Grow A Moringa Tree
By Kenny Coogan
You might know Moringa oleifera by a different name, like benzolive tree, drumstick tree, horseradish-tree, West Indian ben, murungai, ben-oil tree or moringa. No matter what you call it, ben-oil tree, Moringa oleifera, can benefit a large range of gardeners. Moringa can be used as an ornamental shade or barrier tree, for its fiber or gum/ resin and, more notoriously, for culinary purposes using its fruit, oil, seeds and leaves. The tree is native to the Indian subcontinent and is now being cultivated world-wide for its nutritional value and ability to grow well in un-nurturing conditions.
Trees for Life, based in Wichita, Kansas, is a nonprofit movement focused on empowering people in developing countries. They have been helping people grow Moringa for more than 25 years, while spreading awareness of its potential benefits.
Their main role with Moringa has been to act as a catalyst behind the scenes. Several years ago, they realized that one of the major roadblocks to Moringa reaching its full potential was a lack of scientific research.
“We heard about groups that wanted to do nutrition programs with Moringa in Africa and other places, but their plans were stopped because there was not enough scientifically verified evidence that Moringa would actually be effective,” Jeffrey Faus, Moringa Programs Coordinator for Trees for Life, says.
They developed a book about current knowledge and the need for further studies and sent it to various heads of state, ambassadors, and research institutions around the world. “Today a search for ‘Moringa’ on Google Scholar returns 20,000 results for scientific articles; individuals, nonprofits and governments around the world are using Moringa; and we have heard that more than 200 million Moringa trees have been planted in Africa alone,” Faus adds.
Moringa is a tropical tree, so it grows best in tropical and subtropical areas. It cannot survive a hard freeze. In northern areas, it can be grown indoors or in containers that are brought indoors during the winter.
“Early in our work with Moringa, we were amazed to discover that it grows in the very same areas of the world where malnutrition is the worst,” Faus says. Trees for Life recommends that gardeners grow Moringa from seeds or cuttings, depending on what is available in their area. Full growing instructions can be found at: www.treesforlife.org.
“For the people we serve in developing countries, it is an incredible boon to be able to grow such a highly nutritious plant themselves. It’s like having multivitamins growing at their doorsteps,” Faus says.
Although Trees for Life does not consist of doctors, they are working on promoting more research to verify many of the claims that have been made. “We do know that the leaves are extremely nutritious, which can help with overall health and vitality—especially in people who are malnourished,” Faus says. “Also, every part of the Moringa tree has been used in traditional medicine in countries around the world.”
Trees for Life has been mostly focused on people including the leaves in their diets to get added nutritional benefits. The leaves can simply be added to everyday foods that people are already eating. I include my trees’ leaves in soups and salads, often eating the leaves raw.
Bob Hargrave, Agricultural Specialist, at ECHO, an agricultural extension organization based in North Fort Myers, Florida, says Moringa foliage and fruit pods are rich sources of calcium and iron, and good sources of vitamins A, B, and C when consumed raw. Moringa is also a good source of protein including large amounts of the sulfur-containing amino acids, methionine and cystine.
“Cook and eat young tender shoots, whole young leaves, and leaflets of older leaves like spinach,” Hargrave recommends. “Blossoms are edible; they taste like radish” he adds.
Use sun and oven-dried flowers and leaves to prepare a tea. You can store dried leaves as future soup supplements. Cooking young pods is reminiscent of asparagus. Brown seeds from mature pods in a skillet, mashing them and placing them in boiling water will create an excellent cooking or lubricating oil, which is very similar to olive oil. The oil preserves well, although it does become rancid with age.
“My favorite preparation of Moringa was in a simple lentil sauce called ‘daal’ served over rice, which people shared with me in a rural village in Orissa, India,” Faus says.
Kenny Coogan, CPBT-KA, has a B.S. in animal behavior and is a weekly pet columnist. On his one acre of property he leads a permaculturist lifestyle. He has authored a children’s book titled A Tenrec Named Trey (And other odd lettered animals that like to play).”Please search “Critter Companions by Kenny Coogan” on Facebook to learn more.