What is Moringa Oleifera?
Moringa oleifera is a plant that belongs in the genus Moringa. This is the only genus that belongs in the plant family Moringaceae. It’s a fast-growing plant that thrives in tropical and subtropical regions of South Asia. Common names for Moringa include drumstick tree, Moringa, horseradish tree, benzoil tree or ben oil tree. Moringa has long since been used for traditional herbal medicine owing to its nutritive and healing properties.
General Description of Moringa Oleifera
The M.oleifera tree is characterized by having a crown of drooping and easily broken branches, which gives it rich and feathery leafage. Its height can reach as high as 10-12 cm or 32-40ft with a whitish-grey bark that is enveloped with a thick cork and its trunk’s diameter can measure up to 45 cm or 1.5 ft. When young shoots start to sprout, it can appear greenish-white and hairy bark.
Its flowers have are about half an inch long and three-fourths inches broad. M. oleifera flowers contain five unequal yellowish-white petals with thin veins that sits on slender, hairy stalks. It’s also fragrant and hermaphroditic.
Depending on the weather conditions of an area, the Moringa plant can start flowering within the first six months after planting. In regions with little rainfall, flowering can happen at least once a year. While in regions with constant rainfall, flowering can occur twice or even all-year round.
The fruit is large and distinctive. The fruit appears as a brown capsule which houses the plant’s dark brown globular seeds. These seeds can easily be dispersed through air and water because of its whitish, papery wings. The Moringa oleifera tree is cultivated by trimming down its bark at least once in a year to allow regrowth and ensure that the pods and leaves will remain within reach when it’s time for harvesting.
Common Names for Moringa Oleifera
In English, Moringa oleifera is known as “Drumstick tree” beucase of its characteristics that resembles that of long, lean and triangular pods. It’s also called “Horseradish tree” because its leaves produced the same taste and flavor as that of horseradish, and “Ben-oil tree” because of the tasteless and odorless oil that can be extracted from the seeds it produces.
Moringa is known throughout the world by its different names. Here are some of them:
- In the Philippines, Moringa is known by its many names. In Tagalog, it’s known as “Malunggay”. “Marungay” in another Filipino dialect, Ilocano. In Bisaya, Moringa is referred to as “Kalamunggay”.
- In Mauritian people refer to the Moringa drumstick as “Bâton Mouroum” while the leaves are called “brède mouroum”.
- In Ahmaric, it’s commonly known as “Shiferaw”.
- In the Arab countries, it’s known as “Rawag”.
- Moringa in Chinese is pronounced as “la mu” for the Mandarin people and in Cantonese, it’s pronounced as “lak mok” roughly translates to “spicy wood” and is similar to one of its English name, which is “horseradish tree”.
- For the Bengalis, they refer to Moringa Oleifera as “Sujina”, “Sohjna”, or “Sajina”.
- The French call it “Acacia Blanc”, “Neverdie”, “Moringa ailé”, “Ben ailé”, or “Pois quenique”.
- Spanish people know the plant as “Paraiso Blanco”, “Paraiso Frances”, or “Resada”.
- In Vietnam, the people know it as “Nuggae”.
- In India, Moringa is known by its many names such as “mungna”, “sohanjna”, and “sanjna”.
- In Myanmar, they refer to it as “Dandalun”. They use the seeds from the pod as one of the ingredients of their soup. Moreoever, the leaves are either pan fried and mixed together with shrimps or used as a topping for their fish soup. It’s also a popular herbal medicine in Myanmar.
- In Zarma, it is called Windi Bundu which loosely translates to “fence wood” since they mostly use it as a live fence.
- In Tulu, it is known as Noorggaee.
- In Haitians where it plays an important role in their forests’ rehabilitaion, Moringa tree is called “benzolive” or benzolivier.
- The people of Mooré (Burkina Faso), consider it as the tree of paradise from which its name, “”Arzan Tiiga” is owed to.
- In Indonesian people, they call Moringa as “Kelor” and in the Malay people, “Kalor”. Thai people call it “ma rum”.
Moringa Oleifera Cultivation and Seed Production
Moringa oleifera grows best under direct sunlight and in altitudes not greater than 500 meters. Although it can survive in a wide range of soil conditions, M. oleifera thrives on loamy or sandy soils that are slightly acidic with pH ranging from 6.3 to 7.0. It also requires at least 250mm but not more than 3,000mm of rainfall each year. Because the roots of the Moringa have the tendency to rot in soils saturated with water, people have developed the practice of planting the trees up a hill to promote the downward flow of the water and prevent waterlogging of the soil.
Ben oil trees are usually propagated through seedlings or cuttings. It grows a long taproot which enables it to withstand periods of drought. It can withstand temperatures as high as 48 degrees Celsius but the optimal temperature for growth is 25-35 degrees Celsius. The ability of the plant to produce fruits and flowers will also depend on the weather of the area in which it is planted on. On the rainy areas, flowering can happen throughout the year but those in humid areas with little rainfall, flowering can only occur twice in every year.
There is no dormancy period in the Moringa species which means that it can be planted as soon as soon as the tree reaches its maturity stage. The trees can go up to 5 meters in height on the first year after it is planted and if left alone, it can reach up to 12 meters. More than 400 pods can be produced by a single 3-year old Moringa tree. Mature trees, on the other hand, can produce up to 1,600 pods, tops.
Moringa grows largely in the tropics and the sub-tropic countries. An estimated 1.2 million tons of Moringa are harvested every year in India, making them the largest producer of Moringa.
Moringa is also common on some Asian countries where it’s commonly found being sold in local markets. It’s also used as living fences of the people in Southern India and Thailand. Moreover, Philippines and Indonesia usually mix the leaves of the Malunggay to some of their foods because of the nutrients it contains.
The soil preparation when it comes to cultivating Moringa involves digging a shallow hole to plant the Moringa in since digging deep could lead to soil erosion, especially in tropic cultivation. Plowing is required only when planting in high densities. However, when you’re planting for your own consumption, it’s better to plant the seeds on shallow pits 30 to 50 cm deep and 20-40 cm wide and covering it up again with soil. Planting it this way will ensure that the Moringa tree will have a better root system thereby decreasing the chances of soil erosion.
- oleifera can continue to germinate for one year as long as there is a well-draining soil. This makes direct seeding of M. oleifera possible. Vegetative propagation can also be done for M. oleifera through 1-meter long cuttings.
Here are some techniques in the propagation of M. Oleifera:
Using an 18 cm by 12 cm poly bags, create a mixture of light soil using sand and soil in a 1 to 3 ratio. Dig a 1 cm to 2 cm deep hole and put 1-3 seeds on each bag. Remember to keep the soil moist to keep a steady supply of water to avoid rotting of seed before it can even sprout.
Depending on how you treated your seed before planting it on the pot, the germination period of the M. oleifera can last as long as 5 to 12 days at most. Rapid germination can also be done through one of these three methods:
- Cracking the seeds and planting only the kernels;
- Soaking the seeds in water overnight before transferring it to the poly bags; or
- Cracking the shells of the seed before planting.
Planting in large fields initially requires plowing in order to bring the fresh nutrients of the soil to the surface and keep the weeds uprooted and buried to allow decay. It’s also essential to dig a hole at least 50 cm deep to allow better moisture retention that will help in the rapid root development of the Moringa seedlings.
Fresh topsoil also contains a lot of beneficial microbes that can help with the root development of the seedlings, especially when it’s mixed with fresh manure or compost. It’s important to remember to use only the topsoil and not the soil from the pit to make sure that the microbes will work with the other microorganisms on the compost or manure and ensure the greatest yield. Then, use the soil mixture to fill the holes and water the pits a day before planting the Moringa seeds.
Furthermore, in areas that experience a lot of rainfalls, it’s better to plant the Moringa seeds on a mound-shaped soil to promote water run-down. Avoid watering the plant heavily for a few days to keep it from drowning.
If water is not a problem, then direct seeding might be a good choice for propagation. Since Moringa can grow any time of the year, it’s easy to plant it through direct seeding. First, prepare a pit filled with mixed compost or manure and topsoil. Then water the pit one day prior to planting the seed. You should then be able to see the results at the start of the wet season.
Direct seeding is the method that is usually preferred by the others since it involves little to no disturbance unlike out-planting.
GROWING FROM CUTTINGS:
When growing Moringa from a cutting, make sure to use the brown, hard wood and not the green wood. The length of the cutting should at least be 17-60 inches and at least 4 inches thick. You can choose to plant the cuttings directly into the soil or in the sacks in the nursery.
It’s important to never overwater your newly-planted cutting as it might cause the roots of your Moringa plant to rot. Those planted in the sack in the nursery might develop their roots slower which is why extra care is needed to help them grow. As such, adding phosphorous to the soil can help facilitate rapid root growth on the cuttings and prepare it to be out-planted after 2 to 3 months.
Although the Moringa plant doesn’t really need much watering, it’s still important to keep the moisture of the soil in which it’s planted on. Considering that there is a stable supply of water for the plant and other conditions are optimal, the Moringa plant will continue to produce fruits and flowers without problem.
Harvesting Moringa Oleifera
Moringa Oleifera is a very valuable crop and is sometimes referred to as the miracle tree because almost every part of it has nutritional values and because of the fact that it can withstand extreme drought. It can produce a variety of yields depending on the season, planting conditions, and the fertilizer used. Each part is harvested manually with the use of knives, sickles, or stabs with attached hooks.
Trees planted through cuttings usually start to produce fruit within 6 to 8 months after it is planted. Though production is less during the first year, the number of pods harvested each year gets better. By the time it reaches its third year, the Moringa tree can produce up to 1000 pods during harvest.
Varying amounts of Moringa leaves are harvested in every season. Dry seasons can usually produce up to 690 kilograms per hectare of leaves while in the wet seasons, the yields can usually go up to 1,120 kilograms per hectare. During harvest, the tree is cut down to facilitate branching and encourage more leaf production.
Other cultivation techniques have also been employed in some countries. In Nicaragua, for instance, M. oleifera trees are usually cultivated through irrigation and fertilization. As a result, they were able to produce an average of 174 metric tons of M. oleifera leaves annually within the span of 4 years.
Moringa Oleifera plants can also produce oils that are either used as food, supplements, or cosmetics. Annually, it is estimated that at least 250 I/ha of oil can be extracted from the M. oleifera kernels. The oil is sometimes extracted through the use of machines but it can also be done manually by stir frying, crushing, and boiling the M. oleifera seeds until the oil is visible on top.
In Hawaii, Moringa trees are able to produce at least 3g of kernels per pod and it is estimated that the trees can produce up to 200 gallons of oil per hectare. India, on the other hand, harvest at least 3 tons of seed per hectare and could generate up to 264-350 gallons of oil per hectare.
Diseases that Affect the Growth of Moringa
Although M. oleifera is resistant to pests, there are still instances where the plant can rot and die. In waterlogged conditions, Diplodia root rot can occur where fungi which were initially dormant can come back to life and attack the weakened root of the M. oleifera tree and cause it to rot and eventually die.
Creating a living fence around your M. oleifera plantation can also help protect it from being eaten by farm animals such as cattles, pigs, and goats. Live fencing can be done by planting Jatropha curcas which also has a lot of practical uses. In shorter trees, it helps to trim down the lower branches of the tree so that the goats won’t be able to feed on it.
Termites can also attack the branches and trunks of M. oleifera, especially when cuttings are used in planting it. But termite attack can be controlled through the following methods:
- Putting castor oil or tephrosia leave on the base of the Moringa plant;
- Mixing heap ashes with the seedling bedding soil; and
- Drying and crushing lion’s ear and Mexican poppy leaves and spreading it at the base of the Moringa plant.
Caterpillars can also cause defoliation of the Moringa trees if not treated immediately with spraying. Other pests such as Noorda moringae (a type of moth), Ceroplastodes cajani (Maskell), Aphis craccibora (aphids), and Gitonia fruit flies are also a major problems that affect the growth of M. oleifera in various areas in India.
Moringa Farm Management
Farm management of Moringa plants usually involve using SMART goals. By using this method, challenges involved in managing the growth and production of Moringa plants in a farm can be tackled. Although these are just a simple remedy, it can still play a big role in achieving optimal results.
SMART serves as an acronym for specific characteristics:
- S stands for SPECIFIC. Being specific means having a well-defined goal that is exactly pinpointed towards the development of a particular business area.
- M stands for MEASURABLE. Smart Moringa growers always measure their progress. They set a baseline data which they use to compare the progress they have made and to determine whether they achieved the planned results or not.
- A for ASSIGNABNLE or Of course, no business will be successful without the help of specific people. In the case of Moringa farming, it’s absolutely necessary to hire help in maintaining its cultivation, growth, and propagation.
In addition, achieving success in the business also involves making plans that are attainable. This will make it easier for you to work on the strategies that will help you realize your goals.
- R for Management goals should be created in a way that it can be achieved REALISTICALLY with the available resources.
- T for TIME-BOUND. Goals should be defined and achieved within a specific time-frame. Without constraint in time, there won’t also be any sense of urgency and motivation that will drive faster results.
Vitamins and Nutrients in Moringa
Moringa oleifera is known throughout the world because of the certain benefits and nutritional value it contains. Each part of the plant, especially the leaves, is used to extract vitamins, minerals, and other essential nutrients. Here are some of the nutritional components of M. oleifera:
Moringa can also provide a significant source of nutrients that is provided regular foods. The leaves are considered as the most nutritious part of the M. oleifera. It houses a lot of vitamins including protovitamin A that contains beta carotene, Vitamin B, C, and K. It also has manganese, proteins, and other essential nutrients. It also contains calcium bound in calcium oxalate crystals.
Moringa Oleifera leaves are also rich in fibre as well as fat proteins and essential amino acides like argenine, histidine, lysine, typtophan, phenylalanine, threonine, leusine, methionine, Isoleucine, valine. Moreover, it also contains phytochemicals like tannins, sterols, saponins, trepenoids, phenolics, alkaloids, and flavanoids that help in the plant’s defense against diseases.
The leaves are usually sorted or crushed and mixed with certain food to create a flavorful soup.
The seeds are removed from the mature pod of the plant which are then eaten raw or roasted. Moringa seeds are also a good source of vitamin B and C and contain a lot of essential minerals needed in the diet. Aside from that, it also contains an antibacterial agent known as pterygospermin, fatty acids like linoleic acid and linolenic acid as well as phytochemicals such as lectins, phytate, and terpenoids.
Ben-oil is also produced from the seeds of M. oleifera. When the seeds reach maturity, it starts forming clear, odorless, rancid-resistant, and edible oil called ben-oil, which is a result of its high concentration of behenic acid. After the oil is extracted from the seed, the remaining structures can then be used as fertilizer or a flocculent that can aids in water purification.
In addition, Moringa seeds can also be a promising source of alternative biofuel. But more studies still need to be conducted in order to solidify this claim.
Moringa Root Bark
Moringa root barks are known to be rich in alkaloids such as morphine ad moriginine, as well as essential minerals like sodium, calcium, and magnesium.
The flowers are commonly used as an herbal tea. They are known to be rich in potassium and amino acids.
The pods or drumsticks are most popular in South Asia where it’s usually mixed with food. The Moringa drumsticks are a good source of dietary fiber, manganese, magnesium, and potassium. Aside from that, the pods are also rich in lipids, proteins, carbohydrates, and fatty acids such as oleic acid, linoleic acid, and palmitic acid.
Moringa oleifera is also a common cooking ingredient in many countries in South Asia. The leaves are handpicked, sorted and are mixed with certain soup recipes. In some countries, it’s also crushed and mixed with their curries. The flowers are also used in some recipes as well.
The immature and soft seeds of the Moringa pods are eaten like fresh peas but can also be pan-fried to taste like peanuts. Mature seeds are not usually consumed because they tend to get bitter as the pod matures and ripen.
The immature pods of the Moringa plant is widely known in India as a vegetable mix in their curries. Although it can be eaten as a whole, many people prefer dicing or slicing it before mixing it with the food. It can also blanched, peddled, and canned before selling it to the markets and local stores. Many of these are exported throughout Europe and the United States where they can be found being sold at ethnic Indian stores.
The pods of the Moringa tend to turn tough as it matures and becomes too fibrous to eat. In this stage, the pods are then known as drumsticks. But even if that’s the case, it still can be a valuable ingredient. In India, for instance, the tough pods are cut into pieces and the frothy material inside is slurped out. In other circumstances, the pods are sometimes cut and sliced into shorter lengths and are mixed with curries and soups. Other recipes where drumsticks are commonly used are in Indian Sambar where the drumsticks are mixed with lentils; and a Thai dish known as “Kaeng Som” which is basically a curry with drumsticks and fish.
Although the outer skin of the drumstick can be tough and fibrous, some people prefer to chew on it to extract the nutrients out of it before discarding it.
The leaves are mostly prices by the Filipinos in particular. They take pride in using it in their soup, which they call “Tinola” and other recipes. The leaves are stripped off from the stalk and are then boiled to create a savory taste. It can also be crushed and sprinkled on top of the food.
In some areas of Africa, they air-dry the leaves and use it for its healing and medicinal properties.
The strong and fleshy root of Moringa is often pulverized and used as a condiment paired with a horseradish bite. In other instances, the soft roots of a Moringa tree are also preserved in vinegar to create a pickled dish.
Moringa Oil Uses
A considerable amount of oil is also present in the seeds of the Moringa plant. In fact, it comprises at least 20-40 percent of the seed. The oil can be extracted wither through machine pressing or boiling.
The pale-yellow oil is widely used as an ingredient for ointments mainly because of its lack of odor and taste. It’s also a great ingredient for hair oils since it absorbs and retains delicate scents. Recently, it has been reported that the ben-oil has showed a particular role in making better soap qualities.
Though Moringa is known as a “miracle plant” or “superfood”, there’s no enough scientific evidence that it has any healing, medicinal or anti-disease benefits in humans.
Moringa oleifera Trees as Windbreakers
Because of the extreme deforestation and extreme agricultural exploitation that happened in the forests of Haiti, its soils has become fragile and easily susceptible to soil erosion. Because of this, the organization called Love a Child has initiated a campaign encouraging the people to plant at least 25,000 Moringa trees each year to act as windbreaks that will help in reducing the soil erosion and at the same time promote reforestation.
Moringa Seeds as Water Purifier
Access to clean, safe, and potable water is one of the major problems that many countries in the world today are experiencing. In 2013, a study conducted by the scientists at Uppsala University studied how the seeds of Moringa could help in the water purification process. They discovered that a protein found on the seed of the Moringa oleifera plant could cause binding between the impurities present in the water creating clusters that separate the dirt from the water.
When compared with the traditional flocculating agents, the protein found in Moringa proved to be a more effective binding agent. This led the researchers to believe that Moringa oleifera might indeed be a good alternative that can be used in water purification. Although the topic needs further testing, the team believes that this is a breakthrough in finding a solution in the treatment of wastewater.
Impact in the Malnutrition Problem
Moringa oleifera plants have also been known as a powerful food that can combat malnutrition in both infants and breast-feeding mothers. Quite incidentally, Moringa survives in semi-arid places where malnutrition is also prevalent. For years, nobody knew that they have been growing a gold mine right in their backyards.
A review published by Food Science and Human Wellness in 2016 has shown that the high nutritive value of Moringa makes it a promising food to treat malnutrition, especially in infants and children who are deprived of their mother’s milk. The leaves, which are rich in minerals, vitamins, and essential phytochemicals, can supply depleted nutrients needed in the growth and development of children.
Moreover, the research also discussed how Moringa plants are a rich source of Lactogogues that help in the production of breast milk in lactating mothers. It’s a rich source of phytosterols that increase milk production nursing mothers. The breast milk, then, becomes a good source of nutrients for babies and toddlers under 3 years old.