Paw paw’s are the United States’ largest native fruit. This unique, delicious fruit can be easy to find – if you know where to look. In this post I’ll give you all of my tips and tricks for how to find and harvest paw paw fruit!
Every Fall, these odd looking trees are so heavy with fruit their trunks and branches bend and creek, almost asking you to pick the fruit. And every year it still stuns me how much free food there is out there, just ripe for the picking – if you know where to look.
What is Paw Paw?
Paw paw is the fruit from the the family of trees called Asimina. They are native to 26 US states in the East and the South.
The trees are broad, simple leaves and thin trunks. They grow in colonies where the roots will branch out and sprout new saplings.
In the Spring, the paw paw’s flowers are large and a stunning red or purple color. Unfortunately, however, they don’t put out a lot of scent to attract pollinators. For that reason you may find a paw paw grove with no fruit.
The scent they do emit is vague reminiscent of rotting flesh, and so Native Americans and early settlers would hang rotting fish and meat from the trees in order to attract the pollinators and help create a better harvest.
The fruit only grows on new growth, so you’ll find many older trees bare.
The fruit itself is large and shaped like a mango. It is green when unripe and ripens to a yellow/brownish color.
The taste of paw paw is unique and difficult to describe. The texture is almost like a very soft avocado, but the flavor is like a mixture of banana, mango and apple?
Nutritional Benefits of Paw Paw
I’m especially fond of this food, mainly because it’s plentiful and easy to find. It feels like the ultimate act of rebellion – that I can go out into the woods and harvest hundreds of pounds of this delicious fruit, completely outside of our normal capitalist economy.
Paw paws are so plentiful and so generous, every year I give away the first few harvests.
In addition to being generous, and delicious, it’s also a nutritional superfood! It has more protein than any other fruit!
They contain three times as much Vitamin C as an apple, twice as much as a banana, and a little more than an orange. Pawpaw also has six times the amount of riboflavin as an apple and twice as much as an orange!
Niacin (B3) helps the food you eat turn into the energy your body needs. It’s important for the development and function of all of the cells in your body. Pawpaw contain 14 times(!) the amount of Niacin as an apple, 4 times as much as an orange and twice as much as a banana.
Pawpaws also contain high amounts of potassium, calcium, phosphorus, mangesium, iron, zinc, copper and manganese.
They’re high in Vitamin C, magnesium, iron, copper, and manganese. They also are a good source of potassium, and essential amino acids. They also contain a significant amount of riboflavin, niacin, calcium, phosphorus and zinc.
They’re equal or even better than bananas, apples or oranges!
How to Find Paw Paw
A good friend of mine and foraging-enthusiast, Vince, and I were recently talking about Paw Paws and how wonderful they were. He commented on how it occurred to him that they seem to like the same type of growing conditions that Virginia Bluebells like.
This struck a lightbulb in my brain and I immediately went to an area near us where the bluebells are stunning every Spring, and sure enough – acres upon acres of paw paw.
If you don’t have bluebells near you, though, don’t worry! Paw paws like to have their feet damp, but not soaked. You likely won’t find them on the very edges of creeks and rivers, but in the flood plain and swampy areas just next to waterways.
Paw Paws in Popular Culture
Particularly for Europeans and Native Americans, the Paw Paw fruit is one of their favorites. In fact, the first US President George Washington stated that frozen Paw Paw was his favorite dessert.
Other influential people in the society that liked Paw Paw fruits are Thomas Jefferson who reportedly ate this fruit with his friends. It was even written in journals by famous American explorers Lewis and Clark.
Today, you can find many people growing their own paw paw trees and teaching others how to harvest pawpaw fruit on their own. Some states, like West Virginia, grow wild on pawpaw trees and harvest them around mid-August to September.
The state of Ohio celebrates the Ohio Paw Paw Festival every year in commemoration to the Paw Paw fruit, which is a native tree to the Midwestern, Eastern, and Southern United States. This event showcases different kinds of products made of Paw Paw, like gelato, jams, and even beer!
There are still towns in rural Appalachia called Paw Paw, or Paw Paw Patch. And the fruit has recently become more popular with the publishing of this book:
Way Down Yonder in the Paw Paw Patch
There’s even an old song called “Way Down Yonder in the Paw Paw Patch”, complete with it’s own line dance. Unfortunately, I’m afraid this song and dance are going to disappear soon. Since we no longer teach line dancing in schools, and music class is being replaced in pursuit of more testing, but I was able to find a handful of amateur videos on youtube:
Learning how to harvest pawpaw fruit celebrates an older way of life and a self-sufficiency of simply going out into the foods and foraging your food. It celebrates the absolute abundance of the natural world – for those who know where to look.
If you’re looking for additional ways to make money from your homestead, consider selling paw paw fruit and saplings that you can start from seed. In my area, saplings sell for $20 a piece.
For more money making ideas for your homestead, check out my post.