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Moringa abounds in the Turks & Caicos Islands.
By Eric F. Salamanca, Ph.D., Assistant Director for Research & Development;
Ethan Griesbach, MSc., Acting Director/Deputy Director; and Bryan Manco, Environmental Officer, Department of Environment & Coastal Resources ~ Photos By Dr. Eric F. Salamanca
The Moringa tree can be found in the farms, residential backyards and landscaping of resorts and hotels in many tropical and subtropical regions, including the Turks & Caicos Islands. It is known to be native to India and introduced in the West Indies by the French in the mid-1780s. This tree may have been introduced in the TCI as an ornamental tree by the landscaping industry. Until recently, not many people were aware of its multifarious uses.
Most parts of the Moringa tree have medicinal value. The leaves have been used as part of traditional medicine for centuries, and the Ayurvedic system of medicine associates it with the cure or prevention of approximately 300 diseases. (Ayurvedic medicine is believed to be one of the world’s oldest holistic healing systems, developed more than 3,000 years ago in India. It is anchored on the belief that health and wellness depend on a delicate balance between the mind, body, and spirit.)
Moringa is used for “tired blood” (anemia); arthritis and other joint pain (rheumatism); asthma; cancer; constipation; diabetes; diarrhea; epilepsy; stomach pain; stomach and intestinal ulcers; intestinal spasms; headache; heart problems; high blood pressure; kidney stones; fluid retention; thyroid disorder; and bacterial, fungal, viral, and parasitic infections. Moringa is also used to reduce swelling, increase sex drive, prevent pregnancy, boost the immune system, and increase breast milk production. Some people use it as a nutritional supplement or tonic. No wonder it is considered a “wonder tree!”
Moringa is scientifically known as Moringa oleifera (Family: Moringaceae). It is a small tree that is a native of Asia and noted to thrive in the Turks & Caicos Islands. The leaves are tri-pinnate with obovate leaflets (with the side pinnae themselves branched), alternate, with opposite pinnae. The inflorescence has white, showy 5-merous flowers. Fruits are 20–30 cm long, three sided, opening on the tree along three edges when maturely dry. Seeds are 1 cm diameter with three thin wings about 3 cm long. Under favourable conditions the tree may reach 9 meters in height.
Moringa is described as a “miracle tree,” “drumstick tree,” or “horseradish tree” because the small rounded leaves are packed with an incredible amount of nutrition: protein, calcium, beta-carotene, vitamin C and potassium, to name a few. Moringa has a green, earthy taste similar to spinach or matcha green tea. It is delicious mixed into food or drinks for a nutrient boost.
The leaves of the Moringa are generally considered to be safe and edible, however, there is some controversy regarding the roots and stems which may potentially have harmful effects, especially in women. They may act as a contraceptive (temporary or permanent) and could potentially lead to miscarriage.
Moringa leaves contain vitamins, minerals, essential amino acids and more. One hundred grams of dry Moringa leaf contains: 9 times the protein of yogurt; 10 times the vitamin A of carrots; 15 times the potassium of bananas; 17 times the calcium of milk; 12 times the vitamin C of oranges and 25 times the iron of spinach.
Moringa powder (such as Aduna) is a rich source of protein, fibre, iron and vitamins A and K and a source of vitamin E, calcium and magnesium. The European Food Standards Authority (EFSA) stated that to qualify as a source of a vitamin or mineral, a food must contain 15% of the Nutrient Reference Value (NRV) per serving. The NRV is a daily recommended amount of the nutrient. To qualify as a rich source, it must contain at least 30% of NRV. This is a useful way of measuring nutrient density.
Moringa leaves are rich in antioxidants, including vitamin C, beta-carotene, quercetin and chlorogenic acid. Chlorogenic acid is known to slow cells’ absorption of sugar and animal studies have found it to lower blood sugar levels. The leaves are also reported to demonstrate antioxidant properties due to their high amount of polyphenols, and anti-diabetic effects, thanks to their beneficial plant compounds, including isothiocyanates.
The isothiocyanates, flavonoids and phenolic acids in Moringa leaves, pods and seeds also have anti-inflammatory properties. Moringa has cholesterol-lowering properties, and one animal study found its effects were comparable to those of the cholesterol-lowering drug Simvastatin. Moringa oleifera is used in Thai traditional medicine as a cardiotonic. The leaves and seeds of Moringa may protect against some of the effects of arsenic toxicity, which is especially important in light of news that staple foods, such as rice, may be contaminated in some parts of Asia. Drink boiled Moringa leaves before bed to help you sleep soundly, which in turn will leave you energized the following day. Moringa is high in fiber and helps in moving food along your digestive system. Fiber is also a key component in maintaining a healthy cardiovascular system.
Moringa flowers and leaves are used in the treatment of malnutrition. An infusion made from flowers can cure colds. Moringa flowers and root contain antibioticpterygospermin, which is highly effective on cholera and at high concentration functions as a fungicide. Moringa flowers are traditionally used as a tonic, diuretic and abortifacient (inducing miscarriage), and are considered to be anthelmintic (able to expel parasites from the body). Moringa flowers are used to treat inflammations, muscle diseases, tumors and enlargement of the spleen. Juice pressed from Moringa flowers is said to alleviate sore throat and catarrh. An infusion of the flowers is used as eyewash and a decoction from the flowers has been used to treat hysteria.
Moringa seeds and pods
Moringa seeds are an incredible find, with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and cholesterol-lowering effects. Moringa seeds also offer many nutritional benefits, as they contain seven times more vitamin C than oranges; four times the amount of vitamin A found in carrots; four times more calcium than milk; three times more potassium than bananas; and two times more protein than yogurt.
There are studies that show Moringa seed can lower blood pressure. (Consult your doctor before stopping any prescribed medications for high blood pressure.) The oil extracted from the seeds contains almost 30 antioxidants. Skin absorbs the oil well and can receive these nourishing antioxidants easily. The oil can be used as a moisturizer and antiseptic.
Moringa seed pods are used in the Ayurvedic medical tradition as a specific cure for worms and parasites. The seed pods can be crushed and applied topically to treat minor skin inflammations, warts and infections. The oil contained in the seed pods can be used to reduce inflammation caused by arthritis, rheumatism and gout. Moringa seed pods contain complex chemical compounds with antibiotic and antioxidant properties that can boost the body’s natural immune system. The seed pods are often recommended by Ayurvedic practitioners for patients with digestive upsets and abdominal tumors.
Moringa seed pod husks are a bountiful, low-cost source of activated carbon, an important medical tool in the treatment of ingested poisons. Unlike other sources of activated carbon that require extensive processing, Moringa seed husks can be processed using single-step steam pyrolysis, a simple method that can be performed without advanced technological tools.
Moringa seed pods are used to purify water in remote places where technologically advanced methods of water purification are not practical. The oil contained in Moringa seed pods contains a natural coagulant that interacts with impurities in the water and allows them to settle safely to the bottom, providing fresh drinking water in areas where dirt and other contaminants typically render water supplies unsafe for human consumption. Because Moringa seed pods are completely nontoxic and safe for consumption themselves, the resulting water is safer for drinking and other personal uses. Additionally, crushed Moringa seed pods can often be acquired at little or no cost from industrial sources that produce this seed pod presscake as a byproduct of oil extraction, making this water treatment method a cost-effective and efficient use of limited resources in less developed parts of the world.
Moringa helps with male dysfunction and erection problems. Because this plant is highly nutritious, it is capable of supplying the body with everything it needs for superior sexual performance. The seeds of Moringa have been found to enhance the sex hormone level in men due to the high vitamin C and D they contain. Specifically, the seeds contain saponin, a chemical compound that enhances libido and improves levels of the sex hormone testosterone.
Moringa can be propagated by seeds or by cuttings. A mature seed can easily germinate, while a cutting of mature stem can produce sprouts in about two weeks. In storm-prone areas, it is better to propagate this plant by seeds because of the better root systems produced.
Besides the exciting nutritional benefits that can be derived from Moringa, planting the tree can also play an important role in mitigating the effects of climate change because of its potential to sequester carbon.
Moringa flowers and leaves