Moringa: ‘The Miracle Tree’
Moringa! It sounds like a Latin dance but it is a health-giving tree popping up in unexpected spaces: solitary at a front door, bordering a pristine lawn, sidewalk next to al fresco dining, and in conversations, even among the mildly health conscious. Moringa powders, pastes and teas have been spotted at local health food stores, supermarkets, pharmacies, and most recently at the reopened Farmers Market.
I would say Moringa has arrived.
It is a highly nutritious tropical/subtropical plant dubbed “The Miracle Tree” because of its extraordinary nutritional and medicinal benefits. Fortunately it can grow year round in our climate and has the potential for locally made products and improving local health.
Moringa oleifera is a slender tree with delicate leaves resembling those of Poinciana that has the status of super food exceeding the likes of King Kale. Every part of the plant can be eaten: leaves, stem, bark, root, flower, seedpod and seeds. It is esteemed worldwide as an energy booster, treatment for 300 diseases, malnutrition, and many other uses.
Dr Monica Marcu, pharmacology researcher and author of the definitive book on Moringa entitled Miracle Tree writes: “It is the most nutrient-rich plant yet discovered providing a rich and rare combination of nutrients, amino acids, antioxidants, anti-ageing, and anti-inflammatory properties.”
The chart below compares the nutrient values of 100 grams of some common foods with fresh and dried moringa leaves. Note that dried leaf values are significantly higher than fresh leaves. It takes seven pounds of fresh leaves to make one pound of dried ground leaves.
Are the claims legitimate?
Moringa has been used as medicine and food in traditional cultures with results observed for centuries but many people like scientific verification. I suggest reading the Trees for Life Journal, an open-access online publication of traditional and scientific studies of beneficial trees and plants. Its aim is to bridge traditional and scientific worlds.
Moringa can be grown in pots or in the ground started from seeds or cuttings. The seeds can be planted soon after they mature and are viable for one year. If planting directly in the ground, dig a hole one foot deep, mix in an organic fertiliser, plant the seeds three quarters of an inch to one inch deep and water thoroughly. Germination takes one or two weeks. For cuttings, use finger-thick lengths a foot or more long, and bury a third of it in a sterile potting mix to root.
I prefer plants grown in pots one foot or more before transplanting in the ground. Plant one foot apart for hedges and a few feet for larger trees. Periodically cut the branches back to half for easy harvesting, to encourage new growth and flower/seed production, and a bushier tree. My two trees survived Fay and Gonzalo hurricanes and are now lush with new leaves.
Is Moringa invasive?
Introductions should always be closely observed for signs of invasive tendencies. Elsewhere seeds typically remain close to the tree from which they have fallen unless they are deliberately collected and planted; this reduces the likelihood of them spreading far from their original planting location.
How to eat and how much?
Moringa leaves are enjoyed eaten raw alone, in salads, or added to endless drinks and cooked dishes. Fresh leaves are best as they have a high concentration of chlorophyll that heals by rejuvenating the body at the cellular level, strengthening the immune system and naturally cleansing the body of toxins. However, it takes 10 times more fresh leaves as dried every day which can cause diarrhoea and mild stomach upsets from the detoxifying effects, so don't go overboard. The dried product is more potent and easier to measure. One teaspoon to one tablespoon per day of the powder is generally recommended for a healthy adult taken with food, starting with the smaller amount.
Drying and powdering
To dry Moringa I place sprigs on a cookie sheet in my pilot-lit gas oven overnight. A hot water heater, the sun, or a dehydrator also works. Once dried, slide the leaves off the stems into a blender and grind to a fine powder. It keeps in a tightly closed jar without refrigeration for months.
The internet Drug Index for prescription drugs, Rxlist, states that Moringa leaves, fruit and seeds are safe when consumed with food but to avoid the roots and it extracts. Moringa is not a replacement for a healthy diet with diverse fruits and vegetables. More is not necessarily better.
Where to get seeds
For seeds visit Valeria Tucker at the Farmers Market on Saturday mornings at the Botanical Gardens' Outerbridge Building, Its Only Natural on Princess Street, or Down To Earth on Reid Street. For potted plants, Animal and Garden on Cemetery Road, Pembroke.