Throughout South-east Asia, Banana leaves are used extensively to cook, serve food and as a decorative tool. Especially in South India, food is extensively served in banana leaves as it is considered hygienic, environmentally friendly and known to provide health benefits.
But have you ever wondered why and how a simple leaf came to dominate the meal time? Well, here’s your answer.
Banana leaves are packed with plant-based compounds called polyphenols. Especially a specific kind of polyphenol called epigallocatechin gallate, or EGCG. Polyphenols are natural antioxidants found in many plant-based foods.
It is believed that Epigallocatechin gallate protects our cells from oxidative damage from free radicals. Free radicals are produced by the stressors that our modern life puts on our bodies. A number of chronic diseases have been associated with free radical damage, including cancer, arteriosclerosis, heart diseases and accelerated aging.
Epigallocatechin gallate can protect the DNA in the human cells from ultraviolet and visible radiation-induced damage and is effective in promoting fat oxidation and lowering body weight. So the banana leaf being packed with Epigallocatechin is a very beneficial ingredient in a skin rejuvenation treatment.
Of course, if it’s so healthy, why don’t they eat the leaves too you may ask. But banana leaves are not easy to digest if eaten directly by humans. In fact, since in ancient India many people had cows in their homes, they would eat the food and give the leaves as food for the cows. This was nutritious to both parties and made good economic sense too.
You may ask if one is not eating the banana leaf, how can it be nutritious. Well, the warm food stimulates the polyphenols in the banana leaves which get absorbed in the food. Additionally they also have antibacterial properties and contain Vitamin A, Citric acid, Calcium and Carotene.
Eating food in banana leaves is very healthy because when hot food is served in banana leaves, the various nutrients mix with the food.
Banana leaves have a waxy coating on them which has a subtle but distinct flavour. When hot food is placed on the leaves, the wax melts and lends its flavour to the food, making it taste better. Steaming or cooking food in banana leaves also adds a sweet flavor and imparts astringency to the food.
People use plastic and Styrofoam plates as disposable plates which cause great harm to our environment and the animals. Banana leaves are eco-friendly and can be eaten by other herbivorous animals.
Banana leaves do not require a lot of cleaning – they just need to be rinsed with a little water and they are ready to use. If you are eating at a place where the hygiene standards are questionable, you are much better off eating from a banana leaf than from a plate that has not been cleaned properly.
Even with a dishwasher, if you are using chemical soaps and detergents which are environmentally damaging, they can affect you too. These traces of toxic chemicals may still remain on your plate and cause havoc. Banana leaves carry no such harm.
Because of their waxy coating, banana leaves can be used to serve gravy, curries, and slightly soupy preparations without turning soggy. They are also a great alternative to aluminum foil and can be used to pack lunches for picnics
Apart from using it as an eco-friendly plate to eat your meals, it can be used to treat various other ailments.
1. Use juice of a fresh banana leaf to treat minor skin wounds and other skin disorders such as dandruff, eczema, and sunburn.
2. Soak banana leaves in cold water and apply it on the sunburnt area
3. Banana leaves have medicinal properties that can relieve poisonous insect bites, bee stings, spider bites, rashes, skin irritation.