Pawpaw Fruits, A Tropical Fruit in Temperate Climates


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Pawpaw trees

Pawpaw Fruits
Pawpaw Fruits (Asimina triloba) (Photo By: Scott Bauer, USDA / Wikimedia Commons)

Pawpaw trees(Asimina triloba) are unique because most of their closest relatives are tropical species, but these trees are not. Pawpaw trees are native to temperate climates of eastern and central United States and southern Canada.  This USDA map shows their range in the U.S. and Canada. Pawpaw trees are in the same plant family as tropical fruit trees such as cherimoya, soursop, and sweetsop. The spelling of pawpaw varies and includes paw paw, paw-paw, and papaw. The pawpaw tree is a medium size tree typically only reaching 35′. It is very hardy and disease resistent in its growing range. This makes it very valuable to organic farmers because pesticides do not need to be applied for this plant to thrive. One major downside for organic growers is that pawpaw fruits do not preserve well compared to other fruits. This tree is known for its pawpaws but It also makes a great landscape plant with one minor problem.  It reproduces by sending up suckering shoots similar to the sassafras tree, these suckering shoots may be aesthetically unappealing in a landscape, but regular maintenance can keep them down. You can buy pawpaw roots online to grow your own trees at home.

Pawpaw Fruits

Pawpaw Fruit and seeds
Pawpaw Fruit and Seeds (Photo By: Clarknova / Wikimedia Commons)

Pawpaw fruits are elongated oval fruits with a smooth thin skin.  The interior of pawpaw fruits have a consistency that is often described as custard-like.  There are large seeds through the center of the fruit that must be removed before eating, the seeds are very hard and somewhat toxic. Pawpaw fruit taste is what makes this plant so interesting.  It has what I would describe as a tropical flavor.  It tastes a little bit like a banana but different . The taste is very difficult to describe in words since it is such a unique flavor.  Although they have different tastes and are very different plants the pawpaw reminds me of kousa dogwood which is another temperate tree with fruits that I would describe as a tropical flavor. Pawpaw flowers bloom in spring and the fruits fully ripen in fall.  Unripe pawpaw fruits taste awful and might make you a little sick, you will know they are ripe when they just start to get slightly soft to the touch.  Fruits will often fall off the tree when they are ripe enough to eat and can be picked off the ground. There are many ways to eat pawpaw fruits: they can be peeled and eaten around the seeds, they can also be cut in half and seeds removed then spooned out avoiding the skin, Or you can just eat them with the skin on avoiding the seeds but the fruit skin does add a slightly bitter flavor. Pawpaw fruits do not last long after they are picked, to extend their season of use unripe pawpaws can be made into pickled pawpaws.

Health Benefits

There are some important health benefits of pawpaw fruits. The fruits are packed with nutrients including very high levels of magnesium, iron and vitamin C. It’s vitamin C levels are higher than oranges and were an important source for midwestern native Americans. Native Americans also used the leaves for a number of external ailments such as ulcers.  Recent research has shown that pawpaw plants contain very effective antioxidants at high levels similar to other fruits such as cranberries and cherries.

Cautions

The primary caution with pawpaws is to not eat the seeds they contain a narcotic toxin that will likely make you sick. The seeds are generally not considered to be lethal and actually may have certain health benefits in the correct doses, but different people react differently and it is unknown how you will react.  Pawpaw fruits even cause allergic reactions and gastrointestinal problems for some people, so if you have never eaten pawpaws before then just try one or two and give it a day to see how you feel. The leaves and fruit skins cause mild dermatitis to some people.

Key ID Features

Pawpaw Tree Leaves
Pawpaw Tree Leaves (Photo By: Kurt Stuber / Wikimedia Commons)

pawpaw fruits are unmistakable in temperate zones compared to other temperate fruit trees.  They are elongated ovals with very smooth skin ranging from 2″-6″ long. The fruits grow in clusters of 1-5 fruits.  The immature fruit color is light green and the fruits mature to a greenish yellow color in the fall.  The leaves are simple leaves with an obovate shape and a point at the tip. The leaves have visible leaf veins with a smooth leaf margin.

Conclusion

Pawpaw trees are versatile and unique trees that are beginning to be rediscovered for their ease of cultivation and health benefits. Pawpaw fruits truly stand alone in temperate climates of the United States as a unique native fruit.  Native Americans have known of their benefits for millennia. Why has it taken our modern society so long to appreciate this tree and it’s extremely nutritious and beneficial fruits.


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Simple Chicken of the Woods Recipe


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Chicken of the Woods

Chicken of the Woods recipe
Chicken of the Woods

Chicken of the woods is a great mushroom for beginners. It’s easy to identify and has no known toxic look a likes. It has a meaty but delicate flavor.  To find out more information about chicken of the woods including where to find it and how to identify it visit to our chicken of the woods article. You can also get a chicken of the woods growing kit to grow your own chicken of the woods. All you’ll need is a log and a drill.

Before we get into the chicken of the woods recipe I’d like to mention a few things. Some people have adverse reactions to chicken of the woods due to a number of things including indigestion and allergic reactions. So please always exercise caution when trying new foods and only taste a sample if it’s your first time trying the mushroom.

Choosing the best specimens for cooking

Choose a mushroom cap that is soft and free of marks, such as insect bites and damage. Young caps are usually best, even very young caps that haven’t quite formed yet. clean the caps by wiping them with a damp cloth.

Chicken of the Woods Recipe

This is a simple recipe where chicken of the woods is fried in olive oil with salt, pepper and garlic. This recipe is best with soft juicy chicken of the woods specimens older mushrooms may be too dry.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup chopped chicken of the woods mushroom
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 clove minced garlic
  • salt and pepper

Directions

Place olive oil in a small frying pan on medium heat.

Once olive oil has warmed then add garlic and cook for 1 to 2 minutes.

Put chopped chicken of the woods in the pan and begin cooking. The oil may quickly be absorbed into the mushrooms, this is ok, do not add more oil.

Add salt and pepper to taste flipping and stirring the pieces occasionally to make sure all sides are cooked. Cook approximately 10 minute.

Enjoy this chicken of the woods recipe as is or add it to anything in place of chicken.

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Eating poison ivy – does it make you immune?


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Poison Ivy
Eastern Poison Ivy (By Sam Fraser-Smith from Brisbane, Australia/ Wikimedia Commons)

Many of us in the U.S. have had a traumatic run in with poison ivy or Poison Oak(on the west coast) at some point or another. I am only mildly allergic to poison Ivy but that doesn’t mean I was immune to it’s reign of terror when I unknowingly brought it home to my highly allergic wife on my jacket. Developing an immunity to poison ivy would be life-changing for some and at least very helpful for the majority of us. Poison Ivy(Toxicodendron radicans), Poison Oak(Toxicodendron diversilobum) and Poison Sumac(Toxicodendron vernix) are all species in the genus Toxicodendron and the information in this article generally applies to all these plant.

There are many anecdotal reports of people eating poison ivy and developing immunity. I went in search of as much information on the topic as possible. I wanted to know how poison ivy affects us and what is the best way, if any to develop a better immunity to it’s affects on the body. This article contains a summary of what I found.

How Many People Are Allergic to Poison Ivy and Poison Oak
According to americanskin.org roughly 85% of people are allergic to urushiol, the irritating compound in poison ivy and 10%-15% of people are highly allergic.   When it comes to an individual’s reaction it’s somewhat more complicated because people can develop sensitivity over time and some people even decrease sensitivity over time. So the way that you react to poison ivy now may not be the same in a few years or decades. From my personal experience I have noticed that especially for people who have never or rarely come into contact with poison ivy, it sometimes takes a few interactions before they react, and that first reaction could be very bad.  The moral of the story is if you have touched poison ivy a few times and seem to be immune don’t take a dare to roll it in, or rub it all over your face, you might regret it.

How Poison Ivy and Poison Oak Affect the Body
Believe it or not poison ivy does not actually directly cause the rash that you see when you come into contact with it. That rash is caused by an allergic reaction to the urushiol oil contained in the plant. An allergic reaction starts when your body identifies a foreign invader, in this case urushiol. Then our bodies produce antibodies which produce histamine. Histamine is helpful against invaders of our body because it expands blood vessels in the area which allows our immune system to better access and defeat the foreign invaders. The problem occurs when too much histamine is produced, this is an allergic reaction and this is the case with poison ivy.  Too much histamine can cause rash and swelling and in some cases actually does damage to the area instead of just fighting off the invaders. So what really takes place during an allergic poison ivy reaction is that our body over-reacts and ends up damaging itself in the process.  Poison ivy has evolved a way to trick the immune systems of 85% of people into damaging themselves with their own defense mechanisms. In reality our bodies do not need to react to urushiol oil and this non-reaction is what happens in the bodies of the lucky few who do not have noticeable reactions to poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac.

Is It Possible to Develop an Immunity to Poison Ivy?
The definition of the word “immunity” is “the ability of an organism to resist a particular infection or toxin by the action of specific antibodies or sensitized white blood cells”. Since poison ivy is not an infection or toxin you can’t become immune to it, but this word has still become a generally acceptable term to describe becoming non-sensitive to poison ivy, so I’ll continue to use it throughout this article. In regards to the coveted poison ivy immunity there is not a lot of evidence on the topic but this artice from WebMD says that it might be possible to develop an immunity through a series of small exposures over time. Giving a patient small exposures of an allergen over time is a common way to train the body to not over-react when facing those allergens, this method is sometimes called immunotherapy or sensitivity treatment.  keep in mind this process is done to very specific guidelines by a doctor.

Is Eating Poison Ivy Safe?
Your instincts are correct, eating poison ivy is very dangerous. I have heard that if you eat poison ivy your mucous protects the skin inside your mouth and throat  so that you don’t have a reaction.  Although there potentially might be some truth to this, there are so many things that could go wrong.  Many things like alcohol,smoke or certain foods can decrease mouth mucous, so the protection would be gone, a leaf could get stuck in the throat and work its way through the mucous. or you might be extra sensitive and your mucous isn’t enough to protect you.

My Experiment Eating Poison Ivy
I know I just spent the last paragraph telling you how stupid it is to eat poison ivy, but there was a time that i did eat small amounts of poison ivy every few months over the course of a few years.  I wrapped the poison ivy in Violet or Yard Plantain leaves so that it wouldn’t come in contact with my throat. I didn’t have any bad reactions in my throat, but I also didn’t become immune, I have had nearly the exact same reaction since I was a kid, this period of time eating leaves, didn’t help. But there are examples of people who have eaten poison ivy and had the expected bad reaction, so I’m still urging readers not to be one of those people.

Conclusion
The conclusion is that This topic is not simple. There are stories of people decreasing and increasing sensitivity over the course of multiple exposures at different points in their lives. How sensitive an individual is seems to be due to multiple factors such as genetics, exposures, and environment. The facts we have are that there is no solid proof yet that eating poison ivy is beneficial in any way and we do have solid proof that eating poison ivy can be very dangerous. So clearly the best thing to do is not to attempt to eat poison ivy.

If You Must
If you’ve still got your heart set on eating poison ivy you can try a homeopathic remedy.Two products available are Natrabio Poison Oak/Poison Ivy and Boericke & Tafel – Oral Ivy. These products are probably diluted to the point that they don’t even contain any urushiol anymore, but hey they might be worth a try. Please leave any comment with your experiences eating poison ivy or homeopathic remedy or being smart and deciding not to eat poison ivy.


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