ARBRE A PAIN
Moraceae are essentially trees of hot regions, rarely herbs or shrubs; there are 60 genera and more than 1000 species.
Almost all of these plants secrete a white or colorless, sometimes toxic latex.
Many are trees sought after or cultivated for their secretion (Panama rubber, Venezuelan milk tree), for their bark which, by threshing, gives barkcloth (tapa cloth), both among the Ashanti of Ghana (Antiaris africana) and among the ancient Polynesians (Broussonetia papyrifera and Artocarpus altilis).
In the genus Ficus we find the European fig tree, the majestic and revered Asian banyan trees.
Breadfruit is an horticultural variety of a wild species native to Southeast Asia, Micronesia or Papua, probably ARTOCARPUS CAMANSI.
This tree is cultivated in many tropical regions for its fruit resembling that of the breadfruit but smaller and more "thorny" which contains edible seeds after cooking.
Botanists differentiate about sixty species of Artocarpus.
Selected by man, some breadfruit varieties have lost their ability to reproduce by seed and can only be propagated by layering or using root suckers.
According to botanists, seeded breadfruit varieties contain an even number of chromosomes (2N), other seedless varieties are either triploids (3N) or infertile hybrid forms.
The Polynesians recognized several dozen crop varieties, only one of which with seeds (the "chestnut tree").
Breadfruit trees are currently widespread throughout the tropical world, but Europeans did not know of their existence before the "discovery" of Tahiti.
It was at the end of the 18th century that the English decided to introduce it into their plantations in the West Indies to feed the abundant workforce there; we know the rest, Bligh and the Bounty, the long stay in Tahiti to select and embark more than 1000 young trees, and the mutiny which broke out shortly after the departure from Polynesia, partly because of the abuse of power by the captain but also because of drinking water restriction, these trees need a lot of water to survive.
Two years later, Bligh successfully introduced breadfruit to the West Indies (St Vincent), the French acclimatized it a little later in French Guyana .
COMPOSITION AND PROPERTIES
FRUIT OF THE BREADFRUIT TREE
Fresh breadfruit contains on average:
1.5% cellulose, mineral matter,
little vitamin C and A but vitamins B1 and B2.
The latex (it is an emulsion) present throughout the tree is abundant in the central part of the fruit, it quickly separates into 2 parts, one watery, the other rubbery; there is an enzyme, papayotin.
LEAVES OF THE BREAD TREE
For several years many pharmacologists have been interested by artocarpus altilis.
The leaves and also the heartwood contain many interesting but non-specific compounds.
But to my knowledge there is no application in practical medicine.
However, we know that the leaves contain a mixture of compounds (including quercetin and camphorol) that lower blood pressure (hypotensive).
All this is banal and does not justify the place of this tree in a list of medicinal plants, yet there is a reason.
It is thanks to the breadfruit tree that the Maohis colonized the Marquesas Islands (it is called "tumu mei" there), were able to develop a very original island civilization and culture, quite simply survived on these austere islands with a very irregular climate, alternating between rainy years and severe droughts.
For hundreds of years, they fed almost exclusively on the fruit of the breadfruit tree ("mei"), animal protein being rare or taboo (prohibited) for the majority of men and almost all women, and other scarce food crops (rare taros and bananas except in times of drought).
However, the first navigators who approached these islands were astonished by the physical power of the "Marquisian" warriors, their imposing stature, the Cyclopean works they managed to raise, and in general their good health.
The dietary effectiveness of "mei" is probably due to the way the Polynesians prepared it. When the harvest was abundant, they ensiled the ripe fruit, the lactic fermentation which then took place guaranteed the preservation of the "mei" paste and considerably modified its food value.
This fermented paste could be kept for months and even years; it was incorporated after cooking, by beating and mixing with a stone pestle, into freshly cooked "mei", thus obtaining the nourishing and dietetically very effective "popoï".
We can regret the virtual abandonment of this culinary technique, many Polynesians are now diabetics due to carbohydrate overeating, and wonder if a modern evaluation of this traditional food would not be desirable.
But when will the "popoï" of the Marquesas Islands be on the health shelves of Western supermarkets?
- The latex is used, both in South America and in the Pacific Islands to make plasters on sprains, muscle strains, bruises, sometimes burns.
It is applied directly or after impregnation of a strip of fabric which surrounds the joint or the painful area.
The presence of papayotine undoubtedly helps in the resorption of inflammatory oedemas.
- Guyanese Creoles consume a leaf decoction to lower blood pressure, many artocarpus indeed contain cardenolides. Other populations make a decoction of the male flower to obtain this hypotensive effect.
Breadfruit wood is very light but resistant, it was used to make canoes or the outrigger of Polynesian canoes.
The branches or the trunk are sometimes used to make "tapa", vegetable cloth obtained from the internal bark of several trees.
This inner bark is beaten to amalgamate the plant fibers and thin the fabric thus obtained.
The treatment is complex and prolonged, very traditional in the countries of the South Pacific, the fabric is then coated, dyed and painted.
It was the ceremonial garment in ancient Polynesia.
Traditionally breadfruit, too valuable as a food plant, was not used to make tapa but times have changed!.
CULTIVATION OF BREADFRUIT
Artocarpus altilis spreads mainly vegetatively by layering or by spontaneous root sprouts or following root injury.
You can also germinate the seeds when they exist, but it takes longer to get a productive tree.
The breadfruit tree is very productive, in the Marquesas Islands a tree was planted at each birth, it would feed the new child throughout its life.
It is a tree of the tropical equatorial regions which requires deep soil, does not support the cold and is quite demanding in water
A TREE THAT PROVIDES DAILY BREAD
The breadfruit tree is native to the South Pacific, it is a species cultivated and improved for a long time by Polynesian navigators. It was the staple food of the inhabitants of the Marquesas Islands for centuries. Its medicinal virtues are not very important but its dietary qualities are very interesting especially when, like the old "Maohis", one first proceeds to a controlled fermentation of the ripe flesh of the fruit which is then mixed, after cooking, with cooked fresh fruit to obtain a dietetically very effective food often eaten with coconut milk.
Copyright 2022 : Dr Jean-Michel Hurtel