A native of tropical America, papaya was used as food and medicine long before Columbus discovered the New World. The plant is grown in many parts of the world including Australia and New Zealand where it's known as pawpaw.
Best known for its yellow and sweet fruit, the pawpaw tree has a milky sap which has been identified as papain, an enzyme that can digest protein of up to thirty-five times its own weight. Because of this action, papain, similar to pepsin (an enzyme produced by the gastric juices of the stomach) is a very effective treatment for those who have trouble digesting protein and it's also used for breaking up blood clots after surgery. The leaves also have a use - an alkaloid isolated from them is used as a heart depressant.
Actions: stomachic, digestive, vermifuge, and vulnerary.
Parts used: the milky juice of the unripe fruit either fresh or powdered. The leaves have been used to dress festering wounds.
While traditional uses includes the treatment of diphtheria, intestinal worms, and burns, the plant's sap is now used to treat dyspepsia and other digestive difficulties, and is added to creams for itches and stings. The juice has also been used to help remove freckles and taken internally it helps to expel worms. There is even a flower essence made from the plant's flowers that addresses the feeling of being overwhelmed, difficulty with resolving problems, and being burdened by decision making. Because improper protein breakdown in the system can lead to allergies, papain may be a useful treatment.
Ripe pawpaw is eaten raw, however the green fruit must be cooked first. The juice of the fruit is used to tenderise meat. The black seeds can be dried and used as an alternative to pepper, but they can have an adverse effect on the digestive tract.
Whatever its uses, the ripe fruit of the pawpaw plant is delicious, especially when the flesh is juicy and sweet.
Proprietor, author, and tutor of The Home Herbalist Online Course.