Pawpaw is the fruit of the plant Carica papaya (family Caricaceae). The papaya is a large, tree-like plant, with a single stem growing from 5 to 10 m (16 to 33 ft) tall, with spirally arranged leaves confined to the top of the trunk. It is locally called “Ibepe”, “Okworo-gbogbo” and “Gwanda” in Yoruba, Ibo and Hausa, respectively.
Pawpaw is a rich source of phyto-nutrients (alkaloids, flavonoids and phenolic compounds). It contains Vitamins A, C, B (folic acid, pyridoxine, riboflavin, and thiamin), protein, carbohydrate, minerals (calcium, potassium, sodium, magnesium, iron and manganese) and soluble dietary fibre. Pawpaw also contains the enzymes papain and chymopapain.
Pharmacological actions and medicinal uses
Pawpaw fruit serves as both food and medicine. Scientists and traditional healers all over the world have agreed that pawpaw is known to be effective as a natural remedy for syphilis, gonorrhea, kidney and bladder problems, dysentery, jaundice, stomach ulcer, skin diseases and constipation. It has also been used in the treatment of chronic otitis media.
Scientists claim that the enzymes papain and chymopapain found in pawpaw are responsible for protein digestion in chronic dyspepsia, gastritis, easing menstrual cramps, and regulating and easing flow during menstrual periods. Researchers reported in the West Indian Medical Journal that extracts of pawpaw seeds inhibit many disease-causing germs such as E coli, suggesting that it could be useful in treating chronic skin ulcers to promote healing.
Some human studies have shown that papaya leaf extracts were able to demonstrate glucose-lowering effect by enhancing insulin sensitivity, decreasing diabetes complications and accelerating wound healing.
Fresh, green papaya leaf is used as an antiseptic, while the brown, dried leaves are used as tonic and blood purifier.
Researchers at the College of Health Sciences, Obafemi Awolowo University in Nigeria said that dried pawpaw seeds can effectively flush out worms from the body without significant side-effects.
Studies have confirmed that a chemical within the pawpaw — acetogenin — including its seeds, has been found to be effective in suppressing some allergic disorders, as well as colon, breast, lung, leukemia and prostate cancer. The alkaloid compounds, carpaine, pseudocarpaine and dehydrocarpaine, demonstrate chemo-preventive effects.
A clinical trial in Phytomedicine found a home-made shampoo containing pawpaw extracts to be effective against lice infestation. Pawpaw has also been found to have antimalarial, laxative, antispasmodic, analgesic, glucose-lowering and antibacterial properties. The phenolic compounds exhibit potent antioxidant effect. The peel and the pulp are used for producing cosmetics or as a local remedy for rejuvenating damaged skin and for tackling skin diseases such as dry skin due to its vitamin A and vitamin E content.
The ripe fruit is eaten raw. The tender papaya leaves are cooked and consumed, similar to spinach. The best way to consume the papaya leaves is in the form of tea.
Papaya leaf extracts are available in the market as capsules, tea leaves and in powder form. Many studies have shown that fermented papaya extracts are more beneficial due to their enhanced antioxidant and immune-boosting effects.
Eating pawpaw seeds can greatly reduce sperm production. It may cause dermatitis.
The high concentration of latex in raw pawpaw can cause uterine contractions and might lead to abortions.
Economic values and potentials
Pawpaw is a source of income for farmers who cultivate it. It might cost as much as ₦5000 per 500 seeds. Planting pawpaw on two plots of land may yield up to two million naira yearly. It is an important raw material for food, pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries.
(Nigeria Natural Medicine Development Agency)