There is a tree that is literally saving lives.
It’s been called “miracle tree,” “nature’s pharmacy,” and “supermarket in a tree.” Moringa oleifera, recognized as “botanical of the year” by the National Institutes of Health in 2007, is prized all over the world for its ability to boost health and treat over 300 diseases.
Otherwise known as “drumstick tree,” “horseradish tree” and “ben oil” tree, moringa is used throughout the developing world to fight malnutrition and cure all kinds of illnesses. Here in the Philippines where it grows abundantly, nursing mothers are urged to eat it to produce more milk. It is fondly called “mother’s best friend.” I remember my own obstetrician prescribing me pill supplements of powdered malunggay, as we call it here, when I gave birth to my babies.
Since the earliest times, moringa has been used in the Eastern world for a wide variety of purposes. Ben oil, also known as behen oil which is derived from moringa seeds, was even found in the pyramids of Egypt – an ancient country where it was extensively used for cooking, making perfumes and cosmetics, and for medicinal purposes. Now, hundreds of centuries later, moringa is finally breaking into the Western scene. Modern science has finally taken notice.
Researchers at the NIST Center for Neutron Research in collaboration with the Institut Laue-Langevin in France and Uppsala University in Sweden are studying and fine-tuning its use as a water purifier, which is already common knowledge in Africa. The protein in moringa acts as a flocculent and coagulant which pulls together and absorbs dirt, bacteria and other pollutants from liquid. When you have turbid or salty water unfit for drinking, you can pound or grind moringa seeds into powder, mix and steep them in the water for at least an hour and they will clarify and make it potable. Can you imagine its potential life-saving use in a disaster or survival situation like a major flooding, tsunami, or getting lost at sea or in the wilderness? Just one seed can purify one liter of water!
In the US, Europe, India, and many parts of Africa and Asia, moringa is being tapped for its use as bio-diesel. Its black-winged seeds consist of 30 to 40 percent oil which is clear, odorless and is said to have higher oxidative stability than other bio-fuels. (As of 2012, an international project was being proposed for farming moringa in Rwanda for bio-diesel production, at an annual yield of 133 liters per hectare for a selling price of US $1.30 per liter.) All over the third world, moringa oil is used widely for cooking, soap-making, cosmetics, and as a base ingredient for lamps and machine lubricants!
In many parts of Asia, moringa trees are used in home gardens as hedges and fences. In Haiti they are utilized as windbreaks to help reduce soil erosion. The roots of moringa as well as the seed cake (what’s left after oil is extracted from the seed) can be applied into soil as an organic pesticide, conditioner and fertilizer. Along with the leaves, the roots are also used for animal fodder and – get ready for this — as cleaning agent for cooking utensils, pots and even walls. The pulp, meanwhile, can be turned into rope and paper fiber.
The Mother of all Super-foods
Indeed, every part of the tree is useful. The leaves, pods, seeds, flowers, roots and the oil pressed from the seeds are all edible, and these, along with the bark and the sap, are used as medicine in many third world countries.
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While the pods are a powerhouse of vitamin C (100 grams or about 5 cups of raw pods provide 170 percent of the recommended daily allowance), the leaves carry the most amount and variety of vitamins, minerals and nutrients. It has significant amounts of vitamins B, C and A, iron, potassium, magnesium and calcium. Moringa contains 90 verifiable nutrients, 46 types of antioxidants, and 36 anti-inflammatory compounds. According to the USDA, it contains 18 out of the 20 amino acids that are found in the human body. But, more importantly, it has all nine of the essential ones that our bodies don’t produce. It is considered a complete food since it contains all of these essential amino acids required to build and maintain a healthy body.
Put simply, moringa leaves pack 25 times more iron than spinach, 17 times more calcium than milk, 15 times more potassium than bananas, 10 times more vitamin A than carrots, 7 times the vitamin C of oranges, and 4 times more protein than eggs. How’s that for a super super-food?
In a documentary produced by Discovery Channel on this amazing plant, clinical pharmacologist Monica Marcu, who wrote the book “Miracle Tree,” says the high concentration of nutrients in moringa, combined with its low calories and low sodium, makes it an ideal energy food or supplement that can help offset even the typically unhealthy modern Western diet.
Natural doctor, educator and author Howard Fisher, who wrote The Moringa Book, lauded moringa not only for its power to detoxify the liver, but also for its ability to control and treat problems related to cholesterol, blood pressure and diabetes Other well-known doctors who have endorsed this nutritional goldmine on mainstream media are cardiologist and talk show host Mehmet Oz, who extolled it as an “energy blaster” on The Dr. Oz Show, and Lindsey Duncan, who recommended its weight-loss benefits on ABC’s “the View.”
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But what about diseases like cancer? Well, if the world’s oldest and largest cancer research, education and treatment facility, the Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, recognizes moringa’s anti-cancer properties, that should certainly say something. On its website, the center says, “In vitro and animal studies indicate that the leaf, seed and root extracts of moringa have anticancer, hepatoprotective, hypoglycemic, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antifungal and antisickling effects. They may also protect against Alzheimer’s disease, stomach ulcers, help lower cholesterol levels and promote wound-healing.”
Those are just some of the ailments that modern Western medicine has acknowledged moringa to effectively address. But elsewhere in the East, it is known to treat a host of other afflictions, from anemia and asthma to ulcers and warts! Suffice it to say that moringa is used to treat serious conditions like epilepsy, snakebites and sexually transmitted diseases.
If you’re not familiar with moringa, you can start getting acquainted with it by trying some tea. Moringa leaves are available online or in health food and Asian stores in America, in teabags or powder form. You may also sprinkle the powder onto soups, porridge, pastas, bread, smoothies and juices. In Africa it is mixed into baby formula.
If you can get hold of fresh leaves, you can cook them like spinach, or top them on soups and stews. In South Asia they are added to rice, grains and baked goods. The Filipino traditional way of cooking it is with chicken in a broth called tinola, which is simmered with garlic, ginger, lemongrass and either green papaya or chayote on the side. It’s my 10-year-old son’s favorite chicken soup!!
The tender flowers, which many say taste like mushrooms, may be added to salads or thrown into eggs for a delicious, nourishing omelette.
The young pods, called drumsticks, can be prepared like asparagus or green beans. In South Asia they are cooked with curry, coconut, poppy seeds or mustard, or par-boiled and enjoyed as they are. Mature pods can be divested of their seeds, which are then cooked like peas or roasted like nuts.
How to Grow Moringa
Though native to the sub-Himalayan parts of India, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh, moringa grows in most tropical, sub-tropical and semi-arid climates around the world.
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In the USA, it thrives outdoors in hardiness zones 9 and 10. It is usually grown as an ornamental tree in the southern states. It loves the sun and is drought-resistant, so it will thrive possibly year-round in places like Southern California, Arizona, Texas and southern Florida. It grows best between 77 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit, but in the shade in will tolerate as high as 118 Fahrenheit. It’s been reported to survive a slight frost. In temperate climates people have successfully grown it indoors, outdoors as an annual, or in greenhouses year-round. In Hawaii it is now being cultivated for large-scale commercial distribution.
Moringa grows best in loamy, sandy earth and can tolerate poor soil even in coastal areas. You can propagate them easily from seed, or from a branch cutting 2-3 feet long. In warm, favorable conditions, seeds can germinate within a week. No compost or manure is needed. They are fast-growing and can shoot up in the first year up to 15 feet, and will grow up to 30 feet when left to mature naturally.
Have you ever grown moringa? Tell us your tips in the comments section below.