Thursday, October 20, 2011

Moringa - a vitamin pill in a leaf

Moringa (Moringa oleifera) is a beautiful tree native to India. Because its leaves can be used as a very nutritious, low-maintenance perennial vegetable, it should be a part of every tropical homesteader's yard. Check out this advertising copy from a Big Island company selling moringa powder (comparing gram for gram:

"7 Times The Vitamin C of Oranges
4 Times The Vitamin A of Carrots     
4 Times The Calcium of Milk
3 Times The Potassium of Bananas     
2 Times The Protein of Yogurt"

Sounds pretty good, huh? Overlooking the fact that several grams of milk are probably easier to fit into your diet than the same number of grams of moringa, it is pretty good. Actually, really good.

And that's just the leaves. So many other parts of the plants are edible that its been called a grocery store in a tree. Moringa pods are long and thin (giving it the common name "drumstick tree") can be eaten immaturely (and supposedly taste like asparagus) or the inside can be scraped out of mature pods similarly to an artichoke. The flowers are edible and said to taste like mushroom. Young roots and bark are sometimes used as horseradish, but there are conflicting reports about when/how you do this, so please research it first. I'll almost certainly be trying this it at some point and will report back.

The seeds are also edible and oil from the seeds (which are 40% oil) can be used as cooking oil, or even biofuel - if you can get enough! Also, the seeds can be used to purify water. I'll be trying that, too... stick with me!

Convinced you need a moringa tree or several? You do.

And it doesn't take much room. Moringa is a small tree (30ft/10m) but is often trimmed to be a shrub, so that picking leaves and pods is convenient. A moringa hedge sounds like a great idea! It grows well in tropical regions. It likes full sun, well-drained soil, and can tolerate drought.

A woman I recently met at the Puna Sustainability Fair said, "Uhg, moringa tastes terrible!" It turns out she was referring to moringa powder, which has rapidly been gaining shelf space in the vitamin section of natural foods stores. I don't have any experience with moringa powder, but I've found that fresh moringa leaves taste great.

I first learned about moringa in the book Perennial Vegetables. which has some basic information on growing and using moringa. I ordered seeds from, and about 2/3 germinated after soaking overnight and planting in potting soil. I kept a few seedlings and gave most away at the last BISS potluck.

moringa seedling
While I'm waiting for my plants to mature, I've been buying big bouquets of young moringa branches being sold as "moringay" for $1.25 at the Maku'u Farmer's Market. The fresh leaves plucked from the branch disappear almost without a trace into guacamole or on top of stir fries. It's a very easy way to pack more nutrition into a meal. I'm looking for recipes that use moringa in a sort of pesto-like spread. I think that would be delicious, but I haven't been able to locate on on the Internetz. I might have to invent one, and I'll it post here if it is a success.

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