Moringa: The Tree of Life and its many medicinal and nutritional properties

Moringa oleifera is the most widely cultivated species of the genus Moringa, which is the only genus in the family Moringaceae.

It is a fast-growing, drought-resistant tree, native to the southern foothills of the Himalayas in northwestern India, and widely cultivated in tropical and subtropical areas where its young seed pods and leaves are used as vegetables. It can also be used for water purification and hand washing, and is sometimes used in herbal medicine.

M. oleifera is a fast-growing, deciduous tree. It can reach a height of 10–12 m (32–40 ft) and the trunk can reach a diameter of 45 cm (1.5 ft). The bark has a whitish-grey colour and is surrounded by thick cork. Young shoots have purplish or greenish-white, hairy bark. The tree has an open crown of drooping, fragile branches and the leaves build up a feathery foliage of tripinnate leaves.

The flowers are fragrant and bisexual, surrounded by five unequal, thinly veined, yellowish-white petals. The flowers are about 1.0-1.5 cm (1/2")long and 2.0 cm (3/4")broad. They grow on slender, hairy stalks in spreading or drooping later flower clusters which have a length of 10–25 cm.

Flowering begins within the first six months after planting. In seasonally cool regions, flowering only occurs once a year between April and June. In more constant seasonal temperatures and with constant rainfall, flowering can happen twice or even all year-round.

The fruit is a hanging, three-sided brown capsule of 20–45 cm size which holds dark brown, globular seeds with a diameter around 1 cm. The seeds have three whitish papery wings and are dispersed by wind and water.[7]

In cultivation, it is often cut back annually to 1–2 m (3–6 ft)and allowed to regrow so the pods and leaves remain within arm's reach.

The moringa tree is grown mainly in semiarid, tropical and subtropical areas. It tolerates a wide range of soil conditions, but prefers a neutral to slightly acidic (pH 6.3 to 7.0), well-drained sandy or loamy soil.In waterlogged soil, the roots have a tendency to rot.Moringa is a sun- and heat-loving plant, thus does not tolerate freezing or frost. Moringa is particularly suitable for dry regions, as it can be grown using rainwater without expensive irrigation techniques.

Whereas moringa can be grown as an annual or perennial plant, all pods are edible in its first year, but in later years, it bears inedible bitter pods, leading to moringa being cultivated as an annual. In less favorable growing locations, perennial cultivation has advantages of reduced erosion and stabilizing agroforestry.

Moringa can be propagates from seed or cuttings. Direct seeding is possible because the germinationc rate of M. oleifera is high. Moringa seeds can be germinated year-round in well-draining soil. Cuttings of 1 m length and at least 4 cm diameter can be used for vegetative propagation.

M. oleifera can be cultivated for its leaves, pods, and/or its kernels for oil extraction and water purification. The yields vary widely, depending on season, variety, fertilization, and irrigation regimen. Moringa yields best under warm, dry conditions with some supplemental fertilizer and irrigation. Harvest is done manually with knives, sickles, and stabs with hooks attached. Pollarding, coppicing and lopping or pruning are recommended to promote branching, increase production and facilitate harvesting.

Moringa trees have been used to combat malnutrition, especially among infants and nursing mothers. Since moringa thrives in arid and semiarid environments, it may provide a versatile, nutritious food source throughout the year. Moringa leaves have been proposed as an iron-rich food source (31% Daily Value per 100 g consumed, table) to combat iron deficiency.  However, further study is needed to test practical applications of using this dietary source and its iron bioavailability.

Moringa has numerous applications in cooking throughout its regional distribution. It may be preserved by canning but is often made into a variety of curry dishes by mixing with coconut, poppy seeds, and mustard or boiled until the drumsticks are semisoft 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 and other recipes.

The fruit meat of drumsticks, including young seeds, is used for soup. Young leaves can either be fried with shrimp or added as a topping in fish soup. Several traditional dishes use leaves (sluc) of the moringa tree known as daum m'rum, such as korko (a mixed vegetable soup). As it is a favorite vegetable, Cambodians traditionally grow moringa trees close to their residences.

Tender drumstick leaves, finely chopped, are used as garnish for vegetable dishes and salads. It is also used in place of or along with coriander. In some regions, the flowers are gathered and cleansed to be cooked with besa to make pakoras

The leaves may be fried and mixed with dried-fried tuna chips, onions and dried chillies. This is equivalent to a sambal and eaten along with rice and curry. Soup is made with the leaves and rice, and eaten especially for breakfast during Ramadan. It is also a common ingredient in an omelet. The pods are used to cook a mild curry.

Flowers may be first separated from the stem, boiled, mashed, and cooked. Other regions of Indian cuisine often uses moringa seed pods and leaves in curries. The long moringa seed pods are cut into shorter lengths and stewed in curries and soups. Because they are fibrous, seed pods are often chewed to extract the juices and nutrients, with the remaining fibrous material discarded. The flowers are mixed with gram flour and other spices, then deep fried into fritters to be served as snacks or added to curries.

The green pods, leaves, and flowers are used in a variety of Thai dishes, such as curries, stir-fries, soups, omelets, and salads. A traditional dish is sour Thai curry made with drumstick pods and fish.

Moringa leaves are commonly added to broth as a simple soup. The leaves may also be used as a typical ingredient in tinola, a traditional chicken dish consisting of chicken in a broth, moringa leaves, and either green papaya or another vegetable or in the all vegetable dish known as utan. The leaves can also be processed with olive oil and salt for a pesto-like pasta sauce. Moringa juice may be mixed with lemonsito juice to make ice candies or cold drinks. In Indonesia, the leaves are commonly eaten in a clear vegetable soup, often with corn, spinach and coconut milk.

The bark, sap, roots, leaves, seeds and flowers are used in traditional medicine. Research has examined how it might affect blood lipid profiles, although it is not effective at diagnosing, treating, or preventing any human diseases.

Extracts from leaves contain low contents of  polyphenols which are under basic research for their potential properties. Despite considerable preliminary research on the biological properties of moringa components, there are few high-quality studies on humans to justify its use to treat human diseases

Finally, Moringa seed cake, obtained as a byproduct of pressing seeds to obtain oil, is used to filter water using flocculation to produce potable water for animal or human consumption. Moringa seeds contain dimeric cationic proteins which absorb and neutralize colloidal charges in turbid water, causing the colloidal particles to clump together, making the suspended particles easier to remove as sludge by either settling or filtration. Moringa seed cake removes most impurities from water. This use is of particular interest for being nontoxic and sustainable compared to other materials in moringa-growing regions where drinking water is affected by pollutants.

Árbol Moringa