While researching herbs and supplements, have you ever come across something and asked yourself, “what in the world is that?” This series of articles will give you insight about some of the lesser-known herbs currently available on the market. From there, you can decide whether it’s a natural remedy worthy of further exploration.
Today, it’s all about Graviola!
Graviola, more commonly known as Soursop, is a fruit indigenous to northern South America and the Caribbean. Today, it can be found in Australia, Southeast Asia, and suitably moist, warm lowlands or tropical islands of continental Africa. While this fruit appears to be a blending of a pear and a cactus, eaten for its slightly tart, pineapple-like flavor, it also has other uses.
First encountered by European explorers in the 15th century, it was exported to the tropics. Throughout the cultures that inhabit Graviola’s favored growing regions — South American and Caribbean tropical regions — Soursop is used as a delicious food, a juice, as well as medicinally. While folk medicine is sometimes disregarded by the medical science community, it’s clear that some of these applications are effective.
The skin of the fruit and the leaves are both inedible as food products. However, they are often used in either tinctures or decoctions as remedies for head lice and other parasites. It is said that the leaves have a soporific effect, and many folk traditions employ them in bed linens and aromatic infusions not intended for consumption. Additionally, Graviola has been used as an emetic similar to ipecac, and an anti-inflammatory wash that may reduce swelling and help prevent the development of unsightly or painful scar tissue after surgery. Its uses also include a remedy for bacterial infections, though due to the volatile chemical compounds in the tree bark, skin and leaves of the fruit, extreme care should be exercised when using these remedies.
The potent properties that have made this plant a potential remedy for lice, bed bugs, chiggers, skin rashes, bacterial infections, wounds, abrasions, and lesions, should also engender caution. The horticultural experts at Perdue University advise that the presence of the alkaloids anonaine and anoniine, muricine, and muricinine be found in the bark of the tree, which is also high in hydrocyanic acid. An unknown alkaloid is also found in the leaves and seeds, leading to extreme caution on the part of Western medical professionals.
While the fruit graviola might be an effective remedy for skin ailments, parasitic infestations, bacterial infections, and even for insomnia, WebMD editors note that uses of other parts of graviola, beyond enjoying the flesh of the fruit, has been shown to produce side effects resembling Parkinson’s Disease in some people. In addition, the fruit may exacerbate the disease where it already exists.
Nursing mothers should not use topical treatments, as infant exposure to the alkaloids present in bark, roots and leaves can be fatal. Caution and close supervision of a medical professional is advised when using graviola for medicinal purposes.
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Morton, J. 1987. Soursop. p. 75–80. In: Fruits of warm climates. Purdue University Horticultural Database; accessed Feb. 19, 2015
Graviola: Uses, Side Effects, Interactions and Warnings; Web MD; accessed Feb. 19, 2015