Banana: The Plant With A Thousand Uses

All parts of the banana plant are loaded with medicinal properties and nutrients.

Chew On This
5 min read
Whether raw, ripe or even over ripe, there is always some dish a banana can go into!

Often considered as one of the most sacred and auspicious symbols in Hindu culture, the banana plant has always been associated with prosperity and fertility. Known as “khadali” in Sanskrit, the plant finds reference in ancient Hindu scriptures and dates back to as early as 5000 BC. It also finds mention in Buddhist Pali texts, Greek mythology, and ancient Chinese literature. Believed to be the first fruit ever cultivated, banana has its origins in Southeast Asia and the South Pacific.

Banana: The Plant With A Thousand Uses
(Photo: Unsplash)

An intrinsic part of rituals and festivals, the various parts of the banana plant find their way into homes and temples during celebrations.

It is considered as a symbol of Lord Vishnu and planting a banana tree in one’s backyard is considered highly auspicious as it is equated to planet Jupiter. 
Badri Achar, head priest of Kalyani Raghavendra Swami temple.

The leaves are tied to pillars as a symbol of festivity and are used to serve food while the fruit is used in myriad forms of prasad, the most popular being the ubiquitous “Panchamrutam” which is a heavenly concoction of milk, curd, honey, sugar, and bananas. The stems and flowers are cooked as delicacies too.

The Stem

While it is traditionally known as a symbol of growth and regeneration, all parts of the banana plant are loaded with medicinal properties and nutrients. Hence this humble plant is used in a plethora of ways. The stem of the banana plant which is actually a rhizome is a treasure house of minerals and vitamins including calcium.

It is rich in fibre and is known for its positive effects for treating kidney stones and urinary tract infections. It is great for digestive health including acidity and is believed to have a favourable effect in controlling blood sugar and cholesterol levels.

The stem can be consumed as a simple stir-fried curry by finely chopping it and tempering it with curry leaves and mustard seeds along with a pinch of asafoetida. You can also partially cook it and use it in salads or in raitha. “Ensure that you remove all the fibre while cutting the stem and place it in cold water so that it does not turn brown due to oxidation,” says Kavita Raman, 57, a homemaker from Chennai.

The Leaves

Banana: The Plant With A Thousand Uses
(Photo: iStock)

No festival celebration is complete without having the customary lunch served on a banana leaf. While sitting cross-legged on the floor and having a full meal on a delicate banana leaf may appear to be a tricky proposition for many, it is in fact one of the healthiest ways to savour a meal.

The leaves are replete with polyphenols like epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) which are antioxidants and get absorbed in the food that is served on it. The leaf also lends a subtle flavour that enhances the taste of the food.

This is the reason food is also cooked inside the banana leaf. Whether it is the flavourful Paturi from Bengal or Patrani machhi of the Parsi community or the Maccha patrapoda from Odisha, the symphony of fish and banana leaves is well known. Rice dumplings filled with ground jaggery and coconut are steamed in banana leaves and made during festivals in Karnataka. Rice panki from Gujarat is yet another popular dish steamed in banana leaves. The leaves have anti-bacterial properties and are used abundantly to pack and parcel food too. It is not only economical but also eco-friendly and hygienic too.

The Flowers

Nothing forms for a prettier picture than that of the deep red banana blossoms that hang from the plant protecting the delicate pale-yellow flowers within. A powerhouse of antioxidants, phenolic acids, tannins, flavonoids, vitamins, and amino acids, these floral beauties have anti-aging properties and are a blessing for many kinds of gynecological problems including irregular periods and menstrual cramps. It boosts metabolism and is a boon for breastfeeding moms apart from preventing heart diseases.

Banana flowers
Banana flowers
(Photo: Rashmi Gopal Rao)

A great way to use these flowers is by preparing a poriyal (vegetable curry with spices and fresh coconut) which involves chopping off the banana flowers and cooking them in a small quantity of coconut oil that is tempered with mustard seeds, urad dal, channa dal, and curry leaves. Add in freshly grated coconut and you have your extremely nutritious curry ready to eat.

If the quantity of chopped flowers is not large enough for a curry, add this to your regular portion of flour and vegetables while making cutlets and you have a super healthy version of the snack.  The subtle flavour of the flowers imparted to the cutlet makes it delectable too.
Bindu, 45 a home chef and writer, Bangalore.

The key is to note that while using the flower, the long stamen, as well as the colourless, translucent white lip at the base, needs to be removed. The rest of the flower can be used but ensure you soak it in lime juice or buttermilk after cutting it so that it does not become bitter.

The Fruit

Banana: The Plant With A Thousand Uses
(Photo: Rashmi Gopal Rao)

Whether raw, ripe, or even overripe, there is always some dish the banana can go into! The fruit which is extremely rich in potassium, fibre & vitamin C works wonders for digestion and helps prevent constipation. Raw banana curry as well as koftas are some popular dishes cooked across the country. The fruit in its ripe form is used for a wide variety of desserts like kheer, halwa, malpua, and the like. An energy booster, the fruit is a perfect breakfast snack and is consumed in many ways including Jolpan of Assam where the banana is consumed with puffed rice, jaggery, and curd. And fret not if the bananas on the table have gone a tad black due to over-ripening. Just use it to make a whole wheat banana cake or bread or even the fluffy Mangalore buns which are essentially mild soft fluffy puris made from flour and overripe banana.


The Peels

Banana: The Plant With A Thousand Uses
(Photo: iStock

It is surprising to note that banana peel is rich in magnesium, potassium as well as vitamin B6 and B12. They are edible and consumed as a stir-fried curry aka “thoran”. And if you are an avid gardener, think twice before you trash those banana peels. Just cut them up and add to your compost or store the peels in a bottle of water. Then use the water leached with nutrients for your potted plants.

(Rashmi Gopal Rao is a freelance writer from Bangalore who writes about travel, food, and decor)

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