The term banana is Spanish-Portuguese from Guinea. Plantain (the other term whose origin is not known) refers in India to a coarse banana. Though the two terms are regarded as almost synonymous, banana refers botanically to Musa paradisiaca, the most familiar of the tropical fruits.
From its origin in India\Malaysia it spread to the tropical world, there being no warm region except the Sahara where it is not cultivated now.
Cultivated for more than 4000 years, the original 75 varieties have increased to 300--yet none is grown through seeds.
Banana is possibly the world's oldest cultivated crop. It was known to be important in Assyria in 1100 B.C. and was also well known to many other early civilizations. It reached Polynesia early and was carried to the West Indies in 1500 A.D. Two species, Musa nana (a dwarf plant) and Musa textiles (tree-like, yielding textile fibres called Manila hemp) are significantly different.
The plant is so well known for its food value that its medicinal value is almost unknown. As a food, the fruit is used in numerous ways, specially in Tropical America, where it is so extensively consumed that it almost replaces cereals. A banana flour is prepared by drying it in the sun or an oven. This is often mixed with other wholemeal flour to prepare bread and pastry. The ripe banana is carefully dried and used as figs; the best Indian banana for this is the vasai banana found near Bombay.
Raw banana (the coarser plantain specially) is a very common and much cherished cooking vegetable, specially in South India. Ancient physicians of India and Iran recommended eating banana for its magical rejuvenating power.
Today the fruit is accepted as promoting healthy digestion and feeling of youthfulness. Bananas help in the retention of calcium, phosphorus and nitrogen in the body which build and regenerate tissues. Its invertase sugar aids metabolism. It has an alkaline effect in the intestines.
Bananas are believed to exercise their full rejuvenating power when given as a special diet without sweets and certain cereals. Royal physicians also kept their patients on a regimen of banana with non-starch vegetables and fruits (excepting acid fruits e.g. oranges) and milk. It is a common practice in India to fast for one day or leave one meal a week and sustain oneself on bananas.
Sanskrit has many names for it: Vanalakshmi, kadali, rambha, mochaka, guchhaphala, rajaphala and so on. Most regional languages of the North derive their names for banana from `kadali' while those of the South from `valai'. So its names are kala in Hindi, Marathi, Gujrati; Keli or kala in Bengali; Vazhai in Tamil; vala in Malayalam; bala in Kannada and ariti kadalamu in Telugu.
Banana is probably the tallest of herbs, for, although sometimes big, it is not a tree. The robust tall tree-like trunk is a pseudo or false stem made up of strong, turgid sheathing leaf bases that grow to a height of 10-30 feet and bear a crown of big, deep green leaves or the leaf blades that may reach 12 feet in length and 2 feet in width. The leaf blade has a strong prominent midrib with parallel lateral veins. The stem is wholly underground in the form of a swollen rhizome, which is the only means of propagation as the plant has `forgotten' reproduction by seeds. The blackish `spots' in ripe fruit are all that remain of the seeds. Very rarely in wild species and almost as a freak, pearl like hard seeds do get formed but these are nonviable.
On maturity the plant produces only one inflorescence which has many clusters of flowers, each surrounded by a big, fleshy, reddish boat like spathe or bract that falls off as the flowers mature. This inflorescence curves down due to its own weight as the flowers become fruits. Marketable bunches...