The Moringa tree (moringa oleifera) is native to northern India but has become naturalised across tropical and sub-tropical parts of Asia, Africa and central and South America. Amazingly, it covers almost exactly the same regions where people suffer most from poor nutrition and food insecurity.
All parts of the moringa plant have health and medicinal uses. The leaves, the flowers, the bark and the seeds can all be used. Oil can be pressed from the seeds and the remaining seed cake used as a supplement for livestock feed or to make a good fertiliser for crops. It can even be used for water purification. India’s ancient Aryuvedic tradition claims that Moringa can be used to treat or prevent up to 300 different diseases. Now, modern science is beginning to look more closely at this incredible plant.
Extensive research is being done into the use of dried leaves as a supplement for people living with HIV/AIDS and TB as it is a potent immune booster.
Moringa is truly a super-food containing, gram for gram, more vitamin C than oranges, more vitamin A than carrots, more calcium than milk, more potassium than bananas, and, surprisingly, more protein than yoghurt. It also contains other trace elements, all in an easily accessible form. Moringa leaves when dried have a slightly savoury and not unpleasant taste, so they can be added to most savoury foods, smoothies, milkshakes, soups and stews and even to vegetable relishes and salads. For me the taste seems to be similar to dried thyme or dried oregano, so it goes well with pasta sauces, eggs and cheese dishes.
According to the internationally respected website WebMD “Moringa is used for ‘tired blood’ (anaemia); arthritis and other joint pain (rheumatism); asthma; cancer; constipation; diabetes; diarrhoea; epilepsy; stomach pain; stomach and intestinal ulcers; intestinal spasms; headache; heart problems; high blood pressure; kidney stones; fluid retention; thyroid disorders; and bacterial, fungal, viral, and parasitic infections… It is also used topically for treating pockets of infection (abscesses), athlete’s foot, dandruff, gum disease (gingivitis), snakebites, warts, and wounds… The immature green pods (drumsticks) are prepared similarly to green beans, while the seeds are removed from more mature pods and cooked like peas or roasted like nuts. The leaves are cooked and used like spinach, and they are also dried and powdered for use as a condiment.”
Moringa cultivation and use as a food supplement is being promoted in schools and hospitals in many parts of the country – especially in the Binga and Doma areas where orphaned children are most vulnerable. Eden Children’s Village (operated by State Registered Nurse Judith Ervine) is particularly involved in effective and affordable herbal and holistic medicine.
Moringa grows easily – even in marginal soil – with very little care and little water. It grows from seeds or cuttings and the leaves can be harvested just eight months after planting. Some people allow it to grow into a large tree – it can grow up to ten metres tall – while other people cut it back and encourage it to grow into a more bulky shrub, or even a hedge, which makes harvesting the leaves and seeds easier. Although if left unchecked they can grow into large trees they can also be grown in pots, bags or even the smallest yards, if they are kept pruned and controlled. This makes them ideal to grow in high density areas, or even in a large pot on an apartment balcony, as well as in rural areas – particularly those areas which receive minimal rainfall.
So whether you’re interested in alternative medicine, nutrition or just a tree hugger, Moringa is the plant to embrace!
Image credit: Trees for Life International via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)