- "Drumstick tree" and variants thereof redirect here. This name is also used for the golden shower tree (Cassia fistulosa).
Moringa oleifera (synonym: Moringa pterygosperma) is the most widely cultivated species of the genus Moringa, which is the only genus in the family Moringaceae. English common names include moringa, and drumstick tree, from the appearance of the long, slender, triangular seed pods, horseradish tree, from the taste of the roots which resembles horseradish, or ben oil tree, from the oil derived from the seeds. The tree itself is rather slender, with drooping branches that grow to approximately 10m in height. In cultivation, it is often cut back annually to 1–2 meters and allowed to regrow so the pods and leaves remain within arm's reach.
In developing countries, moringa has potential to improve nutrition, boost food security, foster rural development, and support sustainable landcare. It may be used as forage for livestock, a micronutrient liquid, a natural anthelmintic and possible adjuvant.
The moringa tree is grown mainly in semiarid, tropical, and subtropical areas, corresponding in the United States to USDA hardiness zones 9 and 10. While it grows best in dry, sandy soil, it tolerates poor soil, including coastal areas. It is a fast-growing, drought-resistant tree that is native to the southern foothills of the Himalayas in northwestern India.
"India is the largest producer of moringa, with an annual production of 1.1 to 1.3 million tonnes of tender fruits from an area of 380 km². Among the states, Andhra Pradesh leads in both area and production (156.65 km²) followed by Karnataka (102.8 km²) and Tamil Nadu (74.08 km²). In other states, it occupies an area of 46.13 km². Tamil Nadu is the pioneering state in·so·much as it has varied genotypes from diversified geographical areas and introductions from Sri Lanka."
Moringa is grown in home gardens and as living fences in Tamil Nadu Southern India and Thailand, where it is commonly sold in local markets. In the Philippines, it is commonly grown for its leaves which are used in soup. Moringa is also actively cultivated by the World Vegetable Center in Taiwan, a center for vegetable research with a mission to reduce poverty and malnutrition in developing countries through improved production and consumption of vegetables. Tamil Nadu Southern India has moringa in its folk stories and use in home gardens.
Moringa derives from the Tamil word murungai. The Chinese name, pronounced la mu in Mandarin and lat mok in Cantonese, means "spicy (hot) wood" and is reminiscent of the English name, "horseradish tree".
In the Philippines, moringa is propagated by planting 1–2 m-long limbs cuttings, preferably from June to August. The plant starts bearing pods 6–8 months after planting, but regular bearing commences after the second year, continuing for several years. It can also be propagated by seeds, which are planted an inch below the surface and can be germinated year-round in well-draining soil.
As with all plants, optimum cultivation depends on producing the right environment for the plant to thrive. Moringa is a sun and heat-loving plant, and thus does not tolerate freeze or frost. Moringa is particularly suitable for dry regions, as it can be grown using rainwater without expensive irrigation techniques.
Many parts of the moringa are edible. Regional uses of the moringa as food vary widely, and include:
- The immature seed pods, called "drumsticks", popular in Asia and Africa.
- Leaves, particularly in the Cambodia, Philippines, South India, Sri Lanka and Africa.
- Mature seeds
- Oil pressed from the mature seeds
In some regions, the young seed pods are most commonly eaten, while in others, the leaves are the most commonly used part of the plant. The flowers are edible when cooked and are said to taste like mushrooms. The bark, sap, roots, leaves, seeds, oil, and flowers are used in traditional medicine in several countries. In Jamaica, the sap is used for a blue dye.
The leaves are the most nutritious part of the plant, being a significant source of B vitamins, vitamin C, provitamin A as beta-carotene, vitamin K, manganese and protein, among other essential nutrients. When compared with common foods particularly high in certain nutrients per 100 g fresh weight, cooked moringa leaves are considerable sources of these same nutrients.
|Nutrients||Common food||Moringa Leaves|
|Vitamin A as beta-carotene||Carrot||8.3 mg||0.4 mg|
|Calcium||Milk||300 mg||185 mg|
|Potassium||Banana||358 mg||337 mg|
|Protein||Yogurt||8 g||9.4 g|
|Vitamin C||Orange||53 mg||52 mg|
The leaves are cooked and used like spinach. In addition to being used fresh as a substitute for spinach, its leaves are commonly dried and crushed into a powder used in soups and sauces. As with most foods, heating moringa above 140 degrees Fahrenheit destroys some of the nutritional value.
The immature seed pods, called "drumsticks", are commonly consumed in South Asia. They are prepared by parboiling, and cooked in a curry until soft. The seed pods are particularly high in vitamin C, but are also a good source of dietary fiber, potassium, magnesium and manganese.
The seeds, sometimes removed from more mature pods and eaten like peas or roasted like nuts, contain high levels of vitamin C and moderate amounts of B vitamins and dietary minerals (right table, USDA).
Mature seeds yield 38–40% edible oil called ben oil from its high concentration of behenic acid. The refined oil is clear and odorless, and resists rancidity. The seed cake remaining after oil extraction may be used as a fertilizer or as a flocculent to purify water. Moringa seed oil also has potential for use as a biofuel.
Moringa trees have been used to combat malnutrition, especially among infants and nursing mothers. Four NGOs in particular — Trees for Life International, Church World Service, Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization, and Volunteer Partnerships for West Africa — have advocated moringa as "natural nutrition for the tropics." One author stated that "the nutritional properties of Moringa are now so well known that there seems to be little doubt of the substantial health benefit to be realized by consumption of Moringa leaf powder in situations where starvation is imminent." Moringa is especially promising as a food source in the tropics because the tree is in full leaf at the end of the dry season when other foods are typically scarce.
Moringa has numerous applications in cooking throughout its regional distribution. It may be preserved by canning and exported.
In Bangladesh, it is made into a variety of curry dishes by mixing with coconut, poppy seeds, and mustard or boiled until the drumsticks are semisoft and consumed directly without any extra processing or cooking. It is used in curries, sambars, kormas, and dals, although it is also used to add flavor to cutlets and other recipes.
The fruit meat of drum sticks, including young seeds, is used for soup. Young leaves can either be fried with shrimp or added as a topping in fish soup.
There are several traditional Cambodian dishes using leaves (sluc) of the moringa tree known as daum m'rum, such as korko (a mixed vegetable soup). As it is a favorite vegetable, Cambodians traditionally grow moringa trees close to their residences.
In South India and Sri Lanka, it is used to prepare a variety of sambar, is fried, or made into curry dishes by mixing with coconut, poppy seeds, and mustard or boiled until the drumsticks are semisoft and consumed directly without any extra processing or cooking. It is used in curries, sambars, kormas, and dals, although it is also used to add flavors. In Maharashtra, the pods are used in sweet and sour curries. In Gujarat and Rajasthan, the pods are used in to cook a spicy curry.
Tender drumstick leaves, finely chopped, are used as garnish for vegetable dishes and salads. It is also used in place of or along with coriander. In some regions, the flowers are gathered and cleansed to be cooked with besan to make pakoras.
In East Java, drum sticks may be used in sour soup or mixed vegetable soup.
The leaves may be fried and mixed with dried-fried tuna chips (Maldive fish), onions and dried chillies. This is equivalent to a sambal and eaten along with rice and curry. In one area in the Maldives, a soup is made with these leaves and rice, and eaten especially for breakfast during the month of Ramazan. It is also a common ingredient in an omelet. The pods are used to cook a mild curry.
In the Saraiki South Punjab region of Pakistan, moringa flowers are first separated from the stem, boiled, mashed and cooked. Curdle is an important element of its recipe to create a specific taste and favorite dish.
The green pods, the leaves and the flowers are used in a variety of Thai dishes, such as curries, stir-fries, soups, omelets and salads. One of the most traditional dishes is sour Thai curry made with the drumstick pods and fish.
In the Philippines, moringa is widely eaten, and its leaves are available in many markets at affordable prices. The leaves are most often added to a broth to make a simple and nutritious soup. The leaves are also sometimes used as a characteristic ingredient in tinola, a traditional chicken dish consisting of chicken in a broth, moringa leaves, and either green papaya or another vegetable. The leaves can also be processed with olive oil and salt for a pesto-like pasta sauce that has become popular on the Filipino culinary scene. Moringa juice may be mixed with lemonsito juice to make ice candies or cold drinks, possibly more palatable to those who dislike vegetables.
In 2007, Filipino Senator Loren Legarda campaigned for the popularization of moringa. She asked the government to make moringa among its priority crops for propagation, citing a Bureau of Plant Industry that states moringa's nutritional content. The leaves may also be used in making polvoron (a milky, powdered snack), biofuel, and ben oil.
Moringa is undergoing preliminary research to reveal potential properties of its nutrients and phytochemicals, some of which include antibacterial effects in vitro, improved glucose tolerance in a rat model of diabetes, inhibition of Epstein-Barr virus activity in vitro and reduction of skin papillomas in mice.
Potential for water purification
In preliminary research, moringa seed powder is being assessed for its potential to make river water potable. Research showed that filtering with seed powder may diminish water pollution and bacterial counts.
Moringa has been used in folk medicine, including Siddha medicine and Ayurvedic traditional medicines and in the Philippines. In Ayurvedic traditional medicine, the leaves are believed to affect blood pressure and glucose levels. In Africa, Indonesia and Philippines moringa leaves are given to nursing mothers in the belief that they increase lactation.
Click on the thumbnail to enlarge.
A skipper on a flower of the moringa.
Dried moringa oleifera with pods and seeds on the ground in Hawaii.
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