If a popularity contest between fruits were to be held today, there are perpetual contenders you would expect to be on the list irrespective of which part of the world you live in – think banana, think orange, mango, pineapple, papaya and a few other usual suspects.
The latter may not pip the banana to the most-consumed-fruit-in-the-world gong, but it quite certainly has grown in popularity recently, with global production rising steadily in the last several decades. The reason behind this has nothing to do with improving climatic conditions. No. It’s the perceived nutritional and health benefits that have led many to brand papaya a nutrient powerhouse.
The same cannot be said of its close cousin, the graviola. The popularity part that is. But make no mistake, this tropical fruit has a high-value ace card when it comes to health benefits.
Short History of Papaya and its Uses
Its origin remains a little obscure but the fruit known scientifically as Carica papaya is widely believed to be native to southern Mexico and Central America. It boasts a rich history tracing back to as ancient a civilization as the Mayan. They had christened it the “Tree of Life” due the broad spectrum of ailments it was believed to cure.
And not just in the Mayan Kingdom.
Many other traditional societies used papaya as a folk medicine to treat various symptoms and diseases. And just as today, every part of the plant was a hit with the locals.
From using papaya seeds to fight inflammation thanks to their analgesic properties, consuming the leaves as a herbal tea or vegetable in a bid to combat everything from stomachache to malaria (as well as a heart tonic), or using the tree’s roots to reduce inflammatory pain, no part of the buffalo went to waste.
The fruit itself was deemed an effective remedy for parasitic and fungal infections such as ringworms. It was also used topically to treat rashes, burns, stings and cuts, with the fruit’s skin serving as a handy face wash. Even the unripe green fruit was useful. To lower blood pressure. And guess what else – as an aphrodisiac!
Short History of Graviola and its Uses
Graviola is the Portuguese name for a fruit which – just like the papaya – is indigenous to the regions of Central and South America. You may know it as soursop, guanabana or cherimoya, a prickly yellow-green fruit with a white fleshy interior that tastes like a blend of pineapple, banana and peaches. All rolled into one.
The fruit, seeds, bark, flowers and leaves have all been used in traditional South American cultures as treatment for a plethora of health disorders ranging from diabetes to rickets, and cherished for its sedative properties.
For example, since the ancient times, Peruvians have been brewing the leaves in a bid to treat inflammation of the mucus membrane, and to rid the nose, throat and lungs of mucus. The leaves are also used to make a herbal tea in the Caribbean to treat coughs, flu and asthma, with breastfeeding mothers using it to stimulate milk production.
Diabetic patients in the Amazon region have been using the leaves and roots to stabilize blood sugar levels. In many other parts of South America, the juice has been found to be an effective relief for dysentery and scurvy, while also employing the bark and roots as a sedative.
The Relationship between Papaya and Graviola
If their traditional uses are anything to go by, the relationship between these two tropical fruits are there for all to see, the origin notwithstanding. In fact, so similar are they that sometimes you will find graviola being referred to as Brazilian pawpaw, or simply pawpaw. This only serves to add to the confusion though, given other fruits of this species go by the same name (read Carica papaya, aka papaya).
As far as their modern uses go, the two fruits are almost inseparable. They are purported to have several medicinal properties, examples of which include:
Improved digestive system
Both graviola and papaya have been found to be effective cures for digestive problems like constipation, irregular bowel movements and diarrhea.
They are rich in both soluble and insoluble fibers which add bulk to stool thereby facilitating its elimination from the body.
Immune system support
Incorporating graviola and papaya into the diet has been shown to boost immunity, and consequently less chances of contracting common maladies.
The copious amounts of Vitamin B1 present in both papaya and graviola accelerate metabolism and aid in blood circulation.
Treatment of skin diseases
These two tropical plants have been used for centuries as treatment for various skin conditions, a practice that still stands to date.
Graviola, for instance, is said to treat several inflammatory conditions of the skin. Papaya, on the other hand, is thought to be an effective cure for acne, thanks to its enzyme papain, an ingredient you’re likely to find in many topical creams and ointments on the market today.
Increased energy and endurance
Anecdotal evidence points to the fact that graviola and papaya can help boost energy levels and fight fatigue.
They are both a rich natural source of carbohydrates (never mind fructose) which helps to keep you fresh and energetic. The high vitamin C content present in both also increases endurance levels.
Relieving back pain
Although there is no solid scientific research to back up these claims, drinking papaya or graviola leaf tea is said to be beneficial in the sense of combating back pain and rheumatism.
This can be attributed to the high levels of vitamins A and C which tend to be super healthy antioxidants that help reduce stress and inflammation to help ease back pain.
Insomniacs can find solace in graviola which contains tryptophan, a chemical that promotes sleepiness and relaxation. Traditionally, its fruit and leaves have been sought after for their sedative properties.
Papaya has also been linked to improved sleep thanks to its rich concentration of magnesium, a mineral that is directly tied to improving the duration, quality and tranquility of sleep.
These are some of the many ways graviola and papaya closely resemble each other in terms of health and nutritional benefits. There are multiple ways to incorporate them into your diet including eating the fruit itself, not to mention the other components of each respective plant – fruit seeds, the leaves, bark and so on.
Papaya and graviola are also available in supplement form, a great alternative for those of us who may not get access to, say, leaves in their natural form.