Nature’s Miracle Tree
Moringa has recently gained much attention as a new botanical with many promising benefits. While it may be new in the arena of functional foods, it has been revered for centuries as a multi-purpose remedy in Ayurvedic, Siddha, African and South Asian traditions. Moringa is a member of the Moringaceae family, which contains 13 species ranging from small shrubs and slender trees to massive water-storing trees. A tree native to the Himalayan regions of northwest India, it grows in Africa, South East Asia, the Caribbean and South America. Moringa oleifera is the most widely cultivated and consumed of the 13 species, noted for its numerous nutritional benefits.
Although Moringa is said to grow best in hot, semi-arid, low altitude regions, it has adapted to a wide range of climates, rainfalls, altitudes and soil conditions. It is highly resistant to diseases and insects as well as being tolerant to light frost. It is also known for its rapid growth. All parts of the tree can be utilized, most notably the roots, bark, leaves, flowers, seeds and pods.
According to the doctrine of signatures, a plant’s physical structure and outer characteristics signal an intrinsic essence and an essential energetic blueprint of its potential uses. It is perhaps telling that this “Miracle Tree,” as it is often referred to, has so much resilience as well as such a broad applicability. Humanitarian organizations have recognized this unique tree and as such are exploring its application as a nutritional adjunct for malnourished communities.
While no one tree can solve every issue, the unique phytochemical composition of the various parts of the tree offer significant nutritional and medicinal value. Moringa leaves, roots, seeds and bark have been noted in both traditional contexts and in the current scientific literature to demonstrate anti-tumor, anti-inflammatory, anti-hypertensive, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-diabetic activities.
Much of the hype surrounding Moringa centers around nutritional comparisons in which the leaves are touted to contain ounce per ounce, seven times the vitamin C of oranges, twenty-five times the iron of spinach, ten times the vitamin A of carrots and three times the potassium of bananas. The leaves do in fact contain an impressive array of nutrients ranging from B vitamins to vitamins A, C and E to folic acid, calcium, fibre, selenium, iron as well as chlorophyll and a host of protective antioxidants such as flavonoids, phenolics and carotenoids. The leaves contain the cholesterol-reducing phytosterol, beta-sitosterol. They are also noted for their protein, containing essential amino acids such as tryptophan, lysine and methionine as well as other important non-essential amino acids.
The leaves have gained the most interest as an emerging functional food due to their nutritional profile, their stability when dried and palatable taste. While normally sold as a green powder in capsules or in loose powder form, water extracts of Moringa leaves have been shown to normalize glucose levels in diabetic rat models and show promise for their hepato-protective, anti-ulcer, anti-tumor and cholesterol lowering benefits.
Using a dried leaf powder of Moringa is the easiest way to benefit from its excellent nutrition. Add 1-3 teaspoons of the leaf powder to smoothies, salad dressings, dips, soups, stews, sauces and yogurt daily. Make a delicious spinach-like curry by combining Moringa powder with Turmeric powder, coconut milk and other spices. Combine 1-3 teaspoons of Moringa leaf powder with your favourite superfoods to create an antioxidant rich smoothie.
We will no doubt be hearing much more about this fascinating botanical as new research validates time-tested uses from past traditions. What is perhaps most exciting about this widely cultivated and resilient tree is that it holds the promise to a better life for those most in need of its abundant nutritional gifts.
Renita Rietz is a health and nutrition writer and speaker who educates on the phytotherapeutic potential of indigenous foods and plants for prevention and regeneration. firstname.lastname@example.org or connect on Facebook.