By Liliana Usvat
Farmers in Southeast Asia and Papua New Guinea first domesticated bananas. Recent archaeological and palaeoenvironmental evidence at Kuk Swamp in the Western Highlands Province of Papua New Guinea suggests that banana cultivation there goes back to at least 5000 BCE, and possibly to 8000 BCE.
It is likely that other species were later and independently domesticated elsewhere in Southeast Asia. Southeast Asia is the region of primary diversity of the banana.
Areas of secondary diversity are found in Africa, indicating a long history of banana cultivation in the region.
Bananas were introduced to the Americas by Portuguese sailors who brought the fruits from West Africa in the 16th century.
Banana-medicinal uses of this fruit are well known. It help combat various types of ailments like- peptic ulcer, intestinal ulcer, acidity, constipation, diabetes, hypertension, cardiac diseases.
Properties: Aromatic, cooling, anti-ulcer, diuretic, stimulant, anti-dysentric, hypoglycemic, anti-helminthic.
The ripe fruit is reported to be useful in
- hypertension and
- cardiac diseases.
- Unripe fruit and cooked flowers are useful in diabetes.
Bananas are an excellent source of vitamin B6, soluble fiber, and contain moderate amounts of vitamin C, manganese and potassium. Along with other fruits and vegetables, consumption of bananas may be associated wit a reduced risk of
- colorectal cancer and
- in women, breast cancer and
- renal cell carcinoma.
Banana ingestion may affect dopamine production in people deficient in the amino acid tyrosine, a dopamine precursor present in bananas. Individuals with a latex allergy may experience a reaction to bananas.
- Banana peel may have capability to extract heavy metal contamination from river water, similar to other purification materials. In 2007, banana peel powder was tested as a means of filtration for heavy metals and radionuclides occurring in water produced by the nuclear and fertilizer industries (cadmium contaminant is present in phosphates). When added and thoroughly mixed for 40 minutes, the powder can remove roughly 65% of heavy metals, and this can be repeated.
- The high content of iron in bananas increases the production of hemoglobin in the blood -therefore they are very good for anemia.
- They regulate bowel movement – whether it is constipation or diarrhea. Our elders believed that eating a banana after every meal improved digestion significantly.
- When you suffer from a hangover – a banana milkshake with honey can give you immense relief. Cold milk soothes the stomach lining and bananas with honey build up depleted blood sugar levels.
- Bananas are exceedingly good for students as the rich source of potassium can make a person very alert; the fruit is often called a brain tonic.
- Bananas work well as a snack for people who have high blood pressure as they are wholesome with low salt levels.
- For those suffering from depression, bananas are good as they contain a protein called serotonin – which is also called the ‘happy hormone’ as it makes one feel happy and relaxed.
- Bananas can be eaten frequently to treat ulcers as they neutralize acidity in the stomach. This soft and smooth fruit cannot irritate the stomach walls.
- For pregnant women suffering from morning sickness, eating bananas in between meals helps immensely in settling the queasiness in the stomach.
- Eating bananas helps people give up smoking as this fruit is rich in vitamin C, A, B6 and B12. Bananas contain potassium and magnesium as well, which help the body recover from nicotine withdrawal.
- Bananas have an antacid effect, so people who experience heartburn find relief on eating a banana.
- Potassium is a vital mineral which normalizes heartbeat while regulating the body’s water balance. As banana is a rich source of potassium, it re-balances disturbances of fluids in the body.
- For weight watchers, banana is an excellent snack in place of crisps and chocolates. Research found that food craving during high pressure work could be assuaged safely and in a healthy manner by eating a banana every 2-3 hourly as it is a high carbohydrate food that controls blood sugar levels.
- Topically, the peel of a banana – with the yellow side on top can be taped to a wart. It will shrivel and fall off.
- The peel of a banana fruit can be rubbed on a mosquito bite with good effect, the stinging sensation stops and the swelling also reduces.
- A ripe banana mashed and applied on the face is great at moisturizing and nourishing tired and dry skin
- The banana stem has fiber – this is very beneficial for those on a weight-loss program.
- It is also a rich source of potassium and vitamin B6 which helps in the production of insulin and hemoglobin.
- Eating banana stem once a week keeps high blood pressure in control. Banana stem also maintains fluid balance within the body.
- It is a diuretic and helps detoxify the body.
- The popular belief is that eating banana stem is very good for kidney stones.
- An ounce of the ripe fruit mixed with a little tamarind and salt is a household remedy for diarrhea and dysentery.
- The banana plant juice is astringent; it quenches thirst in cholera ; it is also given in nervous disorders like hysteria, epilepsy
Banana hearts are used as a vegetable in South Asian and Southeast Asian cuisine, either raw or steamed with dips or cooked in soups, curries and fried foods. The flavor resembles that of artichoke. As with artichokes, both the fleshy part of the bracts and the heart are edible.
The flower has been used in traditional medicine to
- treat bronchitis,
- constipation and
- ulcer problems.
- It eases menstrual cramps.
- The extracts of banana flower have anti oxidant properties that prevent free radicals and control cell and tissue damage.
Steamed with dishes they impart a subtle sweet flavor. They often serve as a wrapping for grilling food. The leaves contain the juices, protect food from burning and add a subtle flavor. In Tamil Nadu (India) leaves are fully dried and used as packing material for food stuffs and also making cups to hold liquid foods. In Central American countries, banana leaves are often used as wrappers for tamales.
Religion and popular beliefs
Nang Tani, the female ghost of Thai folklore that haunts banana trees
In Burma, bunches of green bananas surrounding a green coconut in a tray form an important part of traditional offerings to the Buddha and the Nats.
In all the important festivals and occasions of Hindus, the serving of bananas plays a prominent part. Traditionally in Tamil marriages, banana trees are tied on both sides of the entrance of houses to bless the newlyweds to be useful to each other. The banana is one of three fruits with this significance, the others being mango and jack fruit.
In Thailand, it is believed that a certain type of banana trees may be inhabited by a spirit, Nang Tani, a type of ghost related to trees that manifests itself as a young woman. Often people tie a length of colored satin cloth around the trunk of the banana tree.
In Malay folklore, the ghost known as Pontianak is associated with banana trees (pokok pisang), and its spirit is said to reside in them during the day.
So I hope I made a case for planting one … or more banana trees and take care of them.