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Excerpt on Papaya
National Genetic Resources Program

CARICA PAPAYA L. Papaya; Kwarkwatta; Papanajo. Food comes from the papaya in many forms.  When ripe, the fruit may be as large as a watermelon, and the pulp is sweet and orange.  It consists of about 90% water, but is high in vitamin A.  The flavor is quite peculiar, and it may not be acceptable to some Yankees, who relegate it to the survival rather than the luxury category it enjoys among tropical people.  Fruits are usually eaten with salt and pepper. The seeds, pleasantly mustard flavored, may be eaten, although they may have medicinal properties.  Some speculate that they may be the mustard seeds referred to in the Bible.

Papaya fruits are preserved as a candy or confection, a paste, a puree or syrup, and a canned juice.  Green fruits serve as vegetables.  Boiled in slices, they may be mashed and mixed with lime juice and sugar to make a substitute for applesauce.  They are also cooked in curries and pickled.   The green fruit, peeled, boiled, cut into small pieces, and served with sweet oil, vinegar, salt and pepper, serves as a potable vegetable. Some ethnic groups like a beverage made of cooked, mashed, green fruits.  Younger parts, such as leaves and flower buds, are eaten raw in salads, or more frequently, cooked as a vegetable.   They contain 5-8% protein .  The presence of digestive enzymes might render this practice dangerous.  Water should be changed a couple of times before these vegetables are eaten. 

Raw latex is said to induce itching and blistering.  Nonetheless, the Ailigandi Cuna apply the latex to infected sores, one application of which clears up the infection!  The pith of young stems has also served as a famine food in the East Indies.  Papaya leaves are used to tenderize meat.   Natives frequently wrap meat overnight in papaya leaves, cook in the leaves, or drop a little latex in the cooking vessel.  Meat so tenderized may have a peculiar flavor.  Some people claim that animals, fed the seeds before slaughter, have more tender meat.  Leaves are employed in washing clothes.  Pulp of the ripe fruit has served in shampoos and face creams.  Leaves may serve as a tobacco substitute. The latex is widely used to remove warts, freckles, and other blemishes.  Other uses are as an anthelmentic, discutient, fungicide, stomachic, suppurative, and as a treatment for hemoptysis, internal ulcers, psoriasis, and scorpion stings, as well as diphtheria.  In Cuba, it is prescribed for the removal of cancerous growths.  The leaves are considered amoebicidal and anti-asthmatic, and a decoction is used as an application to elephantoid growths and ulcers, as emmenagogue, febrifugal, and pectoral.  Hot leaves are applied as an anodyne for nervous headaches.  They are bound over ulcers.  Green fruits are recommended for enteritis in Cuba.  Ripe fruits are chologogue; eaten daily at breakfast, they are the tropical "apple a day" to promote regularity.  Dried fruits are said to improve enlarged spleens. The seeds are considered anthelmintic, embolic, and emmenagogic.   Among the Salaqui Choco, lactating mothers avoid papaya, believing it will cause colic in the infant.  Some believe it will induce abortion.  The wild papaya is known to the natives as tapaculo.  They claim that the seeds germinate in acid media, as found in the stomach. 

Another "superstition" may have some factual basis. Some papayas are strictly male and naturally bear no fruit. Native believe they can make the tree fertile by inscribing the cross in the trunk.  Such trees, in some documented cases, become bisexual.  The tree appears to be like the avocado, one that needs to be beaten occasionally to continue bearing. The scientific explanation for this "superstition" is termed "traumatic reversion".  One wild papaya, whose trunk had  been severed about 2 weeks earlier, was observed in full flower.

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