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Majestic Moringa

by Aaron Henry

  Moringa Oleifera – commonly known as Moringa, or Drumstick is a slender yet highly productive understory tree, native to the Indian subcontinent. A member of the Moringaceae family, the tree is highly prized by many cultures, due to its rapid growth, resistance to drought and proliferation of uses.

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  The name Moringa derives from the Tamil word murungai, which means “twisted pod”, referring to the young fruit (drumsticks). The species name is derived from the Latin words oleum “oil” and ferre “to bear”.

  It is a deciduous perennial tree with very deep tap roots, a light frame and long, fragile branches. The tree fruits and has fragrant, hermaphroditic flowers that usually bloom once a year, but can appear twice annually in optimum conditions.

  Originating from the Indian subcontinent, Moringa thrives in semi-arid tropical and subtropical climates, (USDA zones 9&10). It is most comfortable between 25-35c, but will tolerate temperatures up to 48c,(in the shade) and can even survive a light frost. However, if the plant completely freezes it will die.

  Moringa can grow in most soils, but it thrives in well-drained sandy or loamy soil with a neutral to slightly acidic pH(6.3-7.0). Drainage is important, as water-logged roots are prone to rotting.

  The world’s largest producer of Moringa is India, with approximately 1.2 million tonnes of fruits harvested annually. It is also widely cultivated in South Asia, Southeast Asia, (especially Philippines &Indonesia), the Caribbean, Africa, Central America, northern countries of South America and various countries of Oceania.

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 In terms of companion planting, Moringa benefits greatly from growing alongside sweet potatoes (Ipomoea Batatas), Holy Basil (Olimum Tenuiflorum) and varieties of beans. The foliage of sweet potatoes overshade and therefore kill off competitive weeds, Holy Basil acts as a repellent to insect pests and beans act as a nitrogen fixer and assist in soil drainage.

  The esteemed position that Moringa has in many cultures stems from the plants potency as a source of nutrition and medicine. While a modest, whispy-looking tree, (height 10-12m, trunk diameter <45cm), the yield that can be obtained from the fruits/seed pods, seeds, leaves, flowers, oil and roots make it an invaluable cultivar for people of tropical/subtropical regions.

 fruits – known as “drumsticks” are immature seed pods that can be boiled/ parboiled and consumed soft. They are a good source of fibre, potassium, magnesium & manganese.

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 seeds – from mature pods can be eaten raw like peas or roasted like nuts and contain high amounts of vitamin C, as well as vitamin B.

  leaves – packed with nutrients and can be eaten raw, cooked or pulverised and used as a supplement. The leaves of the Moringa tree are very rich in iron, protein & calcium, as well as other trace vitamins and minerals.

 oil – extracted from pressed seeds, called Ben oil is high in Behenic acid.

 flowers – are edible and contain trace minerals.

 roots – can be shredded/pulverised and used as a condiment that is rich in Polyphenols.

  The medicinal properties of Moringa are just as potent, with the whole plant (bark, sap, roots, leaves, seeds, seed pods and flowers), being utilised in traditional medicines. Uses include topical applications for skin complaints, insect bites and wound cleaning. Anti-septic and detergent uses. Anthelmintic effects, used in the treatment of worms/parasites. Also the “press cake” (dried, pressed seeds) can be used as an anti-pollutant to dry out contaminant sludge and as a form of filtration to produce potable water for livestock and humans alike.

  In summation, it is not an exaggeration to call Moringa Oleifera a “wonderplant”. So modest and unassuming in appearance, yet so rich and generous in how it redistributes the treasures of its surroundings. Moringa, I salute you!

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