The banana plant (genus Musa) is a small fruit-bearing tree indigenous to the hot, moist jungles of southeast Asia. This tree is best known for producing clusters of highly nutritious fruit. Its large, leathery green leaves also possess a number of useful qualities.
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Historical Medicinal Use
According to Margaret Joan Roberts in her book "Edible & Medicinal Flowers," banana leaves were used in ancient Egypt to dress wounds. Roberts reports that the fruit of the banana was mashed and applied to rashes and infected scratches, being subsequently covered by warmed banana leaves to create a healing poultice.
Banana leaves are also used in cooking around the world. In Burma, the chopped stems of the banana leaf lend a subtle flavor to certain curried soups. In southeast Asia, banana leaves are often used instead of plates, as well as to wrap foods such as fish and rice before steaming. Mexican cuisine makes use of banana leaves to wrap tamales, as well as seafood and poultry dishes. Philippine cooking also includes many banana-leaf wrapped recipes, several of which are cooked on an open fire.
Folklore and Symbolism
In northern India, where the banana tree is associated with the goddess Nanda Devi, premature infants are placed upon banana leaves, ostensibly to benefit from their vitalizing properties. Similarly, in West Africa, banana leaves are thought to correspond to the forces of fertility and virility.