Vietnamese name: Chùm ngây
English name: Moringa, Drumstick tree, Horseradish tree, Ben oil tree
Latin name: Moringa oleifera Lam.
he "Moringa" tree is grown mainly in semi-arid, tropical, and subtropical areas, corresponding in the United States to USDA hardiness zones 9 and 10. While it grows best in dry sandy soil, it tolerates poor soil, including coastal areas. It is a fast-growing, drought-resistant tree that is native to the southern foothills of the Himalayas in northwestern India. Reports that it grows wild in the Middle East or Africa are completely unsubstantiated. Today it is widely cultivated in Africa, Central and South America, Sri Lanka, India, Mexico, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. It is considered one of the world’s most useful trees, as almost every part of the Moringa tree can be used for food or has some other beneficial property. In the tropics, it is used as forage for livestock, and in many countries, Moringa is used as a micronutrient powder to treat diseases.
A traditional food plant in Africa, this little-known vegetable has potential to improve nutrition, boost food security, foster rural development, and support sustainable landcare.
Illustration of Moringa oleifera from de.academi.ru
The immature green pods called “drumsticks” are probably the most valued and widely used part of the tree. They are commonly consumed in India and are generally prepared in a similar fashion to green beans and have a slight asparagus taste. The seeds are sometimes removed from more mature pods and eaten like peas or roasted like nuts. The flowers are edible when cooked, and are said to taste like mushrooms. The roots are shredded and used as a condiment in the same way as horseradish; however, it contains the alkaloid spirochin, a potentially fatal nerve-paralyzing agent, so such practices should be strongly discouraged.
The leaves are highly nutritious, being a significant source of beta-carotene, Vitamin C, protein, iron, and potassium. The leaves are cooked and used like spinach. In addition to being used fresh as a substitute for spinach, its leaves are commonly dried and crushed into a powder, and used in soups and sauces. Murungakai, as it is locally known in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, is used in Siddha medicine. The tree is a good source for calcium and phosphorus. In Siddha medicines, these drumstick seeds are used as a sexual virility drug for treating erectile dysfunction in men and also in women for prolonging sexual activity.
The Moringa seeds yield 38–40% edible oil (called ben oil from the high concentration of behenic acid contained in the oil). The refined oil is clear, odorless, and resists rancidity at least as well as any other botanical oil. The seed cake remaining after oil extraction may be used as a fertilizer or as a flocculent to purify water
The bark, sap, roots, leaves, seeds, oil, and flowers are used in traditional medicine in several countries. In Jamaica, the sap is used for a blue dye.
The flowers are also cooked and relished as a delicacy in West Bengal and Bangladesh, especially during early spring. There it is called sojne ful and is usually cooked with green peas and potato.
Moringa trees have been used to combat malnutrition, especially among infants and nursing mothers. Three non-governmental organizations in particular — Trees for Life, Church World Service, and Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization — have advocated Moringa as “natural nutrition for the tropics.” Leaves can be eaten fresh, cooked, or stored as dried powder for many months without refrigeration, and reportedly without loss of nutritional value. Moringa is especially promising as a food source in the tropics because the tree is in full leaf at the end of the dry season when other foods are typically scarce. (Jed W. Fahey, 2005)
A large number of reports on the nutritional qualities of Moringa now exist in both the scientific and the popular literature. It is commonly said that Moringa leaves contain more Vitamin A than carrots, more calcium than milk, more iron than spinach, more Vitamin C than oranges, and more potassium than bananas,” and that the protein quality of Moringa leaves rivals that of milk and eggs. However, the leaves and stem of M. oleifera are known to have large amounts of their calcium bound in calcium oxalate crystals, (see Olson, M. E., and S. Carlquist. 2001. Stem and root anatomical correlations with life form diversity, ecology, and systematics in Moringa (Moringaceae), Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 135(4): 315-348), which is not a form of calcium available to the body. Whether the claim of "more calcium than milk" includes this non-bioavailable calcium needs to be addressed. The oral histories recorded by Lowell Fuglie in Senegal and throughout West Africa report countless instances of lifesaving nutritional rescue that are attributed to Moringa (Fuglie, L.J., 1999, 2000). In fact, the nutritional properties of Moringa are now so well-known that there seems to be little doubt of the substantial health benefit to be realized by consumption of Moringa leaf powder in situations where starvation is imminent. Nonetheless, the outcomes of well-controlled and well-documented clinical studies would still be clearly of great value. (Jed W. Fahey, 2005)
In many cultures throughout the tropics, differentiation between food and medicinal uses of plants (e.g. bark, fruit, leaves, nuts, seeds, tubers, roots, and flowers), is very difficult because plant uses span both categories, and this is deeply ingrained in the traditions and the fabric of the community (Lockett et al., 2000)
In the Philippines, the plant is propagated by planting limb cuttings 1–2 m long, from June to August, preferably. The plant starts bearing pods 6–8 months after planting, but regular bearing commences after the second year. The tree bears for several years. It does not tolerate freeze or frost. It can also be propagated by seed. As with all plants, optimum cultivation depends on producing the right environment for the plant to thrive. Moringa is a sun- and heat-loving plant. Seeds are planted an inch below the surface and can be germinated year-round in well-draining soil.
Moringa is common in India, where its triangular, ribbed pods with winged seeds are used as a vegetable crop. It is particularly suitable for dry regions. The drumstick can be grown using rainwater without expensive irrigation techniques. The yield is good even if the water supply is not. The tree can be grown even on land covered with 10-90 cm of mud.
Moringa is grown in home gardens and as living fences in Thailand, where it is commonly sold in local markets. In the Philippines, Moringa is commonly grown for its leaves, which are used in soup. The leaves (called dahon ng malunggay in Tagalog or dahon sa kamunggay in Cebuano) are commonly sold in local markets. Moringa is also actively cultivated by the AVRDC in Taiwan. The AVRDC is "the principal international center for vegetable research and development in the world. Its mission is to reduce poverty and malnutrition in developing countries through improved production and consumption of vegetables."
Flower of Moringa oleifera, credit wikimedia.org
The fruit of the tree is quite popular as a vegetable in Asia and Africa. The fruit is a long thin pod resembling a drumstick. The fruit itself is called drumstick in India and elsewhere. Moringa leaves are also eaten as a leaf vegetable, particularly in the Philippines and Africa
The Moringa pod is known as "drumstick" or saragwa or saragwe in India. In South India, it is used to prepare a variety of sambar and is also fried. It is also preserved by canning and exported worldwide. In other parts of India, especially West Bengal and also in a neighboring country like Bangladesh, it is enjoyed very much. It can be made into a variety of curry dishes by mixing with coconut, poppy seeds, and mustard. It can just be boiled until the drumsticks are semi-soft and consumed directly without any extra processing or cooking. It is used in curries, sambars, kormas, and dals, although it is also used to add flavor to cutlets, etc.
Tender drumstick leaves, finely chopped, make an excellent garnish for any vegetable dishes, dals, sambars, salads, etc. One can use the same in place of or with coriander, as these leaves have high medicinal value. The leaves can be used as a leafy vegetable on their own rather than garnish and can be an excellent dish cooked in either daal or thin buttermilk, and in some regions the fallen flowers are gathered and cleansed to be cooked with besan to make a nice dish as well.
The best way to use the beans is to scrape out the rougher parts on the outside after a cleansing and then boil them into the final stages of preparations of any liquid being cooked to serve over rice, such as kadhi or daal, after the seasoning with oil and spices is done. This is of course about ready ripe beans, which is how they are used in west and south. In north, they are taken off tender and eaten like any other vegetables, with the whole tree being trimmed and regrown every year - while in western and southern parts the tree is evergreen, always flowering and always dripping with the beans to give nutritional addition to meals.
If the pulp has to be scraped out after cooking the sticks, then keep the pieces as long as 4-5 inches long. Also, do not scrape the skin before boiling. This will help to hold and scrape them more easily and with less mess. For drumstick sambar, follow the recipe for traditional sambar, adding boiled drumstick fingers, along with onions in the oil, while stir frying.
Scraped drumstick pulp can be made into drumstick bhurtha, more or less like the baingan bhurtha after the pulp has been obtained. It is a wonderfully unusual and tasty dish. The recipe is identical to that of baingan bhurtha.
Drumstick dal is also a very tasty version of the traditional 'toor dal'. Add some of the pulp to the boiled dal and hand beat it along with the dal before seasoning. This will give an unusual, novel flavor to this dal. In another variation, you may add pieces of boiled drumstick, including the water in which it was boiled, to the traditional toor dal while it is simmering. The pieces are delightful to chew on with the dal and rice. In addition to being known as Drumstick Dal, the South Indian version, which is a spiced lentil soup, is more popular by the name sambar or sambhar. Sambar is usually cooked with toor dal, drumsticks, and other locally grown vegetables. The spices used typically in this stew are turmeric, chili powder, and cumin, among others. It is eaten with rice just like the drumstick dal.
In the Philippines, the leaves are widely eaten. Bunches of leaves are available in many markets, priced below many other leaf vegetables. The leaves are most often added to a broth to make a simple and highly nutritious soup. The leaves are also sometimes used as a characteristic ingredient in tinola, a traditional chicken dish consisting of chicken in a broth, Moringa leaves, and either green papaya or another secondary vegetable.
The leaves are now used in making "polvoron", which is a milky and powdered snack, bio-fuel, and moringa oil.
On September 14, 2007, Senator Loren Legarda campaigned for the popularization of Moringa. She asked the government to make Moringa among its priority crops for propagation. The Bureau of Plant Industry, in its report, stated that weight per weight, Moringa leaves have the calcium equivalent of 4 glasses of milk, the vitamin C content of 7 oranges, potassium of 3 bananas, 3 times the iron of spinach, 4 times the amount of vitamin A in carrots, and 2 times the protein in milk. Moringa also helps to purify water, a cheaper alternative to mechanical filtration.
The tree's bark, roots, fruit, flowers, leaves, seeds, and gum are also used medicinally. Uses include as an antiseptic and in treating rheumatism, venomous bites, and other conditions.
Extract from the seeds is used as a flocculant in a low-cost form of water treatment. In February 2010, Current Protocols in Microbiology published a step by step extraction and treatment procedure to produce "90.00% to 99.99%" bacterial reduction.