Uses of the Banana

St.John, U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI)
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Uses of the Banana


Uses of the Banana

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The principle use of the banana is as a food. They can be eaten when fully ripe as a sweet fruit, or they can be picked while still green, cooked and consumed as a starch.

In the Virgin Islands and elsewhere the banana is also used to prepare a myriad of food preparations such as banana bread, banana pancakes, bananas Foster and banana daiquiris, to name just a few.

In addition to their use as a food, the banana also has several other, somewhat esoteric uses such as:

Bananas can be used to make money

People can make money by selling bananas, but the banana actually makes money. Because the leaf and stalk of the banana plant contain a strong fibrous material, bananas are used to make specialty papers that require strength; papers that will not tear easily and that are resistant to moisture and water. Papers, made from or containing fibers from the banana plant, include paper money, other bank notes and tea bags.

Banana can be used to make beer

In the East African highlands, the banana is an important stable crop. One variety, called the beer banana, is used to make a beer-like beverage having a low alcohol content. (The people of Rwanda hold the world’s record for banana consumption, eating an average of more than a pound of bananas and drinking more than one quart of banana beer per person each day.)

Banana can be used for first aid

Banana peels are said to have antibacterial properties. They can be pounded into a poultice to help draw out or prevent infection, or the peels can be wrapped directly around cuts and wounds for emergency first aid.

Banana can be used to prepare earthen ovens

The traditional Hawaiian luau involves the use of an earthen oven called an imu. Variations of the imu style of cookery can also be found in the Caribbean.In 1970, I had the privilege of being invited to participate in the making of a Virgin Islands style luau held on Jost Van Dyke. I believe the occasion was to celebrate Foxy’s birthday.

The building of the imu was overseen and supervised by a native of Hawaii, Bobby Cain, who was well known on St. Thomas as a weaver of palm leaf hats, and island character.

How to make an imu:

1) Dig a big hole about three to four feet deep

2) Make a big fire in the hole using a slow-burning hardwood. In Hawaii they use koa wood, in the Virgin Island’s you could use cassia, large wild tamarinds or other native hardwoods.

3) When the coals are hot, put rocks on top of them and heat them until they get white-hot.

4) Remove any large pieces of burning coal and arrange the rocks to fit evenly in the bottom of the hole.

5) Cover the rocks with cut-up sections of banana stalks and then cover the stalks with banana leaves

6) Place the food to be cooked on the banana leaves (In Hawaii, pig is traditionally cooked in this manner, in the Virgin Islands, pig, goat, fish, lobster, chicken and ground food (yucca, green banana, yams etc.) are generally cooked together in the imu.

7) Cover the food with banana leaves and cover the leaves with wet burlap or a wet canvas tarp.

8) Cover with sand until no more steam escapes from the earth. The ground will feel mildly warm.

9) An imu prepared in the morning will be ready to eat by the evening. Uncover carefully, making sure no sand gets in the food and serve.

Bananas plants can be used to roll spliffs

How to make a spliff: (told to me by an experienced spliff-roller visiting St. John from another island in the West Indies; a gentleman who wishes to remain anonymous.)

1) The large and heavy leaves of the banana plant will often break or become damaged by wind, rain, or just by their sheer weight alone. When this happens, the leaves dry up, becoming brown and paper-like. Tear or cut out a section of one of these dried leaves about two inches wide and the length that you want your spliff to be.

2) Peel thin strips of the dried brown sections of the outer layer of the banana stalk, or main stem, and set aside. (The brown, paper-like leaves, along with the dry, brown layer of banana stem, are sometimes referred to as banana shak.)

3) Place the substance you wish to roll in the center of the leaf. Many people prefer what is called a blen rather than using pure herb. A blen is a mixture of herb and fanta, a tobacco-like leaf.

4) Roll up your herb or blen in the dried banana leaf.

5) Using the strips of banana stalk, tie the rolled leaf together in three or four places to prevent the spliff from unraveling.

6) Sit under a coconut palm and enjoy your spliff. (Herbs can be smoked for religious or recreational purposes. Keep in mind that possession of certain herbs are illegal in the Virgin Islands and elsewhere.)

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