Very few Americans have ever heard of the moringa oleifera plant, but in Africa it’s a life-saver. It needs very little water to grow and its leaves offer a full complement of protein, minerals, and nutrients to both humans and cattle. When Africans cook with moringa, they throw the tiny leaves into soups and stews just before serving. When eaten fresh this way, the leaves give off a slightly grassy flavor.
Moringa leaves provide protein, calcium, and iron, plus vitamins A and C and potassium. Vitamin A boosts immunity, strengthens skin and hair, and keeps eyes healthy. Vitamin C helps the body resist infection, helps prevent cataracts, and aids in tissue regeneration. Potassium keeps blood pressure low and the whole body hydrated. It also has been shown to decrease risk of stroke. The antioxidants in the dark green leaves boost cellular health, which helps us age gracefully.
Fresh moringa leaves and plants are not easy to find in America. It doesn’t help that moringa oleifera has many names in various languages. In Bengali it’s known as “shojne danta,” in Hindi it’s “sahjan,” and in Nepali moringa is called “sajiwan” or “swejan.” In the Maldives, they named it “muranga.” In Thai, you’ll hear it referred to as “ma rum.” And in Tagolog, the main language of the Philippines, it’s called “malunggay.” In Haiti they’ve given it the name “benzolive,” which is similar to an American nickname for it: “ben oil tree.” Moringa is used extensively in Southeast Asia. I was recently entertaining a high government official from Southeast Asia at my home and he happened to mention that he uses moringa regularly as a standard part of his diet. He then proceeded to take two moringa capsules, which is a good way to ensure that you get the benefits of this incredible plant where and when you need it.
I get my live moringa plants from Armstrong Gardens in Orange County, California. I use the tiny, dark green leaves in many of my recipes like my Moringa Vegetable Soup. It’s made with chicken-stock, eggplant, okra (another African vegetable), kabocha squash and string beans. The dark green, purple, and deep golden colors in this soup look stunning. It’s also delicious.
I also use the fresh leaves in my own version of a spinach dip because moringa leaves have a similar taste and texture to spinach, especially when blanched. Some people grind the fresh leaves together with olive oil and garlic to make a kind of pesto for pasta. The popularity of this plant is growing worldwide. In India, the pods and seeds of the moringa tree are used in curries and korma sauces. In the Maldives, the leaves are fried along with onions and dried tuna.
Moringa comes in powdered form, too. I purchase powdered moringa online at www.moringaforlife.com. Some of my recipes call for powdered moringa (like my moringa dip). The powder will lend a pale green color to the food. I like to dissolve the powder in liquid for best results. The powder is also packed into capsules and taken as a supplement. When I suspect I might be getting sick, I take a powdered moringa capsule, because it’s better than zinc for boosting immunity.
The folk remedies that incorporate moringa include using it topically as an antiseptic, an anti-inflammatory, and as a remedy for headache. Some people chew the bark for a Viagra-like effect. Women eat the leaves to increase the production of breast milk. In India, moringa leaves are used to control blood pressure and blood sugar levels. A snuff has been made from the roots and used to relieve earaches and toothaches. Scientific studies are now being conducted to support those folk remedies. Extracts from the seeds can also be used to reduce bacteria in water by at least 90%. Some countries use the seeds as a biofuel source for biodiesel. However it’s used, this miraculous tree provides many people with amazing benefits, which is why I add it to my diet regularly.