7 Amazing Health Benefits of Eating Banana Flower
Everyone’s heard of bananas, it’s the 4th most cultivated crop on the planet. At their peak, golden bananas are a delicious fruit that have become a staple in the diets of plenty of people around the world. But there’s even more goodness shared by the banana tree.
Banana leaves are another useful part of the plant. Though not used as a food, banana leaves serve other purposes in the kitchen due to their flexible, waterproof, protective, and decorative qualities.
That’s why they’re used in tropical areas for such things as wrapping fish for the grill, or as a serving platter for a fruit salad.
But there’s another important part – an unexpected bonus – of the banana tree that may not be nearly as familiar to those of us in the United States. It’s called banana flower.
If this is something that’s new to you – you’ll want to learn more about it for no other reason than the reputed banana flower benefits that are yours for the taking.
As you get to know more about this nutritional powerhouse and how you might be able to incorporate it into your diet, you could benefit in numerous ways. Not only can banana flower improve your overall health and wellbeing, it can open up a whole new array of cuisines and specific dishes you’ll want to try at home – if you can source this interesting ingredient locally.
Let’s start with the basics, to help you gain a better understanding.
What Is a Banana Flower?
“Banana flower” refers to the large, dark red to purple (magenta-like) blossom that grows on the end of a banana bunch. If you’ve never seen a banana tree before, you may not have known such a thing existed. I sure didn’t, until a recent trip to St. Lucia, where I had the opportunity to visit a banana plantation.
Two things caught my attention. First, I was surprised to realize how banana bunches grow on the tree. They actually grow upside-down.
Secondly, I wondered about the colorful, cone-like blossoms adorning many of the trees. “Banana Flower” was my tour guide’s response to my question, as though it should have been obvious.
But it wasn’t until I discovered these gems at a roadside market that I started digging further into what this purple cone had to offer.
If Indian or Southeast Asian cuisine is not something that you’ve indulged in, you may not have known that such an unusual thing could be turned into a nutritious food.
It’s not the dark red leaves or the thick stem that’s of value here, although the splash of color provides an interesting platter on which to serve a dish. It’s the small flowers inside that we want to harvest.
Banana flower, also known as “banana blossom” and “banana heart” originated in Papua New Guinea, in the South Pacific. Since then, the availability of banana flower has spread to other banana growing regions like South America and the Caribbean.
Beneath the tightly-packed, crimson or magenta colored leaves or “bracts” are those pale, thin-stemmed flowers. This is the inside part, the real banana flower, that we’re after.
These white tubular flowers within the rough exterior are what provides the food value in banana flowers. In their natural state, they are slightly bitter and somewhat starchy and quite different from the taste of a golden ripe banana.
But it’s their versatility in dishes along with the nutritional punch they pack, not to mention the therapeutic properties associated with banana flowers that’s of the greatest value.
Where Can You Buy Banana Flower?
In local areas where bananas are grown, banana flower is usually available fresh in markets and roadside stands. It’s also available in major cities around the world, particularly in stores that specialize in Indian and Southeast Asian foods. At times you can buy it fresh, though it’s most commonly available in North America in frozen form.
Commonly consumed in places like Vietnam, Philippines, China, Thailand, Sri Lanka, and India among others, it’s served fresh in salads, or as a side dish to Pad Thai. It’s also prepared for and gently cooked when added to stir fries or soups.
How to Prepare Banana Flowers
To uncover the delicate and tender interior of the banana flower takes care and patience. That’s one of the reasons many people avoid it altogether. But on weekends, or whenever you have a little extra time, it would be well worth it to give banana flower a try.
It’s important to wear gloves and work on a papered surface to avoid coming into contact with the liquid that’s present between the flowers. It stains heavily and it’s next to impossible to remove those stains once they’ve occurred.
As the outer leaves of the tapered cone are peeled away, those long, narrow strands are revealed, with the youngest, freshest and whitest flowers closest to the heart of the bulb. It’s the younger blossoms that are the sweetest and tenderest.
These ones are best enjoyed raw in a salad. But all the other larger and more mature blossoms are best enjoyed in homemade soups and stir-fried dishes.
When preparing banana flowers it’s important that as each flower is removed, it quickly gets added to lemon water. Combine one tablespoon of lemon juice for every two cups of water and place in a bowl next to your paper-covered chopping board.
If you’re not treating these delicate morsels this way, they will quickly oxidize and turn a rather unappealing brownish color.
Actually, the practice of soaking banana flowers in lemon water is two-fold. Not only does it minimize oxidation, it also helps get rid of the bitter sap that runs between the petals.
The inner leaves are separated and chopped and then put into a bowl of water with several tablespoons of lemon juice added. This helps minimize any browning.
Banana flower has traditionally been used by various cultures to soothe and heal various health issues. It’s also a common ingredient in Ayurvedic cooking, due to its therapeutic properties.
7 Amazing Health Benefits of Eating Banana Flower
1. Rich in Fiber
Firstly, banana flower is loaded with fiber and fiber helps reduce blood cholesterol levels, something we all should pay close attention to since high cholesterol levels are one of the indicators of potential heart-related problems or heart disease, the number one killer in North America these days.
Fiber is best known for its ability to help maintain regularity. It’s far healthier to get your fiber naturally from foods like banana flower than it is to buy into the so-called solutions offered by big pharma. Since banana flower is rich in soluble fiber, it’s a natural digestive aid that enables the body to more easily absorb other nutrients.
2. Anemia Treatment
Banana flower is rich in iron and fiber it helps with red blood cell production and is therefore sometimes used as an alternative treatment for anemia and diabetes because it helps reduce blood sugar and stimulate the production of hemoglobin.
This is vital to good health because hemoglobin transports life-supporting oxygen from the lungs to the tissues and returns carbon dioxide back to the lungs.
3. Treats Infections
It is said that banana flower can help treat and heal infections. Thanks to the ethanol-based extracts contained within banana flower, bacterial growth is inhibited, according to a study published in the Journal of Chemical and Pharmaceutical Research.
Another study published in Parasitology Research suggests that ethyl acetate extracts from banana flower may inhibit malarial parasites.
4. Benefits for Women
Banana flowers are thought to be particularly helpful for females. Some say that it helps a woman maintain a healthy uterus. It is also believed to help stop excessive bleeding in women who are experiencing more than a normal amount of bleeding from their menstrual cycle.
Additionally, banana flowers are said to help improve lactation by increasing the volume of breast milk a mother produces.
Banana flowers are rich in antioxidants and it’s antioxidants that help minimize free radicals which develop as a result of various metabolic activity within the body.
Free radicals must be neutralized, or they react with the proteins and DNA in human cells to distort their properties, leading to serious health issues like heart disease and cancer.
Antioxidants are powerful anti-aging agents too. An article in Food Science and Biology recommends banana flower extracts as a healthy supplement, due to its powerful antioxidant capability.
6. Vitamins and Minerals
Along with vitamins C, E, A, banana flower also contains magnesium and potassium. Potassium is important because it helps to regulate one’s blood pressure and heart rate. At the same time, it also helps to counteract the negative effects of excessive sodium consumption.
7. Natural Anti-Depressant
Due to its levels of magnesium banana flower can be used as a natural antidepressant – without any side effects. This is due to the fact that magnesium helps reduce anxiety and improve moods.
When you consider that antidepressants are the number one medication prescribed these days, the long-term effects on the general population are not good. It’s far better to use natural foods and remedies to ease stress, tension, anxiety and depression.
Clearly, this is one food we all should get to know. If you cannot find it in a store near you, ask about it the next time you’re out enjoying Indian, Thai, or Vietnamese cuisine. Enjoy the new opportunities it presents in meal planning and the many healthy benefits it delivers.