My neighbours are bemused by me. Every so often, they’ll see me coming home with strange things like papaya leaves. Invariably, they’ll ask me what I plan to do with them. When I say “make tea” they look puzzled. Papaya leaf tea? Whoever heard of such a thing?
Actually, the papaya plant has many medicinal purposes. One is as a cancer-fighting agent. Of the 3,000 or so enzymes that have been identified, only two from natural plants and fruits are credited with being able to eat away the fibrous coating, or protein armour, that protects cancer cells. They do this via a process called proteolysis. These specialty enzymes, known as “proteolytic,” or protein eating enzymes, are papain and bromelain. Papain is from the papaya plant while bromelain is from the pineapple.
Steve Hefferon explains on the Health Guidance Web site, “Proteolytic enzymes, also referred to as “proteases,” are enzymes that break down proteins into their smallest elements. If this breakdown of proteins happens in your gut, we call the enzymes ‘digestive’ because they help us digest our food. Systemic proteolytic enzymes, however, have a completely different purpose, so please don’t confuse the two. When taken on an empty stomach, proteolytic enzymes will pass through the stomach or intestine lining and enter the circulatory system. This is why they are called ’systemic’. Once they enter the circulatory system, they circulate throughout the body.”
Every morning, I make a large fresh juice blend with fruits and vegetables like pineapple and papaya, and I consume this on an empty stomach, for more effective absorption. Green papayas are used, skin as well as flesh, for their higher papain content.
Digesting proteins is a role our pancreas performs; this proteolytic property helps to destroy cancer cells. However, as we age, the pancreas finds it harder and harder to do its job. Eating dead food and too much meat protein overworks the pancreas. and not consuming enough raw fruits and vegetables deprives our bodies of the enzymes and other nutrients it needs to keep us healthy.
When one’s pancreas is overloaded and weakened, a malignancy can easily result. The papain enzyme can help a weak pancreas as it is a protein-eater, like your pancreatic enzymes.
Besides helping to digest protein, papain is popular in the treatment of various health conditions. Like bromelain, it has anti-inflammatory properties, so it has been used to help relieve the pain and inflammation of rheumatoid arthritis, alleviate post-operative swelling, and expedite healing from injuries and wounds. It has also proven effective as a treatment for psoriasis and cold sores caused by Herpes zoster virus, warts and ringworm, and in removing dead tissue from burned skin, a result of its ability to break down proteins. Some countries even use papain to prevent as well as treat malaria.
Back to papaya leaf tea. Doesn’t boiling cause the papaya leaves to lose their enzyme effectiveness? According to conventional belief, enzymes “die” at 114 degrees fahrenheit. However, papain has proven to be an exception, especially in the presence of water, with optimum activity at 150°F – perfect for tea. When used as a meat tenderizer, papain continues to tenderize after cooking – proof that the enzyme’s effectiveness survives high temperatures.
So how do you prepare papaya leaf tea? Here’s a simple recipe:
1) Select healthy-looking leaves, free from pests and fungus. Papaya trees are easily infested with a white growth which looks like bits of cotton wool. Both the leaf and the stem can be used. Try to get leaves which are from mature trees, rather than small, immature trees.
2) Wash the leaves and stems thoroughly of any dirt and pests. Scrubbing the ‘veins’ and ‘arteries’ with a small brush (like a toothbrush) helps.
3) Trim away all damaged-looking parts of the leaves and stems. Cut the leaves and stems into small pieces, so they’ll fit into a pot or saucepan.
4) Bring the water to a boil, then add in the papaya leaves and stems. Simmer for at least 20 minutes. You can turn off the fire after that and let the leaves and stems steep in the water for anything from one to four hours
5) Strain the concoction after it has cooled. Bottle the liquid and store in the fridge. Like ordinary tea, you can add boiling water to the papaya leaves and stems again and let it steep for a second, weaker infusion.
6) The papaya tea will start to ferment after a few days, even in the fridge, so you might want to keep some in the freezer until you’re ready to drink it. I use ice-cream tubs to freeze my tea.
The resultant papaya leaf tea will be a brownish-green colour. Some people dislike the taste but I have no problems with it. If you find it too bitter, just add more water before you drink it. You can even add a sweetener like honey or stevia, if you wish. I like to drink the tea throughout the day. Straight from the fridge, it’s really rather refreshing.
If you can’t get papaya leaves, you can also obtain papain from mature green papaya fruit. Ripe, yellow / orange papayas contain low levels of papain. Use the flesh as well as the skin of the fruit in a juice blend. Pineapple and orange complement papaya beautifully. For an extra-special taste, put in a few drops of vanilla extract. Delicious!
Papaya is sometimes called paw-paw in certain countries. However, the paw-paw is a completely different plant found in North America. Papaya grows in tropical places. Don’t’ get these two mixed up.