Papaya or pawpaw (Carica papaya)

Ripening Papaya fruit turns from green to orangish-yellowThe papaya is a large, tree-like plant growing 5 to 10 meters (16 to 33 feet) tall, with a soft, hollow trunk. When cut, the entire plant exudes a milky juice. The trunk is rough and scarred (where leaves and fruit were borne).  Its large leaves (20-28 inches in diameter) are spirally arranged at the top of the tree The fruit grows directly from the trunk, among and below the leaves, and is about 5-18 inches long by 4-12 inches in diameter. The fruit is green before ripening. When ripe, it turns yellow or orange or remains greenish with a squash-like appearance.

Papaya fruit hanging low from a treeWhere to Find: Papaya is found in rain forests and semi-evergreen seasonal forests in tropical regions and in some temperate regions as well. Look for it in moist areas near clearings and former habitations. It is also found in open, sunny places in uninhabited jungle areas.

Edible Parts: The ripe fruit is high in vitamin C. Eat it raw or cook it like squash. Place green fruit in the sun to make it ripen quickly. Cook the young papaya leaves, flowers, and stems carefully, changing the water a couple of times during cooking.  The black papaya seeds are edible and can be ground up and used as a pepper substitute.

Papaya fruit is rich in vitamins A, B, and C as well as minerals and dietary fibre.  The Papaya skins an seeds contain natural phenols.

Other Uses: Papaya fruit hanging from a treeThe papaya fruit is rich in papain, a common component in meat tenderizers.  Use the milky juice of the unripe fruit to tenderize tough meat. Rub the juice on the meat.

Note: Be careful not to get the milky sap from the unripe fruit into your eyes. It will cause intense pain and temporary—sometimes even permanent—blindness.

Fermented papaya flesh can be used to create an ointment that can be used as a treatment for cuts, rashes, burns, and stings.  Studies indicate unripe papaya may have a contraceptive effect in both women and men and in large doses, may cause miscarriages in women.

Looking up the Papaya tree, the distinct leaves and Papaya fruit

Papaya leaf

Papaya leaf

An older, larger Papaya leaf

Female Papaya flowers are yellowish and curled

Male Papaya flowers

Cross section of a Papaya fruit

Color drawing depicting the Papaya plant and its various components

Color drawing of a Papaya plant showing the tree, flowers, seeds, and cross section of the fruit

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