Nutritional Benefits of Papaya Fruit, Seeds, Flowers, and Leaves
More Than Just a Tropical Fruit
Papaya is a favourite fruit of mine. I love it's sweet, soft flesh and strong tropical fragrance. Growing up around papaya trees taught me more about the various uses of the fruit as well as the plant itself. I remember family coming around when my dad was sick and showing us how to boil down the leaves, sees and unripe fruit to assist with healing. It also became clear to me that while there are pockets of knowledge about papaya, many people are not aware of the wider benefits and myriad of uses of the papaya plant.
Various cultures around the world have turned to papaya in the past for healing from a range of ailments. In addition to this, at an industrial and commercial level a number of uses have been found for the various parts of the plant.
How to Tell When Papaya Is Ripe
Ripe papayas are best eaten when the skin is yellow orange and slightly soft to the touch with a distinctive fragrance. Although it is good enough to be eaten alone, by far the best way I have ever learnt to prepare papaya is by mashing it into a bowl and adding a little lime juice. Failing that, use papaya in fruit salads, smoothies, or add it to baked goods as a puree - the way you would add mashed bananas or pureed cooked apple to recipes. It is also used in India as the main ingredient in papaya halwa and is excellent dried.
Ripe papaya flesh is rich in antioxidants and has a high Vitamin A content and is high in dietary fiber. Meanwhile, the mashed flesh is popular as a skin exfoliant as it helps remove dead skin cells. While a number of parts of the papaya plant can be consumed it is clear from research that ripe papayas have the highest antioxidant activity (84.04%) followed by unripe papaya (81.35%) and then papaya leaves (78.03%) with the seeds having the least antioxidant activity at a still reasonably high 75.35% (Maisarah AM, Asmah R, Fauziah O, 2014).
Papaya Peel for the Skin
Use ripe papaya peel for skin care by rubbing the fleshy side of the peel on the skin and allowing to dry, then rinsing. Papaya vinegar can be prepared by soaking the peel in vinegar for a few weeks and then removing it. Apply the resulting liquid to the hardened skin on the feet to soften and remove dead skin.
Eat it Green
Green papaya can also be eaten and is most commonly used as the main ingredient in papaya salads. However, it also makes a good curry, and can be made into Indian and Asian pickles as well. Being exceptionally bland when cooked, it can be used to bulk out recipes like stews, in place of other less distinctive vegetables like swede.
Green papaya is a rich source of papain - an enzyme that breaks down proteins. It can be taken in pill form to assist with digestive issues, but it is also present in smaller amounts in the ripe fruit.
Young Leaves Have Medicinal Properties
Young papaya leaves can be made into a herbal tea that is said to have healing properties - some of which may even assist in the management of cancer.
Surprisingly, the use of papaya leaves has also been found to be a successful herbal remedy in the treatment of dengue fever. Papaya leaves are crushed till the juice is extracted then the mixture is strained. Then the juice is fed to sufferers every few hours. This has been a traditional remedy for dengue fever in some societies and studies carried out (Kala, 2012) in recent years have confirmed that the juice does actually assist the patients by increasing the platelet count.
Tea made from papaya leaves can also be used to relieve menstrual issues.
Papaya leaf can be bought in super concentrated liquid form for those not able to access fresh papaya leaves.
Studies Find Papaya Leaves Can Help Manage Cancer
Did you know that there are both male and female papaya flowers?
Eat Papaya Flowers, But Just the Male Ones
People generally avoid eating the male papaya flowers or buds as they tend to have a bitter taste. However, there are techniques used to get rid of this. Some people simply blanch the flowers, but this is not considered the best method. In Malaysia they remove the bitterness by lightly cooking the flowers together with another plant before discarding that plant and cooking the flowers alone again with other flavourings.
Cassava leaves can also be used to remove the bitterness of papaya flowers, as shown in this Stir Friend Papaya Flowers with Cassava Leaf recipe.
Papaya Seeds for Skin Care
If you have ever mistakenly eaten a papaya seed you will agree that it is not a pleasant experience. But regardless of this, papaya seeds can actually be used as a food. Dried, they can replace pepper and can even be used as an ingredient in salad dressings. Papaya seeds are also eaten as a natural remedy to fight parasitic infections. This anti-parasitic property is possibly due to the papain content in the seeds.
Papaya seeds can be used ground up as an an exfoliant in homemade face scrubs. Furthermore, Papaya oil is extracted from the seeds and used to treat skin conditions and even skin tone. This oil is used to make soaps and lotions that are purported to have acne fighting properties.
Make Papaya Count
The papaya plant with it's myriad of uses is not widely understood. Research continues into the various benefits of the plant and fruit, and their healing properties, but in the meantime we can be sure of a good many benefits.
Even with our current knowledge of this plant it is clearly not taken advantage of by most people. We are accustomed to throwing away the peel and seeds out of habit, and never even utilise the leaves and fruit for their beneficial properties - even though these parts of the plant are often the most potent.
In a world where prescription pills, over-the counter medications and nutrient supplements are the norm, perhaps we are overlooking a powerful source of health and healing that we can find in our very kitchens.
Ways to Introduce More Papaya into Your Diet
- Experiment with using green papaya in your cooking. Try new recipes or use a little green papaya in stews and soups in addition to other ingredients
- Have some ripe papaya at breakfast with your cereal
- Make papaya juice
- Add papaya to fruit salads
- If you have room, grow your own papaya tree so you will have a good supply of different stages and parts of the papaya plant
- When papaya is in season buy the ripe fruit cheap, mash it and freeze in batches for additions to smoothies and to add to homemade ice cream
- Try using papaya seeds in salad dressings
- Experiment with recipes that include male papaya flowers
- Use ripe papaya in baking
- Eat dried papaya as a delicious sweet snack
- Make homemade papaya pickles
- Citation: Kala CP (2012) Leaf Juice of Carica papaya L.: A Remedy of Dengue Fever. Med Aromat Plants 1:109. doi:10.4172/21670412.1000109
- Citation: Maisarah AM, Asmah R, Fauziah O (2014) Proximate Analysis, Antioxidant and Antiproliferative Activities of Different Parts of Carica Papaya. J Nutr Food Sci 4: 267. doi: 10.4172/2155-9600.1000267