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Moringa oleifera: A tree with multiple uses

February 16, 2012
By JANE MULLIKIN (Special to the Citizen) , Lehigh Acres Citizen

Can you imagine a tree in your backyard that will meet all your nutritional needs, take care of you medicinally, and purify your water for you. This tree actually exists. For centuries, the natives of northern India and many parts of Africa have known of the many benefits of Moringa oleifera. This tree, though little known in the Western world, is nutritional dynamite. There are literally hundreds of uses for this tree.

Patty Donovan was in a wheelchair and could only walk around her house with a cane. She was on over 20 medications. When told to "take the morphine, get in the wheelchair and learn to live with it" by a neurosurgeon, she knew her life had to change. She is now almost a fanatic when it comes to healing through the use of "whole foods" and natural remedies. Since committing to this new life style, she no longer uses even a cane, has gotten off over 20 medications, lost over 50 lbs and returned to work.

ECHO, Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization, based in No. Fort Myers advocates Moringa as "natural nutrition for the tropics." Leaves can be eaten fresh, cooked, or stored as dried powder for many months without refrigeration, and without loss of nutritional value.

According to Optima of Africa, Ltd., a group that has been working with the tree in Tanzania, "25 grams daily of Moringa Leaf Powder will give a child the following recommended daily allowances: Protein 42%, Calcium 125%, Magnesium 61%, Potassium 41%, Iron 71%, Vitamin A 272%, and Vitamin C 22%."

The immature pods are the most valued and widely used of all the tree parts. The pods are extremely nutritious, containing all the essential amino acids along with many vitamins and other nutrients. The immature pod can be eaten raw or prepared like green peas or green beans, while the mature pods are usually fried and possess a peanut-like flavor. The pods also yield 38 - 40% of non-drying, edible oil known as Ben Oil.

This oil is clear, sweet and odorless, and never becomes rancid.

Overall, its nutritional value most closely resembles olive oil. The thickened root is used as a substitute for horseradish although this is now discouraged as it contains alkaloids, especially moriginine, and a bacteriocide, spirochin, both of which can prove fatal following ingestion. The leaves are eaten as greens, in salads, in vegetable curries, as pickles and for seasoning. They can be pounded up and used for scrubbing utensils and for cleaning walls. Leaves and young branches are relished by livestock. The Bark can be used for tanning and also yields a coarse fiber. The flowers, which must be cooked, are eaten either mixed with other foods or fried in batter and have been shown to be rich in potassium and calcium.

Scientific research confirms that these humble leaves are a powerhouse of nutritional value. Gram for gram, Moringa leaves contain: SEVEN times the vitamin C in oranges, FOUR times the Calcium in milk, FOUR times the vitamin A in carrots, TWO times the protein in milk and THREE times the Potassium in bananas.

The Moringa is a vegetable tree that is the biggest success of ECHO's seed bank- due to its many edible parts and ability to survive in arid regions. The tiny leaflets and tender growing tips can be cooked as any spinach, or eaten raw. In the extreme south, the tree typically survives winter, but upper stem/branches may die back. In Wisconsin, a moringa started in the greenhouse grew to 8 feet, showing potential as an annual vegetable up there!

Young pods can be cooked like asparagus. (You will not get blossoms or pods in the north.) Blossoms are also edible. They can be planted inside and later transplanted. Under ideal conditions with a long growing season the tree can reach 15 feet in a year.

Harvest the growing tips when the plant is about 4 feet tall to force side branches and a bushy instead of tall, lanky plant.

The Moringa Tree can be grown from a cutting, from seed or by transplanting. After the trees have stopped producing fruits each year, branches need to be cut off so that fresh growth may take place.

These branches are excellent for growing new trees.

Moringa seeds have no dormancy periods and can be planted as soon as they are mature. It is best to plant the seeds directly where the tree is intended to grow and not transplant the seedling. The young seedlings are fragile and often cannot survive transplanting.



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