Of all the common green leafy vegetables, drumstick leaves have the highest amount of protein

Five decades ago, protein-energy malnutrition with vitamin A deficiency was rampant among preschool children in India. Nutritionists tried to identify an inexpensive supplementary food to overcome this problem. One such food identified was drumstick leaves; drumstick seeds and cuttings were distributed in villages and urban slums. Mothers were taught easy recipes. It paid dividends.

Moringa oleifera is popularly known as drumstick tree from the appearance of the pod. This tree, native to the southern foothills of the Himalayas, grows well in a variety of climate and soil conditions.

It is a popular backyard tree in many homes. The ideal soil to grow this tree is sandy loam that drains well.

It can be grown from seeds or stem cuttings about a metre long and 4 cm in diameter. High-yielding hybrid seeds are available in the market. The seed can be sown directly on the spot or in a container and transplanted. If you are sowing directly, make sure to leave enough space and sunlight for the tree.

Needs to be shielded

Being a soft wood tree, it is prone to breaking in strong winds and needs to be shielded. When the tree is about 1.5 m high, lop off the top to encourage branching. This will keep the tree short and make harvesting of leaves and pods easy. Pruning the tree every year helps it to branch out and produce more leaves and pods.

Though the tree needs very little care, it is good to fertilize it periodically and water it regularly. If a tree lacks water, leaf harvest will be poor.

The hairy caterpillar is a common pest. Seen in clusters on the bark, it defoliates the tree quickly. It can be controlled with soap and neem oil solution.

The drumstick tree is grown in many parts of the world, and is popular in most African and Far-Eastern countries. The pods, flowers and leaves are cooked according to recipes evolved in those regions.

The most nutritious part of the tree is the leaf. Among all the common green leafy vegetables, this has the highest amount of protein and is extremely rich in vitamin A, vitamin B6, vitamin C, riboflavin, calcium, iron and magnesium. Weight for weight, it has four times the vitamin A in carrots, seven times the vitamin C in oranges, and four times the calcium in milk.

Traditional medicine in several countries uses its leaves to treat a host of diseases.

Recipe: Drumstick leaf porial

Ingredients:

2 tbsp oil

½ tsp mustard

2 tsp urad dal

3 dry chillies, broken

4 pods garlic, chopped

½ cup onion, chopped

2 cups drumstick leaves

1/3 cup water

2 tbsp grated coconut

3 tbsp roasted groundnut, crushed

salt to taste

Method:

Heat the oil in a pan and fry the mustard, urad dal, chillies, garlic and onion, in that order.

Add drumstick leaves and sauté for a couple of minutes. Add salt and water.

Cook till water evaporates. Add coconut and groundnut and mix.