Pawpaw

Asimina triloba

Herbs gallery - Pawpaw

Common names

  • Common Pawpaw
  • Pawpaw
  • Papaw

The pawpaw, scientific name Asimina triloba, is a small tree native to eastern parts of the United States and Canada. This deciduous species is known for its large fruit, with a green, yellow or brown color. It is part of the Asimina genus and the Annonaceae family, which also includes the ylang-ylang, soursop, custard apple, cherimoya and sweetsop.

The species grows in patches as an under story tree. Pawpaw is found on hilly uplands and fertile bottom land areas, on soils with good drainage. Pawpaw is known for having large leaves and the biggest fruit that grows in the United States. Technically, gourds are larger but these are usually counted as vegetables in cooking, even if from a scientific point of view they are actually considered to be fruits.

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The fruit of the pawpaw has a sweet and delicious flesh. It can be consumed raw and the taste has been compared to a mango, banana or cantaloupe. It can also serve as an ingredient in bakery products and ice cream.

The pawpaw can be considered a large shrub or small tree. The pawpaw trunk grows to a maximum diameter of 30 cm, while the height is between 11 and 14 m. The foliage has a distinctive imbricated aspect because the leaves are large in size and grow in symmetrical clusters at the end of branches.

Pawpaw leaves have a length between 25 and 30 cm and a width of 10 to 13 cm. The species is deciduous and its large leaves have whole margins, acute tips, a base similar to a wedge and an overall obovate to lanceolate shape. They are simple, with very visible veins and midribs, and grow in alternate pairs, in a spiral pattern. The short petioles have deep adaxial grooves and lack stipules. Immature pawpaw leaves are green, with a hairy top and a rusty-like covering on the underside. Once mature, the leaves become smooth, with a paler nuance of green beneath. If sap is released from the leaves by bruising, the unpleasant smell resembles green bell peppers. The leaves become rusty yellow during the autumn, a distinctive feature of the species.

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The pawpaw flowers have a diameter between 3 and 5 cm and consist of six petals and three sepals. They have a red or maroon color when fully developed and grow isolated on axillary peduncles covered in hairs. The flowers emerge in early spring earlier or at the same time as the leaves. They have a weak fetid smell that is also found in the fruits.

Pawpaw fruits are large berries with a green or yellow color. They are the biggest fruits in the USA, with a weight up to 500 g, a length of 5 to 16 cm and between 3 and 7 cm wide. The soft white edible pulp contains a number of dark seeds, with a diameter of 15 to 25 mm. The fruits are green when immature but by the months of September or October they become fully ripe and turn yellow or rarely brown. They are so heavy that the branches can't support them and bend towards the ground.

Parts used

Fruits, leaves, roots, seeds.

Uses

The pawpaw is an ancient cure for the fever caused by malaria. The juice from yellow leaves must be combined with water and taken for a week, three times per day. The same mixture is effective against jaundice. A similar treatment can be prepared from the green leaves in order to reduce high blood pressure caused by diabetes. It should also be taken three times per day and is said to cure constipation as well.

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Unripe pawpaw fruits can be used to relieve stomach ulcers. A large immature fruit must be sectioned into cubes, without removing the seeds of the skin. Put the pieces in five bottles of water and wait five days, then sieve the water inside. This effective treatment for intestinal ulcers is taken for two weeks, half a glass three times per day.

Immature fruits have a white sap resembling milk that is rich in a bioactive compound named papain. It can be used to treat any kind of external ulcers or wounds. The sap is easily collected by making an incision on the unripe fruit. The compound is also found in the mature fruit, in a lower concentration.

A traditional treatment during asthma attacks is to inhale the smoke from dried pawpaw leaves. This method can also be used to prevent attacks, by inhaling the smoke every evening before going to bed.

Pawpaw roots are known as an effective remedy against bronchitis and some other respiratory problems. The treatment is also prepared by boiling the roots in water and drinking half of a glass of the liquid three times per day. It also serves as a cure for piles but the dosage is lower and you should only take half a glass twice per day in this case. Against cough, it is enough to just chew the plants root and ingest the juice.

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Unripe pawpaw fruits are believed to cure male impotence. Two fruits should be cut into cubes, preserving seeds and peel in the same way as the treatment for stomach ulcers. Add about eight bottles of water and boil the fruit parts, then drink half a glass three times every day.

Immature pawpaw fruits can be applied directly on external wounds, sores or ulcers. A piece of the fruit must be tied on top of the affected area, four times per day. A few days or weeks will be needed until the wound is completely closed. Consuming the ripe fruit in the meantime is said to speed up the healing process.

Internal worms can be eliminated by chewing two tablespoons of ripe fruit seeds twice per day over three days. You must chew them as soon as you wake up and just before going to bed and breakfast and supper should only consist of fruits during the three days.

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The pawpaw fruits provide a large amount of vitamins A, B and C, all of which are very important for human health. Vitamin A improves eyesight; vitamin B complex maintains muscles and nerves, while vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that provides an immune system boost.

Habitat and cultivation

The pawpaw tree needs wet soil with good drainage but tolerates various soil compositions, including alkaline ones. Pawpaw tree is very difficult to transplant, due to the long taproots. The best way to propagate the pawpaw is to just plant the seed in your garden. After stratification, they can be planted in a cool and wet location, where they will develop at a slow pace.

The species is known to propagate itself through root suckers that must be kept under control if you don't want a large number of clones in your garden.

Pawpaw trees are quite resilient and are rarely affected by diseases. Rot and decay are encountered sometimes, the usual cause being wet soil due to poor drainage. Most pests and insects don't attack this tree but there are a few that feed on it. Talponia plummeriana, or the pawpaw peduncle borer, consumes the flowers and lowers the production of fruits. The larvae of zebra swallowtail (Eurytides marcellus) consume the leaves but rarely have a real impact on the plant.

The pawpaw tree is becoming increasingly popular as a garden and landscape species. The main advantages are the edible fruit, distinctive shape and the low maintenance required after it reaches maturity. One issue of the pawpaw is the very difficult transplanting due to the long taproots and very delicate root hairs. Keeping some wet soil in the root mass can offer some protection but generally only the trees grown in containers are transplanted effectively.

Side effects and cautions

The seeds are known to be poisonous due to the presence of a toxic alkaloid compound. Leaves can affect the skin of sensitive people on contact, leading to dermatitis. In very rare cases, dermatitis appears after touching the fruits as well.

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