The Physics of a Banana Tree

India is the top banana producing nation in the world, making over 26.2 million metric tons every year. If you make that many bananas, you would need many banana trees. You would probably need the motivation to plant such a tree, and, more importantly, the patience and respect to raise it. You need to cultivate and protect it with care, and, when it finally grows its bananas, only then can you reap-excuse the pun-the fruits of your labor.

Of course, after that, the tree is useless to you, so you can cut it down and use every bit of it (oh yes, I mean every bit.)

And so is the intrinsic relationship between the Indian people and the banana tree-it has woven itself into Indian traditions. This relationship can be compared to the one of the Native Americans and the buffalo-the Native Americans would kill the buffalo-and use every part of it for myriad uses. Likewise, Indians use the banana tree for myriad uses-mainly for tradition, but also for health as well.

Evidently, one can use a banana tree for just that-the production of bananas, a food which is consumed all over the world.  The interior and the peel can be eaten raw or cooked in many different ways, including boiling and frying. There are over fifty types of banana, many of which originate from India. The banana itself has embedded itself in the culture of India-whether it’s in the constant calls of banana vendors winding their way through the streets of India or in the banana chips that are the equivalent of potato chips in America- unhealthy yet highly addictive.

Before the banana turns into an actual banana, it actually is a flower. This flower, called a banana heart, is edible as well. It’s used in Indian cuisine as a vegetable, served steamed with dips and cooked in soups, fried foods, and curries. The heart is fleshy, and its flavor has been likened to an artichoke.

One of the most important (culturally, anyways) uses of a banana tree is the banana leaf. At traditional Indian events, such as marriages, meals are served on a banana leaf. There is an entire subculture in this way of eating. For example, an assembly line is used to quickly and efficiently serve all the people present. Also, small portions of all food is given to everyone, with a subtle sweet flavor of the banana leaf that  seems to permeate the food.  Banana leaves are an increasingly ecologically friendly alternative to the paper or plastic plates that otherwise would have been used ( can you imagine the waste these 1000+ invitee marriages would have produced?) I’ve eaten on a banana leaf a few times before, and it is an experience I highly recommend. Also, the subtly sweet flavor of the leaf is implemented when the banana leaf is used to wrap foods that are about to be grilled. Much like the corn husks that are traditionally used by Mexicans to grill food, the banana leaf protects the food from burning and contains the juices of said food-all while imparting its signature subtly sweet flavor.

After the banana tree produces its bananas, the tree can’t produce another batch of bananas-so it’s deemed “useless.” This is a misnomer, as after the tree is cut down, it’s used for ceremonial purposes. In the entrance to a marriage, two banana trees are tied together in an arch, presumably representing union. Also, in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, the trunk, or the outer layer of the shoots of the banana tree, is used to make a fine thread used for flower garlands in lieu of normal thread. The corm, or an underground plant stem, is used in combination with honey as a home remedy for jaundice and kidney stones.  Even the roots are usable-the roots of the banana tree are often eaten to prevent the formation of kidney stones and are said to “melt” the beginnings of the kidney stones.

As you can see, the banana tree is used in many different ways in India-some traditional, some medicinal. If banana trees are used for everything from ecologically  friendly plates to melters of kidney stones, its no wonder why the Indian people take the time to plant them.

Author: Apoorva Malarvannan

My name is Apoorva, and I am currently a high school student in the Greater Twin Cities area. I enjoy reading, writing, speaking, and photography. I have a blog here: www.outrospects.com.

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