Moringa, scientifically known as Moringa oleifera, is an ancient tree native to the sub-Himalayan northern parts of India. The plant is now cultivated in many tropical and subtropical areas of the world. Ancient Indian writings mention moringa dating back to 150 B. C. Throughout generations, moringa has been used for its medicinal properties, as well as, to make perfume and purify drinking water. It has also been used to treat malnutrition because of its nutrient dense profile (and because it is conveniently grown in the places that need it most). Because of its amazing properties, many moringa consumers and researchers refer to it as the “Miracle Tree,” “Tree of Life,” “Mother’s Best Friend,” “God’s Gift to Man,” and/or “Savior of the Poor.”
Moringa is a drought resistant, deciduous tree. The fast-growing tree often grows to heights of 8 to 12 meters. All parts of the tree are considered edible, including the: leaves, bark, flowers, fruit, seeds, and roots. The leaves are rounded-elliptic in shape, but are typically very small (usually less than 2.5 cm long). Moringa flowers will bloom when the tree is about 8 months old and will be creamy white in color. The fruit produced by the moringa tree are grown in long, thin seed pods. Many refer to the moringa tree as the “drumstick tree” due to the pods resembling the appearance of a drumstick.
Many who have tried to grow their own moringa trees state the tree “grows like a weed.” Due to its fast growing nature and the tiny leaves they produce, managing this tree becomes a tedious and time-consuming task.
What makes moringa so great that it is called the “miracle tree?” It’s because of the vast amount of nutrients and bioactive compounds found within the plant. The USDA evaluated 58 different nutrients found within the plant, but other evaluators have noted moringa to contain 90 different nutrients.
Protein & Amino Acids: Moringa is a rich source of over 18 amino acids, including many essential amino acids. Leucine is the amino acid found in the highest concentration in moringa seeds, leaves, and roots.
Vitamins: Moringa is particularly rich in both vitamins A and C. Moringa leaves contain 6.6-6.8/100g of beta-carotene (vitamin A precursor)—this is more than other rich sources like carrots, pumpkins, and apricots. Moringa leaves also contain 200mg/100g of vitamin C, which is more than 7x the vitamin C found in oranges. Vitamins b1, b2, b3, folate, and vitamin E can also be found in abundance.
Potassium, Calcium, and Magnesium: Potassium is richly found in the vegetative parts and immature pods of moringa. The leaves and seeds, on the other hand, are rich is calcium and magnesium.
Iron: Per 100grams, moringa is said to contain 17.5 mg of iron. In a study examining the bioavailability of moringa’s iron, it was found to be superior to ferric citrate in overcoming iron deficiency.
Folate: Moringa contains 4 bioavailable forms of folate, a water-soluble vitamin important in cellular metabolism and healthy fetus development.
Omega 3s and 6s: The moringa plant is rich in monounsaturated fatty acids and polyunsaturated fatty acids and low in saturated fatty acids. Omega 3s and 6s are mainly found in the form of a-linolenic acid and linoleic acid. Moringa seeds are high in oleic, palmitoleic, stearic, and arachidic acids. Oil extracted from the seeds has the same composition of fatty acid content as olive oil.
Phytochemicals: The three major phytochemicals found in moringa leaves include: glucosinolates, flavonoids, and phenolic acids.
Glucosinolate: the highest concentration of glucosinolate is found in the leaves and seeds. Enzymatic catabolism of glucosinolates produces isothicyanates, nitriles, and thiocarbamates.
Flavonols: The potent antioxidant activity of moringa is a result of these abundant flavonols: zeatin, quercetin, beta-sitosterol, caffeoylquinic acid and kaempferol.
Carotenoids: E-lutein accounts for over 50% of the total carotenoid content in moringa. The highest content is found in the leaves.
What Does the Science Say—Health or Hype?
Anti-inflammatory: Studies on moringa leaves show promising anti-inflammatory action. In one study, moringa concentrate is suggested as a therapeutic intervention to alleviate low-grade inflammation associated with chronic disease.
Ulcerative Colitis: A few studies have shown the benefit of moringa in cases of ulcerative colitis. One study concluded that the combination of moringa root extract with C. sinensis fruit rind extract is effective in treating UC and results are comparable with prednisolone. Another study showed anticolitis effects from both moringa seeds hydro-alcoholic extract and moringa chloroform fraction.
Anti-Diabetic: Studies have shown that moringa leaf extract can be used to help control glucose levels. In rats, moringa leaf extract exhibited potent hypoglycemic effects, normalized elevated glucose levels, and restored diabetic damaged tissue structure of the liver and pancreas in diabetic rats. Similarily in humans, moringa leaves have been show to protect against oxidative damage in those with diabetes (along with non-diabetics).
Heart Healthy: Studies have shown moringa has properties that help lower cholesterol, prevents plaque formation, and reduce blood pressure. One study shows moringa leaf extract can be used to control lipid concentration and prevent hyperlipidemia. Another study confirms this action showing moringa leaf extract normalized elevated levels of triglycerides and total cholesterol levels. The glucosinolate catabolism produces compounds that are known for strong hypotensive and spasmolytic effects.
Antibacterial: In one study, volunteers’ hands were contaminated with E. coli and experimentally treated with moringa leaf powder as a hand-washing product. The results found that 4 grams of moringa powder in both dried and wet applications had the same effect as non-medicated soap when used for hand washing. Another study tested various forms of moringa against different bacteria strains. Staphylococcus aureus was found to be most sensitive to the treatment. This study suggests moringa may be a potential treatment for different infections caused by resistant microbes.
Water purifier: Moringa has been used for years as a low cost water treatment in impoverished countries. This study shows that treatment with moringa and alum provided acceptable values for turbidity, pH, conductivity, and total coliform, according to the World Health Organizations safe drinking water guidelines.
Asthma: A few studies have confirmed that moringa can help improve bronchial asthma. A preliminary study on moringa showed an appreciable decrease in the severity of symptoms of asthma and a simultaneous improvement in lung function parameters. Another study showed the four basic symptoms of bronchial asthma (dyspnea, wheezing, chest tightness, and cough) were reduced from supplementing with moringa. The same study also showed moringa increased lung volumes (forced vital capacity and forced expired volume in one second) and lung flow rates, suggesting its usefulness in treating bronchial asthma.
Anemia: In this study, dry moringa leaf powder was found as an effective treatment for metabolic anemia. This was likely due to the bioavailable iron, and vitamins found in moringa.
Anti-Cancer: In this study, moringa was found to exhibit anti-cancer effects by interfering with the signal transduction cascade that promotes cancer cell proliferation and progression. Moringa extracts were specifically decreased cell motility and colony formation in colorectal and breast cancer cell lines. In another study, moringa extract proved greater cytotoxicity for tumor cells than for normal cells, suggesting it could be an ideal treatment to target cancer cells.
Moringa has been consumed safely for a thousands of years; however, due to its recent boom in popularity, there have been a number of companies that produce and sell subpar and/or contaminated moringa (as what happens with a number of supplements). Always do thorough research before buying various forms of moringa and ensure that it is organic and pure! Avoid moringa that has added fillers or synthetic ingredients.
As with all supplements, start slow and build your way up to the recommended dosage. Always give your body some time to adjust and let you know if it doesn’t like how much you are giving it. Moringa can cause detox effects.
Consuming moringa during pregnancy has not been highly studied. Please consult with a medical professional before introducing any new supplements into your routine. Some studies believe moringa may have an antifertility effect.
Forms of Moringa
As mentioned above, growing your own moringa is a difficult task, but you can in order to obtain fresh moringa parts. Sometimes, fresh moringa leaves are available for purchase. Alternatively, you can purchase dried moringa leaves.
Oil: Moringa oil is sometimes expensive and hard to find, however, it can be a great addition to your pantry and/or your beauty routine because of its nutrient profile. The oil is produced from the seeds, and has a similar fatty acid content to that of olive oil. The oil is sometimes referred to as “Ben oil.”
How to Use
- Dried moringa leaves can be used basically as a spice to add flavor to salads, soups, or as a vegetable or meat seasoning.
- Fresh moringa leaves can be added to a spinach medley to spruce up a salad.
- Smoothies! I’m not particularly found of the taste, so I prefer to mask the flavor in a smoothie!
- Tea: as mentioned above, you can buy it in a tea bag or steep your own leaves, depending on which you have!
So, Is It a Superfood?
Moringa could definitely be considered a superfood, especially in certain nutrient-deficient populations. Moringa provides a fantastic nutrient profile that can help treat individuals suffering from malnutrition. The fact that moringa grows abundantly is also beneficial for malnourished parts of the world. If you eat a ‘perfect’ diet you may not see an extra benefit because your body is most likely getting all it needs; however, if you are a bit off from perfect, moringa may provide noticeable benefits for you! As always, get to know what your body needs. If moringa is not a great source of the components you are deficient in, you may not see results from the ‘miracle’ tree.