The moringa tree, Moringa oleifera, has probably been the most underutilized tropical crops. The tree is native to India but has been planted around the world and is naturalized in many locales. Moringa goes by many names. In the Philippines, where the leaves of the moringa are cooked and fed to babies it is called "mother's best friend" and "malunggay." Other names for it include the benzolive tree (Haiti), horseradish tree (Florida) and drumstick tree (India).
USES OF MORINGA
Very young plants can also be used as a tender vegetable.The leaves are outstanding as a source of vitamin A and, when raw, vitamin C. They are a good source of B vitamins and among the best plant sources of minerals.The calcium content is very high for a plant. The content of iron is very good. They are an excellent source of protein and a very low source of fat and carbohydrates. Thus the leaves are one of the best plant foods that can be found.The leaves are incomparable as a source of the sulfur-containing amino acids methionine and cystine, which are often in short supply.
A Fresh Look at Nutrition and Moringa
People have different nutritional requirements at different stages of their lives. Lactating women and weaned children ages 1-3 are especially vulnerable in areas where malnutrition is commonplace. This report lists the recommended daily allowance for the major nutrients for children ages 1-3 and for lactating women and compares this to the amount of these nutrients present in moringa pods, moringa leaves and moringa leaf powder.
Here are highlights from several tables. "For a child aged 1-3, a 100 g serving of fresh cooked leaves would provide all his daily requirements of calcium, about 75% of his iron and half his protein needs, as well as important amounts of potassium, B vitamins, copper and all the essential amino acids. As little as 20 grams of leaves would provide a child with all the vitamins A and C he needs."
"For pregnant and breast-feeding women, moringa leaves and pods can do much to preserve the mother's health and pass on strength to the fetus or nursing child. One 100 g portion of leaves could provide a woman with over a third of her daily need of calcium and give her important quantities of iron, protein, copper, sulfur and B-vitamins."
Moringa leaves can be easily dried (in the shade to reduce loss of vitamins) and rubbed over a wire screen to make a powder, which can be stored and conveniently added to soups, sauces, etc. "It is estimated that only 20-40% of vitamin A will be retained if leaves are dried under direct sunlight, but that 50-70% will be retained if leaves are dried in the shade." "One rounded tablespoon (8 g) of leaf powder will satisfy about 14% of the protein, 40% of the calcium, 23% of the iron and all the vitamin A needs for a child aged 1-3. Six rounded spoonfuls of leaf powder will satisfy nearly all of a woman's daily iron and calcium needs during pregnancy and breast-feeding."
During pregnancy and breast-feeding, women are most at risk of suffering from nutritional deficiencies. The table below shows the percent of the recommended daily allowance of various nutrients for a nursing mother eating six rounded tablespoons (about 50 g) of leaf powder daily. It also shows the percent of the recommended daily allowance for a 1-3 year old child with one rounded tablespoon of powder added to its food, three times daily.
Protein 21% 42%
Calcium 84% 125%
Magnesium 54% 61%
Potassium 22% 41%
Iron 94% 71%
Vitamin A 143% 272%
Vitamin C 9% 22%
Moringa leaf powder is made by drying the leaves in the shade (drying them in the sun will cause loss of vitamin A). The brittle dried leaves are then pounded, and sifted to remove leaf stems. The powder should be stored in a sealed dark container. Spoonfuls of the powder can then be added to baby food, soups, and vegetables, adding nutrition but not changing the taste.
NUTRITIONAL VALUE OF LEAVES AND PODS
Analysis of Moringa pods, fresh (raw) leaves and dried leaf powder have shown them to contain the following per 100 grams of edible portion:
Pods Leaves Powder
Calories 26 92 205
Protein (g) 2.5 6.7 27.1
Fat (g) 0.1 1.7 2.3
Carbohydrate (g) 3.7 13.4 38.2
Fiber (g) 4.8 0.9 19.2
Minerals (g) 2 2.3 -
Ca (mg) 30 440 2,003
Mg (mg) 24 24 368
P (mg) 110 70 204
K (mg) 259 259 1,324
Cu (mg) 3.1 1.1 0.57
Fe (mg) 5.3 7 28.2
S (mg) 137 137 870
Oxalic acid (mg) 10 101 1.60%
Vitamin A - B carotene (mg) 0.11 6.8 16.3
Vitamin B -choline (mg) 423 423 -
Vitamin B1 -thiamin (mg) 0.05 0.21 2.64
Vitamin B2 -riboflavin (mg) 0.07 0.05 20.5
Vitamin B3 -nicotinic acid (mg) 0.2 0.8 8.2
Vitamin C -ascorbic acid (mg) 220 17.3
Vitamin E -tocopherol acetate (mg) 120 - 113
Arginine (g/16g N) - 6 1.33%
Histidine (g/16g N) 3.6 2.1 0.61%
Lysine (g/16g N) 1.1 4.3 1.32%
Tryptophan (g/16g N) 1.5 1.9 0.43%
Phenylanaline (g/16g N) 0.8 6.4 1.39%
Methionine (g/16g N) 4.3 2 0.35%
Threonine (g/16g N) 1.4 4.9 1.19%
Leucine (g/16g N) 3.9 9.3 1.95%
Isoleucine (g/16g N) 6.5 6.3 0.83%
Valine (g/16g N) 4.4 7.1 1.06%
From Moringa oleifera: Natural Nutrition for the Tropics by Lowell Fuglie
For use as a green manure, moringa is densely planted (10 x 10 cm or 4 x 4 in) and plowed into the soil to a depth of 15 cm (6 in) after 25 days. Foliar sprays are made from moringa leaf extract.
The young pods, are known as "drumsticks". Tinned drumsticks are exported from India, Sri Lanka and Kenya to Europe and Asia.
After about 8 months to a year, the tree begins to flower and continues year round. The flowers can be eaten or used to make a tea. In moringa tea from the flowers is drunk for colds. The flowers provide good amounts of both calcium and potassium. Moringa flowers are also good for beekeepers since they provide a year-round source of nectar.
Seed can be extracted and eaten as "peas" (boiled or fried) when still green.
The mature seed is about 40% oil. Moringa oil is of excellent quality (73% oleic acid, similar to olive oil) for cooking. Sold for many years as "ben oil," it is used in cooking, perfumes and as a watch lubrication. It became a substitute for sperm oil. It is used for making soap and for light as well. The oil is slow to become rancid. The species M. peregrina from the Red Sea area reportedly produces a very good oil.
Oil can be extracted from moringa seed in the home. Seed from mature pods (which can be two feet long) are roasted, mashed and placed in boiling water for five minutes. After straining and sitting overnight, the moringa oil floats to the surface.
Moringa wood is very soft. It is advocated by some as a good live fence tree though in ECHO's experience this has not proven so. It makes acceptable firewood but poor charcoal. The bark is sometimes used to make mats and rope.
Small trees a few months old can be pulled and the taproot ground, mixed with vinegar and salt and used in place of horseradish. I am told that when grown for its roots, the seeds are sometimes planted in a row like vegetables. At about 60 cm (24 in) in height the tree is harvested. Make sure the root bark is scraped off, as it contains two alkaloids and a toxin, moringinine. Eating large amounts of the root at once or too often should be avoided.
USE AS AN ANTIBIOTIC
A compound found in the flowers and roots of the moringa tree, pterygospermin, has powerful antibiotic and fungicical effects.
Moringa grows best in the hot, semi-arid tropics. It is drought-tolerant and grows with rainfalls of 250-1500 mm (10-60 in) per year. Altitudes below 600 m (2000 ft) are best for the moringa; however, it grows up to 1200 m (4000 ft) in some tropical areas.
The moringa tree prefers well-drained sandy or loam soil. It will tolerate a clay soil but not water logging. It tolerates a wide range of pH (5-9), and grows quite well in alkaline conditions of up to a pH of 9. It responds well to mulch, water and fertilizer.
Moringa is an extremely fast growing tree. It can reach up to 4 m (15 ft) in a year, reaching an eventual height of 6-15 m (20-50 ft). "The trees grow more rapidly than papaya, with one three-month old tree reaching 2.4 m (8 ft). It is advisable to prune trees frequently to a shrub form, or they will become lanky and difficult to harvest. If folks begin regularly breaking off tender tips to cook when trees are about 1.3 m (4 or 5 ft) tall, the trees become much bushier.
It seems to thrive in impossible places -- even near the sea, in bad soil and dry areas. Seeds sprout readily in one or two weeks. Alternatively one can plant a branch and within a week or two it will have established itself. It is often cut back year after year in fencerows and is not killed. Because of this, in order to keep an abundant supply of leaves, flowers and pods within easy reach, "topping out" is useful. At least once a year one can cut the tree off 3 or 4 feet above the ground. It will readily sprout again and all the valuable products will remain within safe, easy reach.
Moringa can be grown easily from seeds or cuttings. Seeds should be planted 2 cm or 1 in deep and should germinate within 1-2 weeks. Germination rates are usually very good, but can drop to 0% after two years.
Cuttings 45-100 cm (18-40 in) long, 4-10 cm (2-4 in) wide should be taken from the woody parts of the branches. It should be wood from the previous year. They can be cured for three days in the shade and then planted in a nursery or in the field.