Plantain, FruitBotanical Name: Musa paradisiaca, Musa sapientum
Family: N.O. Musae Synonym: Bananas.
Parts Used: Fruit, unripe and ripe, Juice.
The tropical fruit known as Plantain belongs to the genus Musa, which contains about forty species, widely distributed throughout the tropics of the Old World and in some cases introduced into the New World.
The great use of the family resides in the use of the unripe fruits as food and to a much less extent in that of the ripe fruit - Bananas. In many parts of the tropics they are as important to the inhabitants as are the grain plants to those living in cooler regions. The northern limit of their cultivation is reached in Florida, the Canary Islands, Egypt and Southern Japan, and the southern limit in Natal and South Brazil. There has been considerable discussion as to whether they were growing in America before the discovery of the New World.
The unripe fruit is rich in starch, which on ripening turns into sugar.
The most generally used fruits are derived from Musa paradisiaca, of which an enormous number of varieties and forms exist in cultivation. The sub-species, sapientum, formerly regarded as a distinct species (M. sapientum), is the source of the fruits generally known in England as Bananas and eaten raw, while the name Plantain is given to forms of the species itself which require cooking. The species is probably a native of India and Southern Asia.
Other species are M. acuminata in the Malay Archipelago, M. Fehi, in Tahiti, and M. Cavendishii, the so-called Chinese Banana, which has a thinner rind and is found in cooler countries.
Plantains often reach a considerable size. The hardly-ripe fruit is eaten (whole or cut into slices) roasted, baked, boiled, fried, as an ingredient of soups and stews, and in general as potatoes are used, possessing, like the potato, only a slight or negative flavour and no sweetness. They are also dried and ground into flour as meal, Banana meal forming an important food-stuff, to which the following constituents have been assigned: Water 10.62, albuminoids 3.55, fat 1.15, carbohydrates 81.67 (more than 2/3 starch), fibre 1.15, phosphates 0.26, other salts, 1.60. The sugar is chiefly cane-sugar.
In East Africa and elsewhere an intoxicating drink is prepared from the fruit. The rootstock which bears the leaves is, just before the flowering period, soft and full of starch, and is sometimes used as food in Abyssinia, and the young shoots of several species are cooked and eaten.
The leaves cut into strips are plaited to form mats and bags; they are also largely used for packing and the finer ones for cigarette papers. The mature leaves of several species yield a valuable fibre, the best of which is 'Manila hemp.'
Medicinal Action and Uses: The Banana family is of more interest for its nutrient than for its medicinal properties. Banana root has some employment as an anthelmintic and has been reported useful in reducing bronchocele. The use of Plantain juice as an antidote for snake-bite in the East has been reported in recent years by the Lancet, an alleged cure at Colombo (reported in the Lancet, April 1, 1916), and again, in the same year, at Serampore: 'A servant of the Principal of the Government Weaving College was bitten by a venomous snake in the foot. The Principal applied a ligature eight inches above the bitten part and then cut it with a lancet and applied permanganate of potash, making the wound bleed freely. He then extracted some juice from a plantain tree and gave the patient about a cupful to drink. After drinking the plantain juice the man seemed to recover a little, and the wound was washed. He was made to walk up and down, and in the morning, when the ligature was removed, the man was declared cured.' - Lancet, June 10, 1916. The BASTARD PLANTAIN (Heliconia Biha) belongs to a genus containing thirty species, natives of tropical America. Although it belongs to the same order as the Banana, and has very large leaves, 6 to 8 feet long and 18 inches wide, it has quite different fruit, namely, small succulent berries, each containing three hard, rugged seeds, and is not employed economically.