Musa spp.

Herbs gallery - Banana

The bananas are a member of the genus Musa, but in the form of edible cultivars (plant varieties produced by breeding) are sterile or seedless cross forms, it is not possible to give them precise species names. In all probability, bananas developed in South-East Asia, especially in the region extending from India to New Guinea, in the primeval times from the wild species, such as Musa acuminata and Musa balbisiana that are often mentioned as the forerunner of majority of the banana cultivars, but have now proliferated all through the topics and sub-tropics. Necessarily, banana plants are of tropical damp plains.

The banana plant is a tree growing up to a height of 2 meters to 9 meters. The aerial stem of the plant is basically made up of the overlying bases of leaf higher up and is called a 'pseudo-stem'. This plant bears very large leaves which are more often than not tattered by the wind. The genuine stem is actually an underground corm that measures roughly 30 cm in length and width, which gives rise to the leaves. The corm also gives rise to suckers and they are generally made use of to propagate the plant. On the other hand, corm pieces that have buds may also be used to propagate the plant.

The flowering stem of the banana plant emerges just after a year of planting the sucker. The flower stem appear at the apex of the plant and progressively inclines itself to suspend downwards. At the terminal of this flower stem appears sterile male flowers that are shielded by large reddish bracts that form a noticeable feature of the plant till they shrivel and drop. The groups of female flowers are borne higher up the flower stem and these female flowers produce seedless fruits devoid of any fertilization (by means of a process known as parthenocarpy). At times, dark color, hard seeds are formed within the fruit provided the pollen is obtained from an adjacently growing wild species of banana.

The fruits of banana differ in length (varying from 6 cm to 35 cm) and color - they are found in green, yellow and even red color. While no seeds are actually formed, the brown spots that embody the remnants of the ovules may be noticed. It may be noted here that ovules are basically structures that produce seeds following pollination and fertilization. Following the fruiting, the pseudo-stem is chopped down, while the plant continues to exist by means of its underground suckers. When banana is cultivated commercially, the fields are maintained for about 5 to 20 years prior to undertaking re-plantation. However, several small or marginal farmers in the tropical regions sustain the squares of banana fields for as many as 50 to 60 years!

As far as production, consumption and trade of bananas is concerned, this fruit is of great significance. About 50 per cent of banana production is consumed fresh in the form of a dessert; the other 50 per cent is cooked and consumed in boiled, fried, baked or roasted form. Occasionally, green bananas that are used for culinary purpose are called 'plantains', however, the truth is that it is not possible to maintain the difference all the times. Bananas that are used for desserts only enclose roughly two per cent starch, and a high amount of sugars. In effect, of the 20 per cent sugars contained in this variety of bananas, as much as 50 per cent comprise sucrose, while the remaining is glucose and fructose. Bananas also contain 11 mg/ 100 gm of vitamin C. On the other hand, the situation is reversed for bananas used for cooking vis-�-vis the starch and sugar content. Bananas that are used for cooking contain comparatively more starch than sugars.

The fruits of banana plant have several additional utilities, for instance, they can be canned, to prepare purees as well as be added to bakery products and ice-creams. Raw or unripe banana fruit is cut into thin pieces to prepare a snack food called banana chips, while the ripened banana fruits are occasionally dehydrated and called banana figs. It may be noted that banana chips enclose roughly 38 per cent starch plus 22 per cent total sugars (comprising sucrose), but does not contain much of vitamin C. On the other hand, dehydrated ripe bananas contain roughly 50 per cent of total sugars, while the amount of vitamin C is greatly diminished. Bananas used to prepare desserts can be easily digested by children and older adults alike. It is also believed to be an appropriate food for them as well as people enduring intestinal problems. People in East Africa prepare beer by fermenting ripe banana fruits, while they chop the pseudo-stems as well as other parts of the banana plant used as cattle fodder. On the other hand, people in south-east Asian nations consume the cooked (boiled) male buds of banana.

It may be noted that Africa alone produces roughly half of the world's bananas and people in East Africa cook bananas and use them as a staple food. Interestingly enough, the consumption of bananas by people in this region is extremely high and may be to the extent of 400 kg per person per year! While international trade of bananas commenced only a little over 100 years, today this fruit is an important item of global commerce. Bananas are primarily exported to regions, such as Europe, North America, and Japan, while the major amount of this fruit is produced in countries like Africa, the Philippines, the Caribbean islands as well as South and Central America. On the other hand Fiji and Samoa export their banana produce to New Zealand. Most of the bananas produced in Africa and Australia are consumed locally, leaving only a fraction of the production for export. Bananas that are exported are transported in green or unripe condition in refrigerated ships. The fruits are ripened to the yellow state in the countries that import the fruit, occasionally employing ethylene gas to facilitate the ripening process.

It may be noted that 'ensete' (botanical name Ensete ventricosa) is a crop that is a close relation of banana and is cultivated in the form of a staple food in a number of southern and south-eastern regions of Ethiopia. This plant is cultivated in fields that are located at altitudes of 1500 meters to 3000 meters. The pseudo-stems as well as the corms of ensete are made into pulps and it is either cooked fresh or brewed and subsequently, used for making bread.

Health benefits of bananas

Chemical analysis of banana has revealed that this fruit primarily encloses sugars, such as glucose, sucrose and fructose, and fiber, which make them perfect for an instantaneous as well as somewhat long-drawn-out energy source. Bananas have a number of condition specific uses and some of them are discussed below briefly.

Bananas have a comparatively high iron content that assists the functioning of the hemoglobin in our body.
Lessening depression
It has been found that bananas enclose an amino acid called tryptophan that can be transformed to serotonin, which results in uplifting the mood of individuals consuming this fruit.
Diarrhea and constipation
As bananas contain high amount of fiber, this fruit facilitates in reinstating a usual bowel function. Additionally, diarrhea more often than not reduces vital electrolytes present in our body. Among these electrolytes, the content of potassium is most important in bananas. Besides the electrolytes, bananas also enclose pectin, a solvable fiber called hydrocolloid, which facilitates in regularizing the movements all the way through the digestive tract.
Morning sickness
Having banana in the form of snacks between meals assists in maintaining high levels of blood sugar, thereby, preventing morning sickness.
Bananas possess a normal antacid impact within the body; hence, if you are enduring heartburn, it is advisable that you consume a banana to ease the problem.
Healthy bones
Bananas have an extremely rich content of a substance called fructooligosaccharide - a compound that provides nourishment to probiotic or beneficial bacteria present in the colon. These friendly bacteria make enzymes that enhance our ability to digest food as well as protect our body from the bacterial infections caused by the harmful pathogens. It is owing to fructooligosaccharides that the probiotic (beneficial) bacteria are able to multiply in number as well as augment their functionality. This, in turn, augments the ability of our body to assimilate calcium. Moreover, green or unripe bananas enclose hard to digest short chain fatty acids (SCFAs), which are extremely nourishing to the cells that comprise the mucosa in the stomach. When these cells are vigorous, they assist the body to absorb calcium more effectively.
Eyesight protection
According to the findings of a study that was reported in the Archives of Ophthalmology have substantiated that adults who consume a minimum of three servings of fruit daily lower the risk of having the age-related macular degeneration (ARMD) by 36 per cent (it may be noted here that ARMD is the main reason for loss of vision among older people), in comparison to people who eat under 1.5 serving of fruit every day.
Blood pressure
As mentioned earlier, the potassium content in banana is very high (approximately 4673 mg). On the other hand, this fruit encloses very less amount of sodium (1 mg). This, however, is an ideal proportion for putting off high blood pressure (hypertension). Banana is so useful in this regard that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have recently permitted the banana industry to make authorized propagation regarding the fruits aptitude to lower the perils of blood pressure as well as stroke.
Healthy kidney
According to a rough estimate, as many as 190,000 incidents of cancer are analyzed annually. Findings of a study reported in the International Journal of Cancer have demonstrated that consuming whole fruits, especially banana, and vegetables every day is extremely beneficial for the health of our kidney. The findings have further shown that women who consume 2.5 servings of fruits and vegetables on a regular basis for a prolonged period of time (about 13.4 years) lower the risk of developing kidney cancer by about 40 per cent. It says that among all fruits, banana was found to be additionally protecting. Women who consume bananas for about four to six times every week actually reduced the risk of developing kidney cancer by 50 per cent, in comparison to those who did not consume this fruit at all. Concluding the report on the study, the authors said that consuming fruits and vegetable very often, particularly banana, root vegetables and cabbage, may perhaps lower the perils of developing kidney cancer. Substantiating this view, the authors said that this is primarily owing to the fact that bananas as well as several root vegetables enclose exceptionally high quantities of antioxidant phenolic compounds, whereas cabbage has rich sulfur content and sulfur is essential for effectual detoxification of latent carcinogens.
It is interesting to note that consuming bananas will possibly assist people who are endeavouring to quit smoking. Bananas enclose vitamins B6 and B12, in addition to magnesium and potassium, which facilitate the body in recuperating from the consequences of nicotine withdrawal.
As mentioned above, bananas have a rich content of B vitamins - especially vitamins B6 and B12, which have proved to augment the functioning of the nerves.
Banana is the solitary raw fruit which may be consumed with no distress in cases of over-chronicle. Consumption of bananas facilitates in lowering acidity as well as irritation. At the same time, bananas have the aptitude to invigorate the cells lining the inner side of the stomach to make a dense mucus that helps to provide protection against acids. In addition, bananas also enclose protease inhibitors that facilitate in getting rid of bacteria, which have been identified as the pathogen primarily responsible for development of ulcers, from the stomach.
Stroke risk
Findings of a research published in The New England Journal of Medicine say that consuming bananas in the form of an ingredient of a regular meal has the aptitude to lower the risk of death owing to strokes by roughly about 40 per cent.
Stress relief
As most of us are aware, bananas are very rich in potassium content and this facilitates in regularizing the heart beat as well as controls the water balance of the body. When an individual is undergoing periods of high stress, the potassium levels in his or her body are inclined to exhaust very fast. In such cases, consuming bananas is a healthy means to normalize the balance even by not using any drug.
Mosquito bites
Several people have affirmed that rubbing the inner side of the banana peel on a mosquito bite is extremely useful in lessening the itching as well as the distension caused by the bite.