While the old saying goes ‘an apple a day keeps the doctor away’, it’s time we shift our focus to the earthy, humble and affordable banana.
That’s right, the tropical fruit is as big a hit as a potato, if we may, across the world. Not only does it form part of a staple starch diet for a sizeable population of the world, it has an extensive history of international trade, is rich with vitamins B and C, manganese and dietary fibre and has plenty of use in the world of textiles too. So this week, we went bananas and in our quest, spotted banana trees in the city. Mostly seen in residential areas, the interesting fact about the banana tree is that this tall plant is actually a herbaceous plant that is also a fruit. You see, they actually have pseudo-stems formed from leaf sheaths and almost every part of the banana plant is useful.
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Let’s start with the leaves: large, flexible, waterproof, they are multi-purpose in use: as umbrellas, as plates or disposable food containers, used in cooking (excellent for steaming fish), and when dried are used as packing material. The tender core of the trunk is edible too. Now, banana shoots produce fibres of varying degrees rendering the plant a source of fibre for high quality textiles. Japan apparently has a long history in making use of the banana plant for clothing and household use, from making tablecloths to kimonos. In Nepal, the trunk is harvested and used for rugs and textiles with a silk-like texture. Down south in India, it’s used as a thread for garlands. Did you know there is a banana paper too? Wow!
Steam it, bake it, fry it, cook it – the banana finds use in and adds flavor to an umpteen number of dishes. Speaking of uses, the peel, scientists have realized, can be employed to decontaminate water. For a tree whose cultivation dates back to 5000 BCE and even 8000 BCE according to archaeological and palaeoenvironmental evidence, bananas are important elements in trade talks. Botanically speaking, cultivated bananas are called Musa acuminate, Musa balbisiana and Musa paradisiaca (hybrid). It belongs to the genus Musa.
For the quirky, the banana is also a popular emoji and has found its space in the world of phrases like ‘go bananas’, and songs, too. It’s a fruit that is offered to Lord Vishnu and Goddess Laxmi for happiness and its leaves stand for growth and regeneration.