Herbaceous tree growing very rapidly to 26 ft (8 m). Has segmented leaves, yellow flowers, and large, black-seeded yellow to orange fruits weighing up to 11 lb (5 kg).
Habitat & Cultivation
Native to tropical America, papaya is now cultivated in tropical regions throughout the world.
Fruit, latex, leaves, flowers, seeds.
The fruit contains proteolytic enzymes (papain and chymopapain), and traces of an alkaloid, carpaine. Papain, which is found in the milky white latex that flows from incisions in the unripe fruit, is a protein-dissolving enzyme that aids digestion.
History & Folklore
Papaya juice, shoots, and latex were used in Mayan herbal medicine. In tropical Latin America, the leaves are used as a meat tenderizer.
Medicinal Actions & Uses
Papaya’s main medicinal use is as a digestive agent. The leaves and the fruit can both be used (the unripe fruit is especially effective). The latex from the trunk of the tree is applied externally to speed the healing of wounds, ulcers, boils, warts, and cancerous tumors. The seeds are used as a gentle purgative for worms. The latex has a similar but more violent effect. The flowers may be taken in an infusion to induce menstruation, and a decoction of the ripe fruit is helpful for treating persistent diarrhea and dysentery in children. The ripe fruit is mildly laxative and the leaves are used to dress wounds.