Some call it the most useful tree in the world. The common name is Moringa or Drumstick, while taxonomists refer to it as Moringa Oleifera.
It is a very common tree that is grown in the backyards in the southern and eastern parts of India as the pods and to some extent, the leaves and flowers are used as a handy vegetable for preparing traditional curries. The pods are more widely used in the other parts of India. The tree can also be found in many other Asian countries like Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Malaysia and Philippines, and in parts of Africa and South America.
The moringa tree has a weak trunk, which can easily break during a storm, but the tree itself is drought resistant and very easily cultivated through vegetative propagation. Regular pruning ensures that the branches remain accessible for easy harvesting of the pods and leaves.
Ayurveda - the age-old traditional Indian system of medicine A – makes use of the root, bark, leaves and seeds for a variety of ailments. Folklore has it that this tree can provide a cure for nearly 300 diseases. While all the claims are not established scientifically, it is obvious that the tree has some amazing properties.
Almost every part of the tree is useful. The seed is eaten like a peanut in Malaya. The root is eaten as a substitute for horseradish in some places. The leaves are used as a salad, or pickled and consumed, and more commonly as a vegetable. The unripe pods are mainly used as a vegetable in various curries. The seeds yield clear odorless oil called Ben Oil that is used for lubricating watches and other delicate machinery.
It is said that the moringa leaves has twice the amount of proteins in milk or yoghurt, seven times the Vitamin C content in Oranges and three times the Potassium content in Bananas. This is a long list that just goes to underline the fact that moringa leaves contain a lot of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that are essential for us. In fact powdered moringa leaves is now being promoted as a miracle source of nutrients for the tropical countries.
Of all the amazing properties two are noteworthy:
- Moringa leaves give all the nine essential amino acids that are required in our diet (histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine). Most of these amino acids are found in higher quantities in moringa leaves than in soybean, which is another rare food of plant origin that has all the essential amino acids. While animal products provide all the essential amino acids, vegetarian foods like cereals and pulses have one or two essential amino acids missing, which is why vegetarians have to eat a variety of foods. A better alternative will be to add moringa leaves to their diet.
- Moringa seeds can be crushed and added to untreated pathogenic, turbid water to work as an excellent clarifying agent. The moringa seed powder binds the bacteria and silt and slowly settles down as sediment at the bottom of the vessel. Reasonably clear potable water can then be removed from the top of the vessel. Although it doesn’t remove all impurities, there are some claims that 90% of the bacteria are removed by this method and the turbidity gets reduces substantially. In the poorer countries where death due to malnutrition and disease is a severe problem, the moringa tree holds a lot of promise, by improving the nutrition and providing purer drinking water in a very cost-effective way.
Whether it is the most useful tree in the world or not, moringa is definitely a very useful tree and it is high time we promote its widespread cultivation and investigate the other benefits for wider adoption.
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