Moringa oleifera, also referred to as the drumstick tree (for the appearance of its seed-pods), is one of those traditional plants that have been eaten and used as herbal remedies long before Western science took an interest in them.
Grown in the Himalayan region, South-East Asia and Africa, this plant recently became a big hit amongst European and American consumers. The evidence of multiple health benefits, as well as its nutritional value, make it a sought after product and health supplement. Taken by mouth or applied to the skin, moringa has plenty to offer. Read about it and you’ll understand why many swear by this hardy plant and call it the ‘miracle tree’.
Every Part of Moringa can be Used
When it comes to moringa, nothing is wasted. Every part has its uses and applications. Leaves, flowers, seeds, pods, oil and even roots and bark all have a valuable place in the kitchen and/or the medicine cabinet.
The most nutritious part of the plant, leaves can be eaten as spinach or powdered and added to sauces and soups. They are rich in vitamins (B vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin K, beta-carotene), minerals (calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium) and proteins.
Moringa leaves have been used in some parts of the world as an affordable way to combat malnutrition. They have anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties and are also known to treat diarrhea.
Applied to the skin, they help wounds and bites heal, and help relieve some skin conditions. Due to the high iron content, moringa leaves have been traditionally used to cure anemia.
Flower juice and tea are drunk in some places to help with urinary problems or alleviate the symptoms of cold.
Immature seed pods
The immature seed pods, called “
Seeds can be removed from the pods and prepared as peas or nuts. The seeds have a potent antibiotic effect and are particularly good for fighting Staphylococcus aureus and Pseudomonas aeruginosa infections.
They have also been traditionally used as an anti-epileptic remedy, and they are believed to help with arthritis, rheumatism, gout, cramps, sexually transmitted diseases and boils.
Moringa seed oil
Edible oil can be extracted from mature seeds, and used as food supplement or cosmetic product for skin and hair. It also has a potential as bio-fuel. Moringa oil can be used for the same ailments as the seeds.
The taste of the roots resembles horseradish and has given yet another name to the moringa tree – horseradish tree. They are rich in polyphenols and are used as a condiment. However, there is some controversy around the safety of eating moringa root (see the section on ‘Side effects and precautions’).
The roots and bark contain all the properties in higher concentrations, so more care needs to be taken if they are used as medicines.
The gum is a diuretic and has also been known for its uses with asthma.
Research on Moringa’s Health Benefits is Promising
With moringa’s popularity on the rise, the science on this tree is growing as well. Research brings some promising findings, but more studies are required to establish the effects and potential uses in medicine.
Moringa’s health promoting compounds include moringine, moringinine, the potent antioxidants quercetin, kaempferol, rhamnetin, and various polyphenols.
Here is some of the research on this amazing tree:
1. Anti-inflammatory effect
Different parts of moringa show a powerful anti-inflammatory response and research into the plant’s potential in the treatment of inflammatory diseases, such as asthma, is ongoing.
2. Antioxidant activity
Numerous studies confirmed the plant’s antioxidant potential. The antioxidant activity is attributed to quercetin and kaempferol, which are the compounds of phenols. Extracts of Indian origin moringa showed the highest antioxidant activity.
3. Anti-cancer potential
The plant contains several anti-cancer compounds. Moringa leaves extract has been used in studies on cancer cells and has showed cytotoxicity (the ability to kill cancer cells). Moringa seed extract has also had an effect on liver cancer (more about cancer here), as suggested by 2003 study.
4. A role in diabetic prevention
Studies on rats showed that moringa leaves can reduce blood sugar levels. A study published in 2007 found that glucose levels are reduced within 3 hours of consuming the leaves. Anti-diabetic effects (hypoglycemic activity) are the result of polyphenol action and it is expected that the plant will be commercialized for the use in pharmaceutical industry.
5. Analgesic activity
Moringa also works as a natural pain killer. Analgesic activity has been shown on animals, and traditionally, the leaves have been used to treat headaches.
6. Liver protector
Several studies showed moringa’s positive effect on the liver. Leaves, roots and flower are particularly praised for the hepatoprotective activity (the ability to prevent damage to the liver). Moringa seed extract also has a healing effect on liver fibrosis and one study showed that liver fibrosis reduced after regular consumption of the seed extract. Make sure you are aware of the early signs of liver damage.
7. Blood pressure and cholesterol levels
Moringa tree is also known to reduce blood pressure and cholesterol levels and prevents water retention (it acts as a diuretic).
Other Uses of Moringa
This tree truly is versatile and nothing is left to rot. The seed cake left after oil extraction can be used to fertilize crops and also as a water purifier. Leaf powder can be used for hand washing and in Jamaica, a blue dye is sourced out of moringa sap.
Possible Side Effects and Precautions
According to webMD, moringa has been used safely in doses of up to 6 grams a day for up to 3 weeks. Even if virtually all parts of the plant are consumed in regions where moringa grows, webMD warns against eating the root as it may contain a toxic substance.
Pregnant and breast-feeding women are advised to avoid moringa due to insufficient information on its safety. The popular belief about moringa’s ability to increase milk flow in lactating mothers has not been proven yet.
Where to Get Moringa Products
You can get the moringa oil as well as other parts of the moringa tree at your local natural health store and online. Always make sure that the products you buy are organically certified to ensure they are pesticide free.