Feeding the Nations

Can moringa end poverty and hunger?
By Amy Vergin

Moringa, a tree native to the foothills of the Himalayas, has been around for thousands of years—yet we are just starting to realize the power it contains. Could this tree be the key to ending poverty and nourishing the malnourished?

IN THE BEGINNING

Moringa dates as far back as 2000 BC, when it was found to be a medicinal herb. Some even believe that the Bible references the moringa tree, in the book of Revelations, as the “tree of life” and, in the book of Exodus, as a tree that helped make the water sweet instead of bitter. Whatever the history, we know that moringa has been helping people for centuries.

From the Himalayas and North India, moringa slowly spread toward China and Southeast Asia then quickly worked its way throughout Africa. It is now even grown in parts of South America.

In some African dialects, moringa became known as nebedaye, which means “never die.” This was because of moringa’s ability to grow so easily in a variety of environments. But the name moringa comes from the Sanskrit meaning “reddish brown,” referring to the seeds that are produced when the plant has matured.

The Egyptians treasured the oil they produced from the tree because it was able to protect their skin from the harsh desert weather. As the tree began to spread even further across the globe, the Greeks discovered some of the other healthful benefits moringa possessed.

People from Niger use moringa not only as their primary source of food and nutrition, but also as their farmers’ primary source of income. And Haitians have found that growing moringa helps create a wind break, which helps reduce soil erosion. Some have even looked into using this superfood as a potential for biodiesel.

PLETHORA OF BENEFITS

Now, the world knows of the multipurpose tree and the power it holds. From leaf to root, moringa has multiple uses. Moringa is so powerful that as of 2012, the Honduran Federal Government, through the Secretary of Agriculture, started to support farmers who produce moringa. Many believe that moringa—because of its many uses and its ability to grow in most places—could end poverty and fight malnutrition worldwide.

This is because of the nutrition that is packed into each part of the tree.

The plant in its entirety contains a potent profile of minerals, trace minerals, all essential amino acids, and the flavonols quercetin and kaempferol.

So what does all of this mean? People use moringa for restoring imbalances, anemia, arthritis, constipation, stomach pain, ulcers, and headaches; it’s also a way to boost the immune system and protect and detox the liver. And, moringa is a great way to reach that six to 10 servings of veggies per day that many people lack in their diets.

GETTING IT RIGHT

As the realization of moringa’s possibilities sparks ideas of ending poverty and malnutrition, companies such as Organic India have jumped on the bandwagon.

Organic India is a company that works to improve the lives of farmers in India. The company noticed moringa’s ability to grow in underdeveloped countries and chose to use this as one of their newest crops. It took almost two years to make their moringa crop organic, but now they are able to use completely organic and non-GMO leaves in all of their products. Organic India was also the first company to bring moringa to the US.

FROM TREE TO TABLE

The beauty of moringa is that none of it goes to waste when you harvest the crop. The leaves are used in teas or turned into a powder for dietary supplements or even as a condiment. You can also cook moringa leaves much like you would spinach or for use in soups.

The entire tree—think roots to seeds—has been used in medicines and antiseptics to help treat a variety of ailments.

When the moringa’s seed pods are immature, they can be picked and prepared similarly to green beans or asparagus. The seeds found in the pods are removed and can be cooked like peas.

If the seed pods are mature (you will know this if they are brownish) you can mash them and place the seeds in boiling water. The oil from the seeds will float to the top where you can gather it. This oil is great for cooking, but it can also be used as a lubricant or in wrinkle creams, aromatherapy oils, massage oils, or hair care products.

A seed cake remains after the extraction of the oil; farmers use this as fertilizer or as a well-water purifier. Some also use the seed cake to remove salt from salt water.

Keep in mind that there are chemicals found within the root, bark, and flowers that have been known to cause contractions of the uterus, leading to miscarriages if used by pregnant women. Talk to an herbalist or a healthcare professional before using or consuming moringa.

However you choose to use moringa, you will surely reap the benefits of this miracle plant. The options are limited here in the US—for now—but watch as it becomes mainstream in the months and years to come.

 

Moringa Leaves Contain…

7 times more vitamin C than oranges

4 times more calcium than milk

4 times more vitamin A than carrots

2 times more protein than milk

3 times more potassium than bananas

400 times more vitamin B12 than steak