Moringa: The Miracle Tree You Can Eat
It’s great fun to pretend one is a giant, grabbing stalks of broccoli and waving them around and biting the tops off. Or maybe that’s just me. There is, curiously, a real tree that is not only wholly edible; its constituent parts are so packed with nutrients it’s like an organic mini-mart with roots. In modern times this tree has been parlayed by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) into a nourishment solution for the nutritionally disenfranchised around the world. Naturally, this uniquely energized plant has the sort of warm-sounding name that befits an ancient living power plant; Moringa.
The somewhat nondescript-looking Moringa Tree has been heavily courted through the centuries by cultures who place a premium on feeling really really good. Which is to say, all cultures who have come across it. Long venerated in traditional communities for its nutritional and medicinal properties, the Moringa is basically a leafy energy delivery system. In fact, it is the Moringa’s leaves that tend to draw headlines. Atypically for the plant kingdom, the leaves of the Moringa contain complete proteins, not to mention a wealth of beta-carotene, minerals, antioxidants—a potent admixture of those biology-nurturing compounds most lacking in developmentally depressed parts of the world where populations starve on their feet for want of nutritional completeness in their diets. The Moringa tree has it all, and has been called—quite understandably—the Tree of Life and The Miracle Tree by those whose gratitude can only be paid out in honorifics for this literally life-giving plant.
Moringa the Nutritional Swinga’ (sorry)
In “traditional” or non-Western medicine, Moringa leaves are kept very busy, and are wielded to push back against an array of familiar daily health concerns. In various preparations and in various cultures, the Moringa’s leaves are used to heal cuts, reduce inflammation, treat symptoms of malaria, mellow arthritis, knock down urinary tract infections and lower blood pressure. Raw Moringa leaves are so rich in nutrients, a line-item listing looks like the label on a bottle of multivitamins. A 3.5 ounce quantity of Moringa leaves contains 92% of the vitamin B6 the USDA recommends you ingest in a day, plus 62% of your vitamin C, 55% of your Riboflavin (B2), 22% of your thiamin, and the list goes on. The Moringa Tree does not skimp on minerals, either, providing (again, by published USDA nutrient standards) 31% of your day’s iron, 41% of your magnesium, 19% of your calcium requirement, and 16% of your phosphorous. Did we mention that 100 grams of Moringa leaf also yields 9.5 grams of protein? Phytochemicals in the powdered leaves even make that a useful antiseptic compound for sanitizing the hands.This is an almost embarrassingly generous tree.
The fact is, every part of the Moringa tree is edible. While that is said euphemistically of many of Nature’s gifts, in the case of the Moringa it doesn’t simply mean you can draw wincing survivalist nourishment from an endlessly chewed strip of Moringa bark in a food-depletion emergency. The Moringa’s bark will actually nourish you; and mitigate your asthma symptoms, reduce swelling and aid digestion. When the bark is boiled, the resulting elixir (possibly foul-tasting) is both toothache cure and aphrodisiac; though one would not necessarily want to partake of both benefits in the same confused evening. The seed pods and fruit will even nourish you; each part of this tree is a digestible powerhouse that has food-like properties. The leaves are freshly eaten after careful harvesting, or are dried and ground into the aforementioned powder—a treatment that makes bioavailable much of the plant’s magic. The seed pods can be eaten right off the branch or cooked.
3.5 ounces of Moringa seed pods, most typically parboiled (lightly boiled) in one or another kind of curry for eating, still retain after boiling 170% of the USDA’s recommended daily value for vitamin C. Yes; 170%. Folate, B6, B5 and a grocery list of other vitamins and minerals inhere in the drumstick-shaped pods, too. Parts of the tree are traditionally used as an anti-parasitic, and as-yet-ongoing research (tentatively but graciously reported with careful disclaimers by none other than the Sloan Kettering Cancer Center website) have shown some positive effects on stomach ulcers and certain non-specified cancers. The research is described as lacking “human data”, however.
Nature’s Ayurvedic Medic Meets Modern Compassion
The Moringa Tree—as though it needed more association with altruistic hipness—is alive with the spiritual resonance of the sacred subcontinent. That’s right; Moringa is native to the fragrant foothills of the storied Himalayas in Northern India, where Ayurvedic texts have long described the Moringa’s ability to heal or mitigate some 300 diseases. As recently as 2011, an ethnobotanical research project found that the Moringa has for centuries been uniquely central to the practices of the Siddha healers of Tamil Nadu, India.
The Moringa is an ancient open secret whose riches are now being used by Western aid organizations for the good of the developing world; most acutely where minerals such as iron and magnesium are in dangerously short supply in the regional diet. This “Miracle Tree” has more than earned the nickname given her by the untold millions of patrons to whom she has gifted her healing chemistry, going back to unrecorded antiquity.
The Moringa miracle is another example, if you needed one, of the Plant Kingdom’s long, eyes-closed embrace of the Animal Kingdom—which in this context is much less annoying than that lengthy and well-meant hug you’ll receive from your tie-dyed host at the next drum circle. But an irritatingly long hug is a high-class problem, isn’t it?