Musings on the Moringa

The miracle plant is considered a panacea for a variety of ailments and is delicious as well

Updated - November 07, 2014 07:14 pm IST

Published - November 07, 2014 05:23 pm IST

The Tree of Life, Mother’s Best Friend, The Miracle Tree, Shobhanjan , and the auspicious tree: so many names for just a single tree, the Moringa Oleifera, a native of the southern foothills of the Himalayas, which today grows in most tropical countries. As we discover the awesome gifts offered by the murungai tree, the Tamil name from which Moringa is derived, the reason it is so special becomes self-evident.

It has been found that Moringa Oleifera contains more than 92 nutrients, 46 types of anti-oxidants, 36 anti-inflammatory agents as well as vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, B4, B7, C, D, E, and K. It promotes good digestion, a property known to Ayurveda, and better mental clarity while boosting energy and regulating metabolism. It also has anti-aging benefits and since it has the unique property of containing all essential amino-acids, which the body cannot make on its own, it provides strength and health to it even as its kaempferol content contributes to proper cellular function.

Another amazing benefit Moringa Oleifera offers is that, since it can retain high concentrations of electrolyte minerals, it allows the body to remain internally hydrated even in very dry conditions. This apart, the leaves can provide us with around 125 per cent of our daily requirements of calcium as well as 61 per cent of our daily manganese needs; given that these two minerals have to be taken together for better absorption, the leaves majorly enhance bone and teeth health. The very high iron content, 24 times higher than spinach, makes the murungai a strong ally against anaemia.

Much before current research and modern medicine discovered this miracle plant, Ayurveda and Siddha medicines were propounding its benefits. According to Ayurveda, all parts of the tree – roots, bark, leaves, and seeds – have therapeutic values. It pacifies vata and kaphadoshas , increases digestive flame and heals ulcers, purifies and nourishes the blood and muscle tissues as well as acts on the bone marrow and fat tissues; it detoxifies the body by binding the toxins which can then be expelled and tones the body; it helps in deworming, controls tumours and reduces water retention, especially of the lower limbs. For the latter effect, it is advised to consume a few drumsticks with each meal. The juice of the leaves and bark relieves pain. A noteworthy benefit of murungai is its strong antibiotic activity.

In fact, given the ability Moringa Oleifera has to bind toxins, the powdered seeds are used in parts of Africa to purify water. It therefore offers a natural alternative to the aluminium-based purifying agents used industrially for water purification.

Another marvellous contribution of the seeds, which contain about 40 per cent oil, is this remarkable odourless, sweet and non-drying oil that has a very long shelf life.

It is very much in demand in cosmetology and perfumery though it is now being dislodged by cheaper chemical options. Many people feel that Moringa oil, also called benzoil, for historical reasons, should be promoted as cooking oil given its nutritive value, long shelf life and great taste; however, the price is quite prohibitive and it is mostly used for salads.

As regards culinary uses, it is in the southern part of India that many communities have adopted it and it has thus travelled far and wide with them wherever they went to seek fortune, during the indentured labour period. The leaves are used for flavouring dals , pulaos, and idlis , lending their intense aroma to these dishes while ensuring nutrition security, an element often ignored when we talk of food security. Food security is not only about calories consumed but also about nutrition received. When we have any dish using drumsticks or their leaves we are sure that we are being truly nourished. Strangely enough though, as the world is rediscovering this wonder food, for us it may have become, to use a Hindi proverb, ghar ki murgi daal barabar , and we may not be fully aware of its wonderful values.

Let us remember it and plant our Moringa Olifeira wherever possible: in our backyard, in our back lane or in a big pot.

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