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Soursop seeds are toxic
published: Wednesday | May 28, 2003

SOURSOP DRINKS are refreshing. To extract the juice, the seeded pulp is pressed through a sieve, beaten with milk or water and sweetened but if an electric blender is used, one must first be careful to remove all the seeds, since they are somewhat toxic and none should be accidentally ground up in the juice.

A soursop soft drink is canned in Puerto Rico and Guatemala, and a fermented, cider-like drink is sometimes made. The strained pulp is said to be a delicacy mixed with wine or brandy and seasoned with nutmeg. In the Dominican Republic, a soursop custard is enjoyed and a confection is made by cooking soursop pulp in sugar syrup with cinnamon and lemon peel.

Soursop ice cream is made by mashing the pulp in water, letting it stand, then straining to remove fibrous material and seeds. The liquid is then blended with sweetened condensed milk, poured into the trays and stirred several times while freezing. The pulp is also used to make tarts, jelly, syrup and nectar. Immature soursops are cooked as vegetables or used in soup. The half-grown fruit is boiled whole, without peeling. In an hour, the fruit is tender, its flesh off-white and mealy, with the aroma and flavour of roasted corn.

Native to tropical America, soursop (Annona muricata) is a small tree with light green foliage. It was one of the first fruit trees carried from America to the Old World Tropics where it has become widely distributed from Africa to Australia.

In Florida, the soursop has been grown, to a limited extent, for possibly 110 years. Of the 60 or more species of the genus Annona, family Annonaceae, the soursop is the most tropical, largest-fruited, and only one lending itself well to preserving and processing. The flowers are small and yellowish. The fruit is heart-shaped, curved slightly at the base and covered with fleshy or soft spines.

If allowed to soften on the tree, it will fall and crush. Its inner surface is cream-coloured and granular and separates easily from the mass of snow-white, fibrous, juicy segments. In aroma, the pulp is somewhat pineapple-like, but its musky, subacid to acid flavour is unique.

MEDICINAL USES

When pulverised, the seeds are effective pesticides against head lice, southern army worms and pea aphids.

The juice of the ripe fruit is said to be diuretic. Taken when fasting, it is believed to relieve liver ailments and leprosy.

Pulverised immature fruits, which are very astringent, are decocted as a dysentery remedy.

The leaf decoction, and seed oil, is lethal to head lice and bedbugs.

The bark of the tree has been used in tanning. The bark, as well as seeds and roots, have been used as fish poison.

Leaves are put into one's pillowslip or strewn on the bed to promote a good night's sleep. An infusion of the leaves is commonly taken for the same purpose. The leaves have sedative and soporific properties.

It is taken as an analgesic and antispasmodic in Ecuador. In Africa, it is given to children with fever and they are also bathed lightly with it.

A decoction of the young shoots or leaves is used as a remedy for gall bladder trouble, as well as coughs, catarrh, diarrhea, dysentery and indigestion; is said to be able to stop vomiting and aid delivery in childbirth. The decoction is also employed in wet compresses on inflammations and swollen feet.

Mashed leaves are used as a poultice to alleviate eczema and other skin afflictions and rheumatism, and the sap of young leaves is put on skin eruptions.

The roots of the tree are employed as a vermifuge and the root bark as an antidote for poisoning. A tincture of the powdered seeds and bay rum is a strong emetic. Soursop flowers are believed to alleviate catarrh.

The presence of the alkaloids anonaine and anoniine has been reported in this species. The alkaloids muricine and muricinine are found in the bark. The bark is high in hydrocyanic acid. Only small amounts are found in the leaves and roots and a trace in the fruit. The seeds contain 45 per cent of a yellow non-drying oil which is an irritant poison, causing severe eye inflammation.

Source: Morton 1986 Fruits of warm climates

Dr. Sylvia Mitchell, research fellow (Graduate School), Biotechnology Centre, University of the West Indies, Mona; email: smitchel@uwimona.edu.jm.

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