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Moringa oleifera (Malunggay): The Wonder Plant

Scientific classification 

Kingdom: Plantae 
(unranked): Angiosperms 
(unranked): Eudicots 
(unranked): Rosids 
Order: Brassicales 
Family: Moringaceae 
Genus: Moringa 
Species: M. oleifera 
Binomial name 
Moringa oleifera


Moringa oleifera, the word Moringa probably came from dravidian language Tamil and commonly referred to as "Shojne" in Bengali, "Munagakaya" in Telugu, "Shenano" in Rajasthani, "Shevaga" in Marathi, "Nuggekai" in Kannada, "Moringa" (from Tamil: Murungakai, Malayalam: Muringa, Konkani: Mashinga sanga[1]), and Malunggáy in Filipino, is the most widely cultivated species of the genus Moringa, which is the only genus in the family Moringaceae. It is an exceptionally nutritious vegetable tree with a variety of potential uses. The tree itself is rather slender, with drooping branches that grow to approximately 10 m in height. In cultivation, it is often cut back annually to 1 meter or less and allowed to regrow so that pods and leaves remain within arm's reach.

The "Moringa" tree is grown mainly in semi-arid, 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. Reports that it grows wild in the Middle East or Africa are completely unsubstantiated. Today it is widely cultivated in Africa, Central and South America, Sri Lanka, India, Mexico, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. It is considered one of the world’s most useful trees, as almost every part of the Moringa tree can be used for food or has some other beneficial property. In the tropics, it is used as forage for livestock, and in many countries, Moringa micronutrient liquid, a natural anthelmintic (kills parasites) and adjuvant (to aid or enhance another drug) is used as a metabolic conditioner to aid against endemic diseases in developing countries.

A traditional food plant in Africa, this little-known vegetable has potential to improve nutrition, boost food security, foster rural development, and support sustainable landcare.[

General nutrition

The immature green pods called “drumstick” are probably the most valued and widely used part of the tree. They are commonly consumed in India and are generally prepared in a similar fashion to green beans and have a slight asparagus taste. The seeds are sometimes removed from more mature pods and eaten like peas or roasted like nuts. The flowers are edible when cooked and are said to taste like mushrooms. The roots are shredded and used as a condiment in the same way as horseradish; however, they contain the alkaloid spirochin, a potentially fatal nerve-paralyzing agent.

Sonjna (Moringa oleifera) leaf in Kolkata, West Bengal, India.The leaves are highly nutritious, being a significant source of beta-carotene, Vitamin C, protein, iron, and potassium. 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, and used in soups and sauces. Murungakai, as it is locally known in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, is used in Siddha medicine. The tree is a good source of calcium and phosphorus. In Siddha medicines, these drumstick seeds are used as a sexual virility drug for treating erectile dysfunction in men and also in women for prolonging sexual activity.

Moringa leaves and pods are helpful in increasing breast milk in the breastfeeding months. One tablespoon of leaf powder provide 14% of the protein, 40% of the calcium, 23% of the iron and most of the vitamin A needs of a child aged one to three. Six tablespoons of leaf powder will provide nearly all of a woman's daily iron and calcium needs during pregnancy and breastfeeding. The Moringa seeds yield 38–40% edible oil (called ben oil from the high concentration of behenic acid contained in the oil). The refined oil is clear and odorless and resists rancidity at least as well as any other botanical oil. The seed cake remaining after oil extraction may be used as a fertilizer or as a flocculent to purify water. 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 flowers are also cooked and relished as a delicacy in West Bengal and Bangladesh, especially during early spring. There it is called shojne ful and is usually cooked with green peas and potato.

Malnutrition

Moringa trees have been used to combat malnutrition, especially among infants and nursing mothers. Three non-governmental organizations in particular — Trees for Life, Church World Service, and Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization — have advocated Moringa as "natural nutrition for the tropics." Leaves can be eaten fresh, cooked, or stored as dried powder for many months without refrigeration, and reportedly without loss of nutritional value. 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.

A large number of reports on the nutritional qualities of Moringa now exist in both the scientific and the popular literature. It is commonly said that Moringa leaves contain more Vitamin A than carrots, more calcium than milk, more iron than spinach, more Vitamin C than oranges, and more potassium than bananas, and that the protein quality of Moringa leaves rivals that of milk and eggs. However, the leaves and stem of M. oleifera are known to have large amounts of their calcium bound in calcium oxalate crystals, which is not a form of calcium available to the body. Whether the claim of "more calcium than milk" includes this non-bioavailable calcium needs to be addressed. The oral histories recorded by Lowell Fuglie in Senegal and throughout West Africa report countless instances of lifesaving nutritional rescue that are attributed to Moringa. In fact, 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. Nonetheless, the outcomes of well-controlled and well-documented clinical studies would still be clearly of great value.

In many cultures throughout the tropics, differentiation between food and medicinal uses of plants (e.g. bark, fruit, leaves, nuts, seeds, tubers, roots, and flowers), is very difficult because plant uses span both categories, and this is deeply ingrained in the traditions and the fabric of the community.

In traditional Indian medicine, children and adults used to drink a cup of "decoction" (kasayam) every Sunday, normally after an oil bath, made of ginger, garlic, a piece of moringa tree bark (murungai pattai in Tamil) and mavelingam tree bark (mavelinga pattai), and the root nodules of the kolinji plant (a leguminous plant with nitrogen nodules in the root).

CultivationIn the Philippines, malunggáy is propagated by planting 1–2 m long limb 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. Malunggáy is a sun and heat-loving plant, and thus does not tolerate freeze or frost.

  

 In The Philippines

In the Philippines, the leaves are widely eaten. Bunches of leaves are available in many markets, priced below many other leaf vegetables. The leaves are most often added to a broth to make a simple and highly 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 secondary 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.

The leaves are now used in making "polvoron", which is a milky and powdered snack, bio-fuel, and moringa oil.

In Leyte, extracted moringa juice is mixed with lemonsito juice to make ice candies or cold drinks, making it more palatable and agreeable to children who dislike vegetables.

On September 14, 2007, Senator Loren Legarda campaigned for the popularization of Moringa. She asked the government to make Moringa among its priority crops for propagation. The Bureau of Plant Industry, in its report, stated that weight per weight, Moringa leaves have the calcium equivalent of 4 glasses of milk, the vitamin C content of 7 oranges, potassium of 3 bananas, 3 times the iron of spinach, 4 times the amount of vitamin A in carrot, and 2 times the protein in milk. Moringa also helps to purify water, a cheaper alternative to mechanical filtration.

The malunggay plant is known to different parts of the world under various names including, but not limited to, horseradish tree, drumstick tree, and dool in some regions. It is one of the more popular and publicized plant that is acknowledged to have nutritional, as well as, medicinal value. It is rich in vitamins A, B & C, minerals such as iron and amino acids. Fortunately, the plant is easily accessible as it can be found not only as part of the wild life, but also in the backyards of many Filipino homes. Malunggay proves to be a low-maintenance plant to grow, and is able to propagate in almost all kinds of soil. Most of the parts of the malunggay had been proven to be useful, both for consumption and for its preparation as a medicinal plant. Its flowers, leaves and young pods are associated and perceived to be important because of the health benefits that it provides. 

The malunggay plant, which belongs to the Moringaceae family, can grow as high as nine meters. The bark of this tree has a gummy quality in it, and when peered closely, is comprised of white wood that is soft in nature. It derives one of its names, horseradish, from the taste of its roots. The malunggay leaves, which are used in certain Filipino viands, have a very distinct shape that makes it easily recognizable. They are circular, thin sheets that are attached to a main stalk. The malunggay flowers are white fragrances that produce the pods, which are also used for medicinal purposes.

Health Benefits of Malunggay

As have been mentioned earlier, there are various parts of the malunggay plant which are being used for health reasons. For one, the leaves of this plant proved to be a good source of calcium, iron, ascorbic acid and phosphorus. Its other parts such as the seeds, the young pods, and the flowers have been established to benefit individuals as far as anti-oxidant, anti-diabetic, circulatory stimulations, and such other activities that are most beneficial to mankind, are concerned. There have been claims that malunggay can be used to lower blood pressure, aid in pains caused by rheumatism, headaches and migraines, as well as its being an anti-tumor plant. Malunggay is also used for purgative and anti-fungal purposes, as well. All these prove the claim that this plant is indeed multi-purpose.

There are various ways to derive the benefits from malunggay plant. Aside from the natural and direct means, wherein one is going to prepare the concoctions at home by picking the necessary parts from the plant itself, one can also purchase the commercial extractions of malunggay. There are malunggay capsules that are now available in the market, which contain 250mg dried young leaves of the malunggay plant. In the same way, there are commercial oil extracts of the malunggay flowers which are also in the market. Because of the popularity that has been associated with this plant, commercial establishments have exploited the malunggay’s marketable qualities. For simple preparations however, as when the concoction would be used for uncomplicated ailments like hiccups, as a means to end constipation, or as wound cleanser, one may eat the cooked leaves of the malunggay plant during his last meals of the day. This should be accompanied by water, especially when the ailment to be addressed is constipation. Now, as wound cleanser, the leaves may be crushed and applied to the affected area directly. In all instances, cleanliness should be observed to avoid complications.

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