human peptic acids. In Belize, the plant is used to help in the healing of wounds and infections, while the green fruit, when boiled and eaten, is said to aid in the purging of intestinal parasites, report Balick and Arvigo. They also report that women have used roasted and ground papaya seeds in a formula for contraception.
availability and dosage: Papaya fruit is readily available in the United States in food and fruit stores. Papaya enzyme is also available in tablet form. Doses may vary, although some herbalists recommend using a tea made from 1 or 2 teaspoons of dried papaya leaf before meals as an aid to digestion.
contraindications: Pregnant women should not use medicinal amounts of papaya, as it has a history of use as a uterine stimulant. Breast-feeding women should also not use it.
special precautions: Consult your physician before beginning any use of an ethnobotanical substance for medicinal purposes.
Excessive use of papaya may cause gastric upset, allergic reaction, and possibly perforation of the esophagus, according to experts. It may also act as a purge if too much is taken. Ingestion by dogs of papain has been linked to birth defects. An extract of the fruit has been shown to affect human cardiac activity.
medical research: According to Balick and Arvigo, a number of studies have been done that show papaya to have antibacterial and antifungal activity. They also reported that a study from 1947 showed that a water extract of the papaya fruit worked as a human cardiac depressant. Human clinical trials indicate that papaya can treat inflammation from surgery or accident and that it can be used to reduce postoperative edema in cases of head and neck surgery, write Fetrow and Avila.