Pawpaw: Asimina Triloba, Pawpaw, Poor Man's Banana, Indian's Banana, Custard Apple


The pawpaw is a deciduous, small tree which grows from approximately 3 to 12 meters high and found in the temperate woodlands of the eastern United States. The dark green, oblong, drooping leaves grow up to 12 inches long, while producing maroon, upside-down, flowers up to 2 inches across which normally bloom for 6 weeks during March to May.² The pawpaw fruit is smooth-skinned, yellow to greenish-brown in color, measuring from approximately 8 to 15 cm long and resembles a short, thick banana.¹ The yellow, soft, “custard-like” pulp is edible but sickly sweet in flavor and contains dark seeds.¹


The bark, roots, twigs, and seeds of the pawpaw plant contain asimicin, bullatacin, bullatacinone, N-p-coumaroyltyramine, N-trans-feruloyltyramine, (+)-syringaresinol and acetogenins cis- and trans-annonacin-a-one, cis- and trans-gigantetrocinone, trans-isoannonacin.¹

Fun Fact:

The pawpaw is the largest edible fruit native to North America.² There is a pawpaw festival in Albany, OH every fall. 


The Native Americans would crush the pawpaw seeds into a powder and add it to a mixture of the roots of stinging nettle and yelllowroot to get rid of hair lice.⁷ The fruit is also considered a laxative and the leaves a diuretic.⁸ It has also been used for diarrhea, sore throats and high fever.⁹

The Iroquois used the mashed fruit to make small cakes that were dried and stored. The dried cakes were soaked in water and cooked to make a sauce or relish that was served with corn bread. The Cherokee used the inner bark to make cordage and by twisting the bark, they made string and strong ropes.⁵ In today’s era the pawpaw is used in juices, pies, cakes, custards, ice cream and other processed products but is not yet sold commercially due to its short shelf life. One natural supplement company actually marketed it in a specialized lice remover shampoo however it was not sold in retail markets and production was eventually stopped.⁶


The pawpaw acetogenins have consistently exhibited antitumor, pesticidal, antimicrobial, and cytotoxic activities including  acetogenin's cytotoxic potential against lung carcinoma, breast carcinoma, and colon adenocarcinoma.¹ This acetogenic property reduces the growth of blood vessels that nourish cancer cells. It also inhibits the growth of MDR (multiple drug resistance) cells.⁴ An informal study of 100 cancer patients showed that Paw Paw was effective in half the cases.⁴ However, no formal clinical trials have yet occurred and further testing is required to determine the extent of the use of the pawpaw extract. 


There is specific dose established for the pawpaw. 

Pawpaw Cookies³

  • ½ c. raisins
  • ½ c. diced dates
  • 1 c. water
  • ½ c. margarine
  • 1 c. oatmeal
  • 1 c. self-rising flour
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ c. pawpaw pulp
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • ½ c. walnut pieces

Mix together raisins, dates, and water. Boil 3 minutes. Add margarine. Blend oatmeal, flour, eggs, baking soda, and nuts. Add cooled cooked mixture and pawpaws. Mix and refrigerate overnight. Spoon dough onto cookie sheet and bake at 350o F for 10 minutes. Store cookies in refrigerator.

Pawpaw Custard Pie

  • 1 c. 2% milk
  • 1 c. cream
  • 3 eggs
  • ¾ c. sugar
  • 1 c. pureed pawpaw pulp

Mixing the ingredients as you add them, beat together the milk, cream, eggs, sugar, and pawpaw. Pour the custard into a pie shell and bake at 450o F for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 325o F and bake an additional 40 minutes or until a knife inserted near the center of the pie comes out clean.

Contraindications/Interactions/Adverse Reactions:

Handling the fruit may produce a skin rash in sensitive individuals.¹ There are no interactions documented. 

References Cited:

1. ( 2009. October 19, 2009. Drug Site Trust, North Shore, Auckland, 0632 New Zealand.

2. California Rare Fruit Growers, Inc. 1999, October 19, 2009

3.Kentucky State University. January 15, 2009. October 19, 2009.

4.Winter, Paul. Paw Paw Alternative Cancer Treatment Comparison. October 4, 2009. October 19, 2009.

5. Immel, Diana L. USDA, NRCS. May 21, 2001. October 19, 2009.  National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA. 2006. October 19, 2009.

7. Garret, J. T. The Cherokee Herbal: Native Plant Medicine from the Four Directions. Rochester: Bear & Company, 2003.

8.  Plants for A Future. 2008. October 21, 2009.

9. ( 2003. October 21, 2009.