From Eat the Weeds
and Other Things Too website
by Green Deane
Carica papaya: Survivalist plant
Papaya in fruit in January in Florida
comes from the grocery store, unless you live where it seldom freezes.
Then it is another wild edible, naturalized in most warm areas. And
there’s more to it than just the fruit. But first, what is it?
Surprisingly there is a debate whether the papaya (Carica papaya
KAIR-rick-uh puh-PYE-yuh)) is a tree or an herb. It seems to meet
the expectations of both. They fudge the difference and call it a
giant herbaceous plant, one that can grow 10 feet a year and to 30-feet
first introduction to papaya was a retired postman in Rockledge, Fl.,
who terraced his very small house lot to grow hundreds of papayas of
all kinds and shapes. He was a home-spun naturalist who dug up mastodon
teeth on the weekends and grew the largest papayas I’ve ever seen.
The seeds and young leaves are edible, too
can also surprise you. I grew one for about eight years but had a
constant problem with papaya flies ruining the fruit. Yet papayas
growing wild on the east coast at Turtle Mound survive elevation,
frost, freezes and fruit flies. Like the banana the papaya is more than
its fruit, which can be cooked when green or eaten raw when ripe. The
young leaves and flowers are edible boiled, and the inner pith of the
main stalk is edible raw. The roots are edible if boiled a long time.
And if you run out of soapy washcloths the older leaves have saponins
and can be used as a wash cloth. Now, let’s go where few
First, the papaya is a berry. Yeph a berry. And it is
in the family as maypops, Passifloras, which makes sense as the leaf
and fruit structure are similar. Most folks toss the black seeds away
but they are edible, too. They are peppery and can be used like
pepper. They also stay viable for three years. Papayas are native to
Central American and moved around the world with Spanish exploration in
the 1500’s. Surprisingly the papaya did not get to Florida until
the 1900’s from the Bahamas. Not bad for a runt. You see,
papaya was domesticated in Central America from weedy and almost
inedible original plant. It has experienced significant changes in
fruit size, growth habit, and flesh color under human cultivation. It
was first mentioned in 1526 by Oviedo.
Papaya blooms are pretty
pack a nutritional wallop: Per 100 gram edible portion papayas are
water 88%, calories 43, protein 0.6%, fat 0.1%, carbs 10%, crude Fiber
0.1% and provides of the of US RDA* 48% Vitamin A; 3.6% Thiamin,
B1; 8.1% Riboflavin, B2; 2.2% Niacin; 80% Vitamin C; 2.4% Calcium; 1.6%
Phosphorus; 3% iron; 5% Potassium.
The only real confusing thing
about papayas is their sex and reproduction. They are male,
female and bisexual. The females and hermaphrodites make fruit but you
need one male plant for every 10 of the others. On the male plant the
flowers are on stems. On the female the flowers are directly on the
main trunk (see above.)
Carica comes from the Greek word
karike, which was a kind of fig. The papaya was called that because of
its fig-like leaves. Papaya is what the Caribs called the papaya.
Some times it is wrongly called a pawpaw or papaw.
Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile
A large, single-stemmed herbaceous plant, to 30 feet, leaves are very
large, up to 2 ½ feet wide, palmate (hand shaped) stems one to
three feet. Trunk to a foot thick, with prominent leaf scars. Flowers
waxy, ivory white on trunk Fruit larger to 20 pounds, oval to round,
central seed cavity with black seeds. Fruit born on main stem, flesh is
yellow-orange to salmon at maturity. Plants begin bearing in 6-12
Time of year: In tropical climes nearly continuously, in more temperate areas late summer through the winter if no frost or freeze.
Environment: An opportunist, it likes good soil, water and sun. Trash heaps, middens, old homesteads, margins.
Method of preparation:
Ripe fruit raw, unripe fruit cooked; young leaves and flowers
boiled, roots boiled a long time, inner pith of main trunk raw.
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reference to be used in conjunction with experts in your area. Foraging
should never begin without the guidance and approval of a local plant
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