SOME FABULOUS TROPICAL FRUITS:
With Some Folk Medicine History
Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food. Old Chinese proverb.
We have known
through most of the 20th century that fruit is an invaluable source
of Vitamin C and essential minerals such as potassium, phosphorous, magnesium
or calcium. The very recent science of phyto (plant) chemicals has
discovered numerous other micro-nutrients in plant foods heretofore unknown.
These include antioxidants, acids, sugars and flavanoids that one health writer
has called “nature’s hand grenades to throw against cancer and other
It simply means that more goodness and health is found in fruit than we have realized.
Without knowing any of the findings of the scientific age, indigenous cultures for centuries found relief from infections, parasites and other illnesses in the fruit and leaves of trees. At least half of the world’s population today do not have access to modern medicine and must therefore continue to rely on natural remedies. But even where modern medicine is freely available, more and more people are turning to the use of nature-based products for “complementary” medicine.
Tropical Fruit World and Research Park is a horticultural rather than a medical enterprise. We advise everybody to consult their own health professional on all medical questions. We do not recommend or prescribe any natural remedies. But in this publication we will report on how the fruit and leaves of various trees have been used in folk medicine as a remedy for illnesses or as an aid to human well-being. We simply report these things without making any medical claims, implied or otherwise, in respect to the use of any fruit or plant.
We would like the visitor to Tropical Fruit World to find that the traditions and possible uses of tropical fruit are fascinating and exciting. We hope that the reader will discover a lot of fun and surprises in the exuberant colours and extravagant flavours than only tropical fruit can embody.
If you could choose only one fruit to sustain you on a deserted island, you could not do better than to choose the Avocado. It alone would give you every vitamin, mineral, and amino acid (protein) essential to human health, plus vital fatty acids and fibre.
Put simply, the
Avocado is the world’s most nutritious fruit not just in terms of body fuel
(calories or kilojoules) but in terms of its astounding balance of essential
nutrients. Besides, if you happened to be very young or old with a weak
digestion or needed a fruit low in sugar with a low glycemic index (GI) bec
If that is not
enough to recommend this amazing fruit, Avocado is packed with a group of amino
acids called glutathione that work as
an antioxidant to fight against cancer and the aging process. The fruit is rich
in beta-sitosterol that is now
prescribed as an anti-cholesterol drug. Used internally or externally, the
avocado happens to be a genuine be
And there is
more! Avocados were celebrated as an aphrodisiac among the Aztec Indians in
whose territory in
As a butter
fruit, the Avocado enhances the flavour of other foods. It is the most
versatile of all fruits bec
ABIU (Pouteria caimito)
yellow fruit has the size and appearance of a roundish lemon. It comes from the
Amazon region in
STAR APPLE (Chrysophyllum cainito)
This fruit is a close relative to the Abiu. Its fruit texture and latex is quite similar, only that the Star Apple has a purple or green skin, whilst the flesh inside presents a pretty white and purple star when the fruit is cut in half. This gives the fruit great decorative qualities. Although pleasant to eat, the Star Apple lacks the fuller taste and the outstanding nutritional levels of the Abiu.
A decoction (made
by boiling the leaves) is used against diabetes and articular rheumatism. The
latex is used in the same way as the latex of the Abiu. The fruit pulp is eaten to sooth sore throats
and to relieve other pulmonary disorders. It is also reported by the
BLACK SAPOTE ( Diospyros digyna)
Black Persimmon or Chocolate Pudding Fruit, the Black Sapote does not belong to
the Sapotacea family of fruits at all. Although it is native to
Nutritionally, the Chocolate Pudding Fruit is noted for having about four times the Vitamin C content of an orange as well as being a rich source of dietary calcium, phosphorous and potassium.
BANANA (Musa sp.)
In the popularity stakes, the Banana wins hands down as the world’s most highly consumed fruit. It is famous as a source of high energy and dietary potassium. Throughout the world the fruit is eaten ripe out of hand, cooked, dried or served as salted banana chips. The leaves are widely used for wrapping food for cooking. The fibre of the banana plant has been used to make native handbags, rope and even clothing. Large undamaged leaves come in handy as an improvised umbrella by placing the leaf over the head and down the back.
Concerning the wide medicinal use of the banana plant, the Purdue University horticultural site reports, “All parts of the banana plant have medicinal applications: the flowers in bronchitis and dysentery and on ulcers; cooked flowers are given to diabetics; the astringent plant sap in cases of hysteria, epilepsy, leprosy, fevers, haemorrhages, acute dysentery and diarrhoea, and it is applied on haemorrhoids, insect and other stings and bites; young leaves are placed as poultices on burns and other skin afflictions; the astringent ashes of the unripe peel and of the leaves are taken in dysentery and diarrhoea and used for treating malignant ulcers; the roots are administered in digestive disorders, dysentery and other ailments.” And more!
We need to remember that dysentery and diarrhoea are still major killers in areas of the world where people have access only to such natural remedies.
CANISTEL (Pouteria campechiana)
American fruit is also known as the Egg Fruit – so-called bec
When it comes to nutrition, the Canistel is a real contender for being called a super food.
It packs about 50% more energy than the Banana, nearly as much protein as the Avocado, about as much niacin and vitamin C as the amazing abiu fruit, plus high amounts of dietary calcium and phosphorous.
MAMEY SAPOTE (Pouteria sapota)
This is the
largest (the mother) of all the sapotacea family of fruits, all of which
resembles something like sweet potato flavoured with dates. Or an American-
style pumpkin pie dessert. In the few places where the fruit can be procured in
The nutritional table of the Mamey Sapote is very similar to the table for the Canistel. It too is high in energy, calcium, phosphorous and niacin. It is also much higher in protein than most fruit. It contains an appreciable amount of vitamin C (29 mg per 100 grams).
The oil from
Mamey Sapote seeds is used among many Central American natives as a hair
tonic. Tests have proven that it is
effective against dermatitis of the scalp. A decoction of the bitter bark of
the tree is administered in
GREEN SAPOTE (Pouteria viride)
The Green Sapote tree looks so much like the Mamey Sapote that it is difficult to tell them apart. The fruit of the Green Sapote is generally smaller than its sister fruit, but the difference between the taste of one fruit and the other would be no greater than the difference between an orange and a mandarin. Most palates would rate the taste of the Green Sapote as slightly better. Not surprisingly, the nutritional table is much the same for both fruits except that the Green Sapote has nearly double the amount of vitamin C (53 mg per 100 grams).
The medicinal uses of the Green Sapote are the same as the Mamey Sapote
SAPODILLA (Manilkara sapota)
originating in southern
Today the fruit
is popular in
Immature fruit contain tannin. They are boiled and the decoction is taken to stop dysentery and diarrhoea. It is also drunk as a remedy for coughs and colds. A paste made from the seeds is applied to relieve stings and bites.
The three most significant fruit from the Annonaceae family are the Soursop, the Rollinia and the Custard Apple.
SOURSOP (Annona muricata)
magnificent fruit is native to
The Soursop tree
is more tropical than its custard apple cousin, but grows quite well in the
warmer coastal pockets of
The fruit is a good source of calcium, phosphorous, and the vitamins B1, B2 and C.
Soursop has a long tradition of use in folk medicine. The juice of the ripe fruit is regarded as a tonic. It is used as a fever stopper, parasite killer and an antidiuretic. A decoction of the green fruit is used as a remedy for diarrhoea. But it is the leaves of the tree that have gained the widest reputation as a sedative and soporific (sleep inducer). They are used to moderate high blood pressure and high blood sugar levels, and to treat common coughs, fevers, indigestion, rheumatism, inflammations and swollen feet.
In recent years there has been a growing interest in using soursop leaves in the treatment of some cancers in alternative and complimentary medicine. A number of Internet sites are reporting research into the phytochemicals found in the annonacea family of plants that may prove to have antiviral and anti-carcenogenic properties. More than half of our modern medicines are derived from plants. That the leaves from some trees are thought to contain healing powers is a very old tradition among human cultures.
ROLLINIA (Rollinia deliciosa and Rollinia mucosa)
The Rollinia is
sometimes called the Amazon Custard Apple bec
Unfortunately this truly fabulous fruit has to turn yellow and ripen on the tree before it is harvested. This gives it a very short shelf life, so it is not likely to be sold to the public except at local farmers’ markets.
Rollinia has more protein in it than almost any other kind of fruit. It is also an excellent source of calcium, phosphorous, iron and vitamin C.
highly prized and is even used for wine making in some areas of
CUSTARD APPLE (Annona atemoya)
The Custard Apple
fruit is the best known of the annonaceae family of fruit. The species that is known to Australians was
developed by crossing the American Cherimoya and the American Sugar Apple. The two best known varieties – Pink Mammonth
and African Pride – were developed in
The pearl white flesh is very sweet and aromatic. The flavour is enhanced by chilling or even freezing. The fruit is generally eaten out of hand with a spoon or cut into fruit salads. It may be blended with orange juice, lime and cream to make a delicious ice-cream.
Custard Apple is an excellent source of potassium (250 mg per 100 grams), calcium, phosphorous, iron, and vitamins A and C.
seeds are very toxic. The indigenous
GUAVA (Psidium quavaja)
Guava is one of largest edible fruit crops of the world. It is a small and very hardy tree that grows wild along roadsides and in the bush throughout many of the tropical and sub-tropical regions of the world. Even in some countries that produce thousands of tons of guava pulp, it is estimated that the wild crop exceeds the amount that is commercially grown and harvested.
Guava comes in
many shapes and sizes – from the small cherry guavas to varieties that are as
large as a grapefruit, some with pink or red flesh and some with creamy white
flesh. The fruit has a strong, sweet and very pleasant taste and musky odour.
The soft interior of the fruit is full of gritty little seeds that have to be
swallowed rather than chewed.
outstanding nutritional feature of Guava is its high concentration of vitamin C
– five or more times than an orange. However, most of
the vitamin C is not in the soft centre of the fruit, but in the flesh beneath
the skin, and more so when the fruit is semi-ripe. The best source of vitamin C
is found in a variety called the Guisaro or Pineapple Cherry Guava. It grows on
a small hardy shrub that is ideal for the home garden, not only bec
When it comes to
folk medicine or natural remedies, the uses of the Guava is astonishing. First of
all the leaves and immature fruit, bec
In recent times
the antibacterial, antiamoebic and antispasmodic properties of Guava has been
validated by clinical tests. Some natural medicine advocates claim that guava
is beneficial for hypertension and for lowering blood sugar levels. But bec
(For further reading, see the websites www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/nexus/Psidium_guajava_nex.html and www.rain-tree.com/guava.htm )
ACEROLA (Malphighia glabra)
This little West
Indian berry grows on a pretty shrub that would enhance any home garden. It is
also called the
RED DRAGON FRUIT (Hylocereus undatus and Hylocereus polyrhyizus)
YELLOW DRAGON FRUIT (Hylocereus guatamelensis) (Selenicereus megalanthus)
In the Central
and South American countries where these cactus fruits originated, they
generally go by the Spanish name of Pitaya or Pitahya. As their cultivation has
spread around the world, the fruit has acquired a great variety of names,
including dragon fruit, a name derived from its widespread cultivation in Asian
countries such as
Dragon Fruit generally have an attractive red skin decorated with petals that resemble the petals of an artichoke. The appearance of the fruit suggests a likeness to a gorgeous red flower. When the fruit is cut in half, it looks almost too good to be eaten. The most striking species (Hylocereus polyrhyizus) has the brightest cardinal red flesh dotted with tiny black seeds; the other species (Hylocereus undatus) has gleaming white flesh dotted with tiny black seeds. This latter species often goes by the name of “Pearl Dragon Fruit.”
The taste of both species of the Dragon Fruit is almost the same. It resembles a kiwi fruit in both texture and taste. The thick leathery skin may be pealed off as easily as a banana skin, or a half of the fruit may be scooped out with a spoon. The mild, sweet flesh may be enhanced by some lemon or lime juice.
The colour of the red-fleshed Dragon Fruit immediately suggests all kinds of decorative possibilities in salads and desserts. Its powerful red pigments are a natural food colorant.
New to the Australian market, the red Dragon Fruit are quickly becoming popular and widely cultivated to meet a growing demand. Next to Avocado, the Dragon Fruit and Yellow Pitahya has become Tropical Fruit World’s largest commercial crop.
The Yellow Pitahya (Selenicereus magalanthus) that should not be called Dragon Fruit if for no other reason than it belongs to another genus of the cacticeae family. It has yellow skin, white flesh and black seeds like the dragon pearl, but its flesh is much sweeter than either red dragon fruit. The Yellow Pitahya is the best tasting cactus fruit of all. It is half the size of its red cousins and is covered in spines that fortunately are easily brushed away when the fruit if ripe. The seeds in all these cactus fruit add nothing but decoration and some pleasant crunch, being just as edible as the seeds in kiwi fruit.
The red-fleshed Dragon Fruit is one of the richest known sources of betacyanin, an antioxidant that fights against cancer and the ageing process. The powerful red pigments that contain the betacyanin are now being researched as a replacement for some harmful artificial food colorants.
In the folk
Pitahya is widely regarded in folk medicine as a heart tonic. A preparation of
the flowers and young shoots of the plant (crushed and dried) have been used to
treat irregular heart beat and angina pectoris.
In some cases an extract of the young shoots and flowers is used in an
alcoholic tincture. It is now known that this plant material contains an
alkaloid called cactine which acts on the body in much the same way as
digitalis. Cactine is widely used in the cosmetic industry as a be
PAPAYA (Carica papaya)
Contrary to what some people imagine, the Carica papaya is a single species of fruit that goes by two different names. There are just different varieties of the fruit that comes in different shapes and sizes as well as different colours and tastes just like there are different varieties of mandarins. In tropical countries, the flesh of the Papaya is often pink or red. The Reds, as they are sometimes called, have a mild sweet taste without that very distinctive, and to some palates, objectionable Papaya taste The yellow-fleshed Papaya, on the other hand, do better in sub-tropical regions, and they do have a stronger, and sometimes slightly bitter taste.
The taste of Papaya is enhanced enormously by the addition of some lime juice. The taste of a strong yellow Papaya can be made acceptable to almost any palate if the fruit is cut into cubes and simmered in lemon juice and honey for several minutes. If not otherwise told, most dinner guests would guess that they were eating delicious stewed peaches.
countries, mature green Papaws are cooked as a vegetable or grated and made
into a delicious green Papaya (Thai) salad that is marinated in lemon juice and
flavoured with oyster s
When it comes to an all round health fruit, Papaya is a strong contender to head the list.
The fruit contains a fair source of calcium and iron, a good source of vitamins A, B, and G, and an excellent source of vitamin C – nearly double the amount of an orange. Its most unique feature is that it contains a digestive agent called papain. This breaks down the amino acids (proteins). Papain is also used as tenderizer in the food industry. Whether the fruit is eaten by infants or the old and very frail, it facilitates good digestion and helps to alleviate reflux and some other digestive disorders. There is much more papain in the green fruit.
Papaya with cereal makes the ideal breakfast. It will set the stomach in a good mood for the day. Or blend up some Papaya, preferably with the skin (no seeds), orange juice and honey to get that papain working for you.
The seeds are
spicy like black pepper. Not many should
be eaten by pregnant women, however, bec
In folk medicine, the papain found in the sap of the green Papaya is used to treat ulcers and skin infections. It can remove warts and related skin tags. There are reported cases where even modern hospitals have used strips of Papaya to treat post-operative infections when other means have failed. A Papaya extract (chemopapain) is sometimes injected into spinal discs and pinched nerves by the orthopaedic profession.
To be continued…
Web Published – August 2008
Copyright © 2008 Robert D. Brinsmead