If you live in the Eastern United States, you may have a wonderful survival recourse growing near you. We’re referring to the amazing Pawpaw tree. The Pawpaw grows in wet woodlands all over the eastern part of this country. If you have ever eaten a Pawpaw then you know the pleasure of, in our opinion, the best tasting fruit in the country. It’s definitely the largest fruit native to North America and was harvested by natives here long before Columbus “discovered” this inhabited land. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Lewis and Clark were all admirers of the delicate banana mango like fruit. As delicious as the fruit is, it has benefits other than just flavor. Pawpaw fruits have more vitamins, minerals, amino acids and calories than apples, peaches and grapes. They are also higher in proteins and healthy fat. Only the banana has more healthy carbohydrates than the pawpaw. The fruit is ripe most often in mid to late September. As great as the food value is for pawpaw fruit, eating is not all the tree is good for.
The bark of the pawpaw tree is very fibrous. It was used by Native Americans and early settlers for making rope and cordage and is still very useful for that purpose. The bark strips easily and separates into long strong fibers. The fibers extend the whole length without interruption so fiber lengths of 20 ft or more are very possible. The fibers can be used as they are or twisted into two ply cordage for extra strength. The bark fibers also make a great birds nest for the bow drill fire.
Not only is the bark great as a tool, new evidence is showing it may be a great medicine a well. Pawpaw is related to the South American tree called the Soursop which many nutritionist’s and herbal medicine practitioners claim kills cancer cells. Both these trees contain natural neurotoxic insecticides known as acetogenins. Acetogenins have been proven to reduce tumor size in both humans and many other test animals but is not approved by the FDA.
The bright yellow wood of pawpaw is another useful part of this great tree. The wood is light and porous. It resembles balsa wood or yucca in its workability. Its very easy to carve and makes beautiful finished products due to its bright color. We use it to make flutes. The grain is straight and it is fast growing.
Because it’s so light it makes a great choice for bow drill kits. Coals are formed very easily with it without much pressure being needed. In fact, if you do use much pressure the dust formed may end up fibrous and slow in its uptake of oxygen, so take it easy. Less is more in this case.
Pawpaw’s reproduce mainly by communal cloning. They can reproduce by seed but the seeds must never dry out. Because of this it’s tough to get commercial pawpaw trees but it is becoming more prevalent these days. I saw some pawpaw saplings for sale just the other day at Baker Creek Seed Company for less than 20$ per tree. Once one tree is growing the roots will spread out and more clones of the original tree will pop up until there is a whole community of pawpaw growing. So generally if you find one pawpaw you find a bunch. So go on out and find some and get familiar with this wonderful local resource and as always, from us here at Sigma 3, Thrive on.
Sign up for one of our Spring Plant Courses to learn more about the Pawpaw.
Also, checkout this short video from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources on the Pawpaw tree: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DIjFebMEjoE