After hurricane Maria hit the island a few years back it seemed like papaya trees were showing up everywhere. I remember driving through the rainforest seeing young trees lining the road bearing one or two fruits, and getting excited when I came across one that didn’t have bite marks on it from the local wildlife that shared space with these beautiful trees.
The Carica papaya is a small, thin branched tree that grows from a single stem and has spirally arranged leaves that are usually confined to the top of the trunk. The fruit is a large berry with a buttery texture and sweet taste when fully ripe. It displays an amber to orange hue containing edible black seeds with a sharp, slightly bitter, spicy taste. The young fruit has anti-bacterial and wound healing properties, and also acts as an effective digestive aid and relieves constipation. Papaya skin, pulp, and seeds contain a variety of phytochemicals, including carotenoids and polyphenols, which increase during ripening aiding in combating inflammation.
Papaya leaves are commonly used both medicinally and culinary wise as a tea, by juicing, preparing a soothing salve to apply topically, or sautéing young leaves as you would spinach. The leaves are known to minimize menstrual pain, fight fatigue, help your circulatory system, and boost platelet levels to fight off infection. Due to its anti-inflammatory properties, papaya leaves are a safe source to treat eczema while warding off free radicals to repair damaged skin cells. Yes, this superfood works inside and outside the body, and win-win!
Because this fruit grows year-round you should never have an excuse of not reaping from the many benefits this tree has to offer, unless you’re allergic to it. Keep in mind that unripe papaya contains a high amount of latex, which decreases as the fruit ripens, and latex may cause uterine contractions and early labor if you’re pregnant.