Soursop: Tree of Miracles

Grenada market watchers have been monitoring the strong market signals U.S. consumers are sending Grenada soursop producers. For those who are missing it, this discourse drives home the message loud and clear.

Many of us shun local agricultural produce and like programmed robots when shopping our hands automatically pick the foreign product. Our chronic backward mindset still perceives everything foreign as superior to the local, including fruits and vegetables.

Ironically, the local produce we treat like garbage is often almost worshipped in foreign countries, and this is exactly what is happening with the humble, lowly soursop. In recent times U.S. market demand for our soursop has grown astronomically reaching an all-time high.

It is an amazing epiphany, not just a “fly-by-night” mad craze like the latest hot fashion of today that disappears tomorrow. The soursop phenomenon has a solid historical base and all indicators show it is here to stay.

Generations of our people have eaten the soursop fruit and drank its home grown “bush tea” totally ignorant of its enormous economic value in the world of pharmacology, industry, and commerce. Now scientific research documenting the tremendous value of the tree, its fruit and leaves, has radically changed the whole modus operandi of soursop.

With science elevating it top of the food chain, and U.S. market demand exceeding our supply by 80%, Grenada is positioned to reap a bonanza by shifting to massive soursop production.

The soursop plant is native to Latin America and the Caribbean and cultivated in Chile, Mexico, Venezuela, and Brazil, with wild varieties proliferating in jungles and rainforests.

The Caribbean largest growers are Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Jamaica, with concentrations elsewhere in the region. Early explorers spread the plant to the Old World and the subtropical regions of Asia, the East Indies, India, and the Pacific Islands of Guam and Hawaii.

In botanical jargon soursop is classified as a member of the annona muricata family of evergreen trees, the same genus as the paw paw. In different geographical localities around the world the fruit is known by fancy names like annona de puntitas, guanabana, and graviola. In Grenada we cultivate the “burris” variety of the muricata and simply call it “soursop”.

For centuries soursop was the magical healing tree of medicine men and “witch doctors” of primitive, indigenous tribes of the Americas. The fruit treated parasite sufferers, asthmatics, and manic depressives. Ailments like cirrhosis of the liver, arthritis, and carcinogenic tumors disappeared like magic after drinking concoctions made from the bark.

In modern times traditions of the ancients are widely practiced in agrarian communities throughout the West Indies. Our parents use the sedative property of soursop leaves to make a tranquilizing formula for sobriety. The young shoot is a remedy for gall bladder problems, diarrhea, and dysentery.

Mashed soursop leaves make a poultice that heals rheumatism. And a mixture of powdered soursop seeds and bay rum is a powerful vomit-inducing emetic for regurgitating poisons from the body.

In the early 20th century hypes and hyperboles extolling the legendary healing powers of soursop were flying “fast and furious” far and wide and scientific investigations were launched to find the truth of the tree.

In the 1970s pharmaceutical companies invested millions researching the soursop properties, isolating and analyzing extracts and chemical compounds. Their findings proved that soursop is truly the “wonder tree of the world”, an astonishing multipurpose biogenic reservoir of nutrients, medicine, and industry chemicals.

The soursop fruit is a rich source of carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals including calcium, phosphorous, potassium, and iron with traces of other essential food elements. The juice is utilized for recipes, carbonated drinks, confectionaries, yoghurt, ice cream, and gourmet cuisines of hotels and restaurants.

In 1997 the US Food and Drug Administration approved soursop concentrates as a dietary supplement for the immune system.

In medicine soursop is hailed as a powerful cancer cell killer. Many people terminally diagnosed with cancer have given testimony of being miraculously cured by its healing herbs. Medications that pharmacology developed from soursop acetogenin extracts to treat lung, colon, and prostate cancer are said to be vastly more potent than chemotherapy. And doctors prescribe its active phytochemical ingredients in alternative therapeutic medicine for diabetes, arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, and HIV symptoms.

Not left behind, the chemical industry discovered bioactive alkaloids in the soursop seed that kill the Aedes aegypti mosquito that causes Dengue fever. The tree also possesses insecticidal properties that fight pests and plant diseases and its oil extracts make dyes for industrial applications.

In food processing, industry, and medicine the possibilities for soursop seem endless. Now we understand why U.S. consumers are obsessed with our soursop. We are extremely lucky that most regional producers agrprocess their soursop domestically leaving us to monopolise the U.S. market. We must go all out to keep it that way.

It is déjà vu all over again in Grenada’s “green gold” legacy and farmers must exploit it to the maximum.

Jay Bruno

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