Moringa oleifera...

The multipurpose wonder-tree



The above photo, by Anthony Simons of ICRAF, is a
classic example of the characteristic "drumstick" pods of
Moringa oleifera.


    For centuries indigenous people in northern India and many parts of Africa have known the many benefits of Moringa oleifera.  Its uses are as unique as the many names it is known by, such as clarifier tree, horseradish tree, drumstick tree and in East Africa it has the alias "mother's best friend" (Folkard and Sutherland, 1996).  This page is intended to present an overview of the most popular benefits of moringa, as well as provide several sources and links to sites I have found to be useful in researching not only moringa, but also other tree species as well.  All of the information obtained for this page was found in the sources cited and whenever possible direct links to the sites are provided.
 
 







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 India and Africa, but it seems that there may be a growing interest in the cultivation possibilities in the more humid tropics, including Central and South America.  Depending on the purpose and quantity desired, moringa can be grown in a nursery as a community project or on a smaller scale at the family level.  It can function as windbreaks for erosion control, live fences, as an ornamental or intercropped to provide semi-shade to species requiring less direct sunlight (ICRAF).

click here and head to the ICRAF web page for more on the growth habits and requirements of moringa
 
 




This is the flower of Moringa oleiferaClick on photo
to connect to the Moringa Home Page by Mark Olson.
 
 
 


This is another of Mark's photos depicting the seeds
and pods of Moringa oleiferaClick on this photo
to connect to his homepage, well worth the visit.
 
 
 
 







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 Tanzania, Nicaragua, Malawi, Brazil, Niger, Indonesia and Senegal (Optima of Africa, Ltd.).  The problems in these types of environments are plentiful:  lack of food during the dry season, lack of fodder for animals, reduced amounts of firewood, poor nutrition and unsanitary drinking water, to name a few.  Can moringa solve all of the tropical world's problems?  Definitely not.  Can it be integrated into agroforestry systems to raise the quality of life even just a little?  Hopefully.
      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 Tanzania, "25 grams daily of Moringa Leaf Powder will give a child" the following recommended daily allowances...

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 India, they are canned and exported all over the world.  Many ethnic grocery stores stock various parts of the tree, but as far as I can tell, they don't quite make it up here to the U.P.
 
 

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 Malawi, Africa, two researchers, Drs. Geoff Folkard and John Sutherland from the University of Leicester, England, have worked on substituting moringa seeds for alum to remove solids in water for drinking.  Not only were the tests successful in removing as much solid material as alum, but the seeds used were "purchased from enthusiastic villagers in Nsanje Region in Malawi" (Folkard and Sutherland, 1996).

click here to go to an article by Folkard and Sutherland at the Trees for Life site


This is Dr. Folkard.

    Similarly, Optima of Africa, Ltd. is working with local farmers in Tanzania, Africa, growing moringa as a cash crop.  According to a source from Optima,  the farmers "grow [moringa] under contract for [Optima] and we guarantee a market and a price each year.  So far we have just over 20,000 farmers contracted."  This organization is growing moringa for both the oil and the flocculant which remains in the presscake.  They have even trademarked their product and named it "Phytofloc".

click here to go directly to Optima's page on Phytofloc
 
 




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.).


Links...

Seedman.com is just like it sounds

Purdue University's extensive moringa page

Church World Service sponsors a great moringa site with lots of informative links

ECHO’s page on Moringa, a great site to browse for tropical agriculture in general http://www.echonet.org/moringa3.htm


 

Related Links...

Dendrology at Virginia Tech http://www.fw.vt.edu/dendro/dendrology/main.htm

The Gardening Launch Pad-Trees has numerous and excellent links for the tree enthusiast;  includes species from all over the world

Future Harvest is a great site that combines agriculture, forestry, population growth and feeding the world--whew!

CIFOR-Center for International Forestry Research--'nuf said

ForestWorld-photos, woods of the world, certification, plus and extensive internet directory

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Sources...

    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, Michigan Technological University
William Creighton, Optima of Africa, Ltd.
George Escobar, Peace Corps/Tanzania
Mark Olson, Missouri Botanical Gardens

Photos used with permission

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For any questions, comments, or criticisms, contact me at juniperspp@yahoo.com.
This page was created by Jen Papillo, Graduated Master's International student, Michigan Technological University, and Returned Peace Corps/Paraguay Volunteer.  Previously living on Michigan's Upper Peninsula in Houghton, returned to home state of Delaware.

Back to Jen's Peace Corps Page.

The following links may be of interest:

The Loret Miller Ruppe Peace Corps Master's International Program at Michigan Tech