Discovering the importance of Moringa olifera

Moringa Oliefera is from family Moringaceae. They are medium sized trees averaging 39.3ft (12M) in height and 30cm wide with soft wood. This is a “Miracle tree” for many areas in the world, not only it’s a fast growing plant, but also drought tolerant, pest resistant, and multi- purpose plant. This is one of the key in ending hunger, malnutrition and starvation in many parts of the developing world. They call it horseradish tree because the roots actually taste like that.
While it is one of the recent discoveries to the modern science, the ‘Miracle Tree’ has been making strides in various societies for thousands of years. There are 14 known species of Moringa belonging to the genus Moringaceae. Such as Moringa Peregrina is found in Sudan, Egypt, Arabian Peninsula, and as far north as the Dead Sea. Moringa Stenopetala is native to Eastern Africa, and Moringa oliefera grows in Angola and Namibia. Moringa oliefera, a fast growing drought resistant tree is native to sub-Himalayan tracts of north India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan but now distributed worldwide in the tropics and sub tropics. Moringa was well known to the ancient world, but only recently has it been “Rediscovered” as a multi-purpose tree with a tremendous variety of potential uses. It was utilized by the ancient Romans, Greeks and Egyptians; it is now widely cultivated and has become naturalized in many locations in the tropics. As it is native to India, the country is the largest producer of Moringa in the world, with annual production of 1.1 million to 1.3 million tones of tender fruits from an area of 380kmsq. Among the states, Andhra Pradesh is the leading in both area and production (156.65km2) followed by Karnataka (102.8km2) and Tamil Nadu (74.08km2) and in other states it occupy an area of 46.13km2 (Rajangam et al).
Moringa tree grows well in warm lowland, from sea level to 1,500m in elevation. They thrive in both continuously wet tropics, where there is an annual rainfall of 3,000mm and even in areas with as little as 250mm of annual rainfall with long dry period. While it grows best in dry sandy soil, it is adaptable to various soil conditions from 4.5 to 8 pH and in well drained sandy or loam soil but does not tolerate water logging and freezing or frosts (Hensleigh & Holaway, 1992). In water logged soil, the roots have tendency to rot. In steep slope areas with heavy rainfall, trees can be planted on hillsides to encourage water runoff. Moringa is adaptive to areas with temperature ranging from 25°C – 35°C but the tree will also tolerate up to 48°C. Presence of a long tap root makes it resistant to periods of drought. Trees can be easily grown from seed or from cutting. Moringa seeds have no dormancy period, so they can be planted at any season, as soon as they are matured.
The tree is fast growing as it has been found to grow 6-7m in one year in areas receiving less than 400 mm mean annual rainfall (Odee, 1998) and produce both fruits and flowers annually and in some regions twice a year. Left alone, the tree can eventually reach 12m in height with a trunk 30cm wide; however, the tree can be annually cut back to 1m from the ground. Moringa will quickly recover and produce leaves and pods. Within three years the tree will yield 400-600 pods annually and a mature tree can produce up to 1600 pods. In a favorable environment an individual tree can yield 50-70 kg of pods in one year (Sherkar 1993).
General Importance of Moringa
Moringa oliefera should not be seen as a solely commercial or medicinal plant but a highly nutritious tree for human and livestock feed that should form an integral part of the diet for families growing it. Globally the product of Moringa plant are in high demand but the right processing and marketing channels for this product have not been structured and its full commercial exploitation is yet to be realized. This is an important consideration in relation to solving malnutrition and food insecurity problems for the poor peasant farmers in Africa and other third world countries, especially for child bearing mother and children in these poor segments of population.
Generally all part of Moringa is useful for variety of purposes. Such as food for human and fodder (to cattle, sheep, goat, pig and also for fish). Freshly cut Moringa leaves can be fed to dairy animals to increase their milk production by 30%. Crushed leaves are used in some parts of Nigeria as domestic cleaning agents in order to scrub cooking utensils or to clean walls. Its medicinal use ranges from stomach ache to the common cold. Its industrial use includes producing of soap, perfume, and cosmetic cream. Other importance of Moringa is also ideal for lamp; the oil burns without smoke. Moringa acts as a great natural sleeping aid because it contains the unique natural compound known as Nebedaye, which can be found in the leaves. Nebedaye sets several of the body’s key conditions for a fitful night’s rest. It lowers our blood sugar levels, soothes our digestive system, and has a depressive effect on our central nervous system, acting as a muscle relaxant. In one scientific study, it was shown that, enhanced relaxation and deeper sleep will allow people with a limited number of allotted sleeping hours to awaken more refreshed and energized than they normally would. Thus, the properties of Moringa make it a safe and effective diuretic. Seed pods of Moringa should be left to mature on the tree and harvested when dry. These seeds are good in water purification. The amount of seed needed to treat river water depends on how much suspended matter the water contains. The process will remove 90–99.9% of the bacteria which are attached to the solid particles, as well as clearing the water. However, some harmful microorganisms still in the water may not be removed, especially if the water is very badly polluted. For drinking water, further purification is recommended – either by boiling or with a simple sand filter.
Modern uses:
Over the past two decades, many reports have appeared in mainstream scientific journals describing its nutritional and medicinal properties. Its utility as a non-food product has also been extensively described. Every part of Moringa tree is said to have beneficial properties that can serve humanity. People in societies around the world have made use of these properties.
Nutritional content of Moringa
Nutritional analysis indicates that Moringa leaves contain a wealth of essential, disease preventing nutrients. They even contain all of the essential amino acids, which is unusual for a plant source. Since the dried leaves are concentrated, they contain higher amounts of many of these nutrients except Vitamin C. Vitamin A is obtained from vegetables in the form of its precursor, carotene. The intestine only absorbs a fraction of the carotene in foods. Thus, there are differing views on how to calculate the amount of carotene that is absorbed and converted to Vitamin A.
Dr. Martin L. Price, in the book “The Moringa Tree, (1985) has highlighted the experiments made at the University of Baroda in India. It revealed that cooking Moringa leaves with oil helps retain beta carotene and enhances the conversion of beta carotene to vitamin A in the body. These studies also showed that, because vitamin A is unstable under acidic conditions, beta carotene is reduced when Moringa leaves are cooked with tomato products. Bailey (1992), in his book ‘The Leave We Eat’, explains that, Moringa trees are an outstanding source of vitamins and a good source of protein, calcium and Iron. Children, pregnant women, and nursing mothers especially need the protein, minerals found in green leaves. Leaves of Moringa are an excellent source of sulphur containing amino acids methionine and cystines, which are often in short supply (council of scientific and industrial research) and, using green leaves of Moringa, will keep the whole family healthy.
SERVING SIZE: 1\2 CUP (100g) FRESH LEAVES has the following nutritional value
Minerals Actual Quantity % Daily value, USDA 2000 calorie diet
Protein 5.8 12%
Calcium 261 26%
Iron 3.0 17%
Vitamin A 1628 33%
Vitamin C 106 175%

The amount of the nutrient in the nutritional composition of Moringa varies from green leaves to powder leaf for example, the amount of calories in green leaf is about 92% but the amount in leaf powder is higher (205%). In addition a gram of fresh leaf consists about 75% moisture.
Besides the above mentioned uses there are myriad of other uses benefitting man in his daily life, some worth mentioning are use as water purifier and as a bio-pesticide being ecologically safe, and holds great promise for poor farmers in the developing countries.