Studies on Moringa oleifera show that it is a nutritious and beneficial food that offers very attractive characteristics for its important content in proteins, calcium and vitamin A. In addition to the important concentration of antioxidants present in its leaves, among them are isothiocyanates which may have anticancer, hypotensive, hypoglycaemic and antibiotic properties.
Origin and Description
Moringa oleifera is a crop native to India and can be found in tropical climates. In some places it is known as “drumstick” due to the shape of its pods, which is one of the main food products in India and Africa. It is also known as the horseradish tree, due to the taste of its roots, which the British used in India as a substitute for horseradish. In some places in East Africa it is known as “mum?s best friend”, a name which indicates that people know the value of the tree very well. Their cultivation can be propagated by seeds or by asexual reproduction (stakes), even on poor soils and can withstand long periods of drought and grow well in arid and semi-arid conditions. It is a resistant species that requires little attention and grows rapidly (up to four meters in a year).
The tree provides a myriad of valuable products that communities have taken advantage of for many years. Its green pods, leaves, flowers and toasted seeds are very nutritious and are consumed in many parts of the world. Moringa seed oil, known as ben oil, can be used in the kitchen and in the industry to produce soaps, cosmetics and fuel for lamps. Different parts of the tree are used in natural medicines.
Many studies have determined the composition and nutritional aspects of the plant.
- The Leaves
They have outstanding nutritional qualities: the protein content is 27%, they also have significant amounts of calcium, iron and phosphorus, as well as vitamin A and C. Moringa leaves can be harvested during dry periods when no other fresh vegetables are available.
- The Seed
It contains 40% oil of which 73% is oleic acid. This means that ben oil has the same quality level as olive oil. Laboratory tests confirm that the paste remaining after the oil is extracted contains the active ingredients in coagulation.
The composition of minerals and vitamins present in the plant is long and among the most important are included:
Calcium is one of the most important minerals for growth, maintenance and reproduction of the body. Blood clotting, transmission of nerve impulses, the contraction and relaxation of muscles, normal heartbeat, stimulation of hormone secretion, activation of the enzyme reaction, as well as other functions all require small amounts of calcium. Moringa is the richest source of calcium found in plant material and has 17 times more calcium than milk, helps prevent osteoporosis and strengthens bones.
Moringa contains 23 times more iron than spinach. Iron helps the formation of haemoglobin and myoglobin which carries oxygen in the blood and to the muscles.
Iron is also part of many proteins and enzymes in the body. Its deficiency causes the weakening of the immune system, whereas its consumption helps to improve mental agility since it increases the supply of oxygen towards the brain
Moringa contains 15 times more potassium than bananas. Potassium helps regulate acid-base balance and water in blood and body tissues.
Moringa contains approximately 46 antioxidants and is one of the most powerful sources of natural antioxidants. Antioxidants provide the free atoms the body needs and reduces the effect of free radicals. This antioxidant property helps in the prevention of malignant formations. The leaves of the moringa are rich in flavonoids, a type of antioxidant. The major antioxidants present are: quercetin, kaempferol, beta-sisterol, caffeoylquinic acid and zeatin. Antioxidants play an important role in controlling the symptoms of the aging process and improve cardiovascular health.
- Vitamin C: antioxidant
- Vitamin E: also works as an antioxidant.
Phytonutrients in the leaves and seeds of the moringa are considered as organic health promoting components. Phytonutrients present in moringa include alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin and chlorophyll. Phytonutrients cleanse the body of toxins, purify the kidneys, help strengthen the immune system, rebuild red blood cells and, most importantly, rejuvenates the body at celular level. All of these nutrients form a complete nutritional supplement for the well-being of our health.
- Improves the body?s natural defences.
- Promotes the development of the body?s cellular structure.
- Controls serum cholesterol levels.
- At skin level, it reduces the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines.
- Promotes normal liver and kidney function.
- Beautifies the skin.
- Provides our body with energy.
- Promotes proper digestion.
- Acts as an antioxidant.
- Promotes the functioning of a healthy circulatory system.
- It has anti-inflammatory properties.
- Increases overall sense of well-being.
- Regulates normal blood sugar levels.
Practically all parts of the tree have medicinal properties, but it is the leaves, fruits and seeds that deserve special attention as it has been shown that they have an extensive application in the prevention and control of various diseases
- Moringa Oleifera: a multipurpose tree for the dry tropics. Mark E. Olson Olson, Jed W. Fahey. Aotónoma University of Mexico. Mexican Journal of Biodiversity. Vol 82 No. 4 2011.
- Moringa oleifera: a tree with enormous potential. Geoff Folkard and John Sutherland. Translated from Agroforestry Today.1996 Vol. 8 No 3. P. 5-8 by Ariadne Jiménez U.C.R., Turrialba, Costa Rica. Geoff Folkard and John Sutherland are members of the Environmental Engineering Team of the Engineering Department of the University of Leicester, University Road LET 7 RH
- C. Gopalan et al. (1994), Nutritive Value of Indian Foods, National Institute of Nutrition, India.