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Soursop is a slender, small, and cold-intolerant tree, generally reaching heights of 4–6 meters (13–20 feet); it flowers at can bear fruit 3–5 years after planting. Leaves are glossy, dark green, and generally evergreen, with a distinctive odor (Morton 1987). Its fruits are the largest of the Annona species, 20–30 cm (8–12 in) long, often weighing 4.5 kg, with exceptional fruits as large as 7 kg (Flora of Pakistan 2011, NAS 1989). The fruits have green inedible skins, with many soft, curved spines, but the white, juicy pulp is edible. It has an aroma of pineapple but a sour or musky flavor, and is eaten fresh or used for making juices and other beverages (including the Cuban “champola de guanábana), as well as custards and sherbets and other dishes in South America, the Caribbean, and Indonesia (Morton 1987, Popenoe 1920).
Soursop (frequently referred to as graviola in this context) has numerous traditional medicinal uses in South American and the Caribbean, and it has become a popular nutritional medicinal supplement. Fruit, seeds, bark, leaves, and roots have all been used to treat intestinal parasites, coughs (including asthma and bronchitis), liver ailments, inflammation, diabetes, and hypertension, among many uses (Morton 1987, Taylor 2005); seeds are insecticidal and a preparation from the leaves has been used to kill headlice and bedbugs (Morton 1987, Flora of Pakistan 2011). Research on extracts of graviola have documented antiviral, antiparasitic, antirheumatic, anti-inflammatory, and antihyperglycemic properties; it has also been used as an anti-depressant and at least one study has found it effective against multi-drug resistant cancer cells (Sloan-Kettering 2011, Oberlies et al. 1997). Acetogenins are the alkaloid compounds thought to be responsible for these effects, although other components, including quinolones, annopentocins, and annomuricins may also be involved.
In addition to the health benefits, soursop (along with other members of the Annonaceae family) also contains small amounts of neurotoxic alkaloids, such as annonacin, which appear to be linked to atypical Parkinsonism and other neurological effects if consumed frequently or in large quantities (Sloan-Kettering 2011, Champy et al. 2005, Caparros-Lefebvre and Elbaz 1999).