The moringa tree (Moringa oleifera) bears nutrient-rich vegetation as well as fibers, seed kernels and roots with many uses. The tree is often touted as the answer to world hunger, but according to researchers at The Missouri Botanical Garden, no single tree satisfies this claim since many factors other than agriculture contribute to the hunger problem. M. oleifera adapts to a wide variety of climates. Native to the southern foothills of the Himalayas in northwest India, the tree is adapted to inhospitable conditions.
The moringa tree is a narrow deciduous tree that grows about 35 feet tall. The drooping branches hold pale-green, feathery foliage with each leaf divided into many small leaflets. The fragrant, cream or white flowers, each about 1 inch in length, bloom in large clusters. Bloom seasons vary with the climate. Long, brown, tapered seedpods follow the flowers. The seedpods grow up to 47 inches long and contain about 20 dark-brown seeds.
Moringa trees thrive in tropical and subtropical climates. Plant them in sunny locations and provide a light, sandy, well-draining soil. The tree is extremely drought resistant, surviving as little as 5-1/2 inches of rainfall per year, and doesn’t require supplemental irrigation. Although it grows well without fertilization, applying fertilizer annually increases the yield.
According to Trees for Life International, moringa leaves are rich in vitamin C, vitamin A, protein, calcium and potassium. When used as greens, serve them raw in salads or cooked like spinach. Use them in curries and pickles. Malaysians eat the seeds as a snack, and the pressed seeds yield oil used for cooking. Use the roots like horseradish.
The same oil used for cooking, called Ben oil, makes a good lubricant for delicate machinery and a base for beauty products, such as perfumes and hairdressings. The bark produces a coarse fiber used for ropes and woven mats. In folk medicine, the leaves, flowers, bark and roots treat a variety of ailments. Researchers are studying the antibiotic properties of compounds produced by the tree, as well as the usefulness of the seeds and seedpods in water purification.