April 11, 2014

MORINGA OLEIFERA: THE MIRACLE TREE


Moringa tree (Moringa oleifera) has many names throughout the world, likely due to its profligate uses. It is called the ‘drumstick tree’ due to the shape of its seed pods, the ‘horseradish tree’ because of the faint scent and flavor of horseradish that the tree’s roots give off, and the ‘ben oil tree’ drawn from the oil that is pressed from the seeds. The most explicit of all its names, though, is the ‘miracle tree’ which is inspired by this unassuming tree’s seemingly endless benefits. Ayurvedic medicine (the millenia-old tradition of herbal and dietary medicinal practices from India) has long made use of the Moringa, but now, having been inspected through the lens of modern science it has increasingly come of interest to people all over the world as a solution to several disparate problems. Having value as a food item, a medicinal stock, a source of food oil and biofuel, and a water purifier, there is little wonder why it came to be known as the ‘miracle tree’.

Nearly every part of the tree is in some way edible. The roots, with their horseradish flavor, are stripped of their bark because of its high alkaloid content, mixed with vinegar and used as a condiment (Parrotta, 2009). According to Ted Radovich, young green seed pods which are high in ascorbic acid are boiled, steamed or pickled like string beans or asparagus and are a common addition to soups and stews in the tree’s native areas (2009). The seeds contain 30-35% oil  that is high in palmetic, stearic, behmic, and oleic acids and has similar flavor and properties to olive oil making it a highly nutritive alternative to other vegetable oils (Garcia-Fayos et al, 2010). The flowers are also sometimes eaten, though this practice will prevent seed pod growth. The real nutritional value of the Moringa tree, however, is in the leaves. Small, tripinnate and tender, they are similar in appearance to the leaves of North America’s native Black Locust tree. They are typically eaten or cooked fresh, though powders, extracts and teas do manage to retain much of the nutritional value of the leaves. The Moringa leaves’ nutritional contents are eye-popping to say the least.


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