Missouri Girl Eats Weeds
Wed, 10/20/2021 - 1:20pm admin
Ann J. Hines, PhD
Like the mimosa tree I wrote about a few weeks ago, pawpaws seem like they belong in the tropics rather than in the temperate-zoned Midwest. While the tree itself is not particularly remarkable, the fruits are something like banana-mango-vanilla-custard. Truly unique, and the largest native fruit of the U.S., I feel the pawpaw is an under-appreciated Ozark treasure.
When pawpaws are ripe, they fall to the ground. You can shake the tree to encourage them. Unlike persimmons, if picked too early, they will not continue to ripen. When ripe they will be fragrant, soft to the touch, and fairly easy to bruise, like a banana. I prefer to eat them when they are soft but have only a few dark spots. Some people like to eat them when most of the skin has turned dark. This is a matter of preference just like bananas. The flavor will become more intense as they ripen, so I’d say try eating them the way you prefer your bananas. You can cut them in half and scoop them out with a spoon, separating the several large, flat seeds.
They have remained a forager’s treat because there are several obstacles to commercial production. Firstly, the aforementioned necessity of it ripening on the tree and the easily-bruised skin. In addition, the cultivation of the tree requires a male and female, so if you have found a pawpaw tree but it’s not producing, it may be too young or it needs a mate. Transplanting is tricky, and seed germination difficult. Even if you want to wait the 100 days for a seed to germinate (in a cool, moist environment, like a baggie of dirt in your fridge) you won’t know the sex until it blossoms. Even then, being monoecious, it can change sex! As if those weren’t enough obstacles, it is self-incompatible, meaning it must be pollinated by an unrelated pawpaw tree.
Now you understand what a treasure you have found when you find pawpaw fruit! But wait… there’s more! This remarkable tree shows promising anti-cancer properties. The roots, twigs, leaves, and fruit show growth-inhibitory effects, particularly in stomach and cervical cancers. Furthermore, they exhibit an inhibitory effect on angiogenesis, which is the process by which a tumor begins to form. Interestingly, the unripe fruits contain more of these anti-cancer properties.
Besides these amazing qualities, they are good source of vitamins and minerals, such as iron, magnesium and manganese. But most of all, they are a delicious and unique fruit to find in our beautiful woods. Let me know if you find some! Email me or join us in the Missouri Girl Eats Weeds Facebook group to share your finds, recipes or ask questions.