The multipurpose wonder-tree
For centuries indigenous
people in northern
What is Moringa oleifera?
Moringa oleifera is a fast growing, aesthetically pleasing small tree adapted to arid, sandy conditions. The species is characterized by its long, drumstick shaped pods that contain its seeds. Within the first year of growth, moringa has been shown to grow up to 4 meters and can bear fruit within the same first year (Folkard and Sutherland, 1996). Virtually every part of the tree is beneficial in some way, which is of great importance in areas where people have a direct dependence on trees, crops and animals for their livelihood. The studies that have been performed on moringa have taken place primarily in
What are some
of the benefits?
According to the research I have done, the benefits of Moringa oleifera are almost too numerous to name. However, several benefits seem to be repeated again and again, therefore leading me to believe these are the most important and useful in extreme situations, like drought conditions in arid regions or areas in the wet tropics experiencing rapid rates of deforestation. Moringa is naturalized in
One brief side note that is definitely worth mentioning, however, is the possibility that cultivation of moringa as an exotic species will lead to it becoming an invasive species, therefore negating the positive aspects it presents. On the PIER (Pacific Island Ecosystems at Risk) page regarding moringa, it is portrayed as a potential danger to sensitive ecosystems because of its success at naturalization. However, it has not been yet proven to be a weed species and more monitoring needs to be done to see if this may be a possibility.
What are some of the uses?
First, I will present a brief summary of the medicinal, commercial and nutritional benefits of moringa. Second, I will explore more in depth the ability of moringa seeds to combat the problem of unsafe drinking water by acting as a coagulant during water purification.
The use of moringa for medicinal purposes may seem to have its roots in folklore and myth, but indigenous people have found much success in using various parts of the tree to cure many physical ailments. For example, the juice from the leaves is believed to stabilize blood pressure, the flowers are used to cure inflammations, the pods are used for joint pain, the roots are used to treat rheumatism, and the bark can be chewed as a digestive. These are just some of uses presented by Optima of Africa, Ltd.
Most sources seem to agree on the excellent nutritional
benefits of moringa. Because the tree produces leaves during the dry
season and during times of drought, it is an excellent source of green
vegetable when little other food is available (Folkard
and Sutherland, 1996). The leaves provide many necessary vitamins and
minerals and can be eaten cooked or dried. The foliage has been compared
to spinach in both its appearance and nutritional quality. According to Optima of Africa, Ltd., a group that has been working with the tree in
Protein 42%, Calcium 125%, Magnesium 61%, Potassium 41%, Iron 71%, Vitamin A 272%, Vitamin C 22%
These results are
impressive, especially when considering this nutrition is available when food
sources may be scarce. The leaves and branches may also be used for
fodder when nothing else is useable, and the high nutrient content of the
leaves would make it a prime candidate to incorporate into a mulching
system. This is assuming, however, that the leaves are in abundance and not
required as a human food source.
In addition to the leaves, the pods, or drumsticks, are a great commercial product. In
This photo by A. Njenga is from Agroforestry
Today, July-September 1996,
Volume 8, Number 3. Click on the photo to go to the ICRAF homepage.
Moringa oleifera and Water Purification
Within the pods are possibly the best part of the tree...the seeds! Not only can they be pressed for a high grade oil, comparable to olive oil, but the presscake remaining after oil extraction has been shown to retain the active ingredients for coagulation, making it a marketable commodity (Folkard and Sutherland, 1996). According to Meitzner and Price (Amaranth to Zai Holes: Ideas for Growing Food Under Difficult Conditions, ECHO, 1996), Moringa oleifera has been compared to alum in its effectiveness at removing suspended solids from turbid water, but with a major advantage. Because it can be produced locally, "using moringa rather than alum would save foreign exchange and generate farm and employment income." The potential for moringa to create a new market for a community is there, and studies and projects are taking place examining this potential.
At the Thyolo Water Treatment Works in
Similarly, Optima of Africa, Ltd. is working with local
How does it work?
The processing of the seed is extremely simple. The mature pods can be dried naturally on the tree, or removed and then dried. The seed coats and wings are removed and the kernel is crushed into a powder, similar to making cornmeal. Next, the powder is added to a small amount of water and shaken for a few minutes, then strained into the larger container of water. It should be stirred vigorously for two minutes, then slowly for ten to fifteen minutes. It should be allowed to sit undisturbed for at least an hour so the solids attached to the powder particles can settle to the bottom. Because bacteria is attached to solids, this process removes particles and bacteria as well. It is recommended that boiling or further water treatment be done to finalize the purification process (Optima of Africa, Ltd.).
ECHO’s page on Moringa, a great site to browse for tropical agriculture in general http://www.echonet.org/moringa3.htm
In addition to all of the above mentioned citations, I received a good amount of information and direction from the following. If it weren't for their help and the leads I got from them, I wouldn't have been able to write a darn thing:
Josh Amend, RPCV/Tanzania,
William Creighton, Optima of Africa, Ltd.
George Escobar, Peace Corps/Tanzania
Photos used with permission
For any questions, comments, or criticisms, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This page was created by Jen Papillo, Graduated Master's International student,
Back to Jen's Peace Corps Page.