CASSABANANA, SICANA ODORIFERA NAUD.
The cassabanana is a rather strange-looking fruit which, when black or dark purple looks like a huge aubergine, although they are not related. Nor, as the name might suggest is this fruit in any way related to the banana. In fact it is a member of the Cucurbitaceae family, so is a relative of the kiwano or horned melon, honey melons, watermelons, butternut squash, bottle gourds, the ash gourd or petha, cucumbers, courgettes, and marrows to name just a few of its relations. It is the only plant in the Sicana genus, although sometimes it is known by its botanical synonym, Cucurbita odorifera Vell.
It grows on a vine like other melons, although it needs strong support as the fruit is hefty. (It reminds me of that of the sausage tree, Kigelia africana) The fruit is also called the musk melon, because of its aroma. It is grown as an ornamental as well as for its fruit.
It is believed to have originated in
Brazil and spread throughout South America and tropical North America from there. There is archaeological evidence to show that it was being cultivated in Ecuador before the arrivals of the Spanish conquistadores. It was first documented by Europeans in 1658, as being cultivated and a popular fruit in Peru.
Interestingly, it is used in
Northern Peru to protect against jealousy. The remedy is to take the plant material (perhaps the whole plant) and sleep with it for seven days and nights, being sure to wash it every morning. After the stipulated period of time it needs to be disposed of in a “far away” place where it can’t be found by others. (“Healing the body and soul: Traditional remedies for “magical” ailments, nervous system and psychosomatic disorders in Northern Peru” Rainer W. Bussman et al. September 2010, African Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology, Vol. 4 (9), pp 580-623.)
The fruit is eaten raw and is cooling and refreshing during the hot months of the year. It is also used to make jams and preserves. The immature fruit is used as a vegetable and added to soups and stews.
The fruit is nutritious, containing the minerals calcium, phosphorous and iron, along with carotene (which explains the colour of its flesh), and the B-complex vitamins, B1 thiamin, B2 riboflavin and B3 niacin, as well as vitamin C in the form of ascorbic acid.
It is believed to be a moth repellent and kept with linen and clothes rather as we used to hang lavender in wardrobes, for its long-lasting aroma. During Holy Week (Easter) the fruit can be found decorating church altars too.
In some countries it is used for sore throats, seeds are strung into necklaces and at the same time, the fruit is sliced and steeped in sugared water overnight, so that it begins to ferment, and then the water is sipped frequently to get rid of the sore throat, and the fruit that has been steeped in the sugared water may also be eaten.
Brazil an infusion of the seeds is used for fevers, as a laxative to get rid of intestinal worms, and as a purgative. The leaves are used for STDs for uterine haemorrhages and other complaints.
Yucatan, a decoction of the leaves and flowers is used as a laxative, for worms and as an emmenagogue, although the dose is small as these parts of the plant contain hydrocyanic acid.
There are anthocyanins and flavonols in the rind of the cassabanana which means it has antioxidant actions (Jaramilla K. et al., Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 2011 Vol. 59 (3) pp975-83 “Identification of antioxidative flavonols and anthocyanins in Sicana odorifera fruit peel”)
Anthocyanin-rich fruit are currently being investigated for their potential cancer-inhibiting properties, so perhaps this fruit has a lot more to offer us than simply being a cooling fruit to eat in summer.
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