Characteristics and Uses of Moringa
All parts of the Moringa plant can be used in a lot of beneficial ways. It is astonishing the number of uses the parts can be put to.
The leaves are a good source of vitamins and other nutrients.
It is reported that gram for gram, Moringa leaves contains seven times the Vitamin C of oranges, four times the Vitamin A of carrots, three times the iron of spinach, 4 times the Calcium of milk, three times the Potassium of bananas and twice the protein of yogurt. The leaves are the most consumed of the parts of Moringa.
The fresh leaves, especially the growing tips and young leaves, are picked and stripped from the stem, steamed and added to soups, stews and other recipes according to one’s taste. The leaves can, on the other hand, be dried in the shade and processed into leaf powder by crushing or pounding and added to food or sauces as needed. The drying of the leaves is done in the shade to prevent destruction of the Vitamin A in them by the sun and, in the same vein, processed leaf powder should be kept in opaque, dark or colored containers that shield off direct light and not in plain containers as is being done by many local processors in Ghana
The leaves of Moringa have been used in making sauces by Ewes in Ghana and Togo, and some tribes in the northern part of Ghana and in many West African countries of which Senegal is a notable example. Other countries in Eastern and Southern Africa equally cultivate and use the leaves of Moringa in their diet of which Uganda is prominent. The Konso people in Ethiopia use the leaves of Moringa Stenopetala as a staple food.
Recent research seems to point out that Moringa leaves are an excellent source of nutrients than any other tropical vegetable. At the end of the dry season when many green leafy vegetables cannot be found, Moringa leaves are available to offer the necessary nutritional support. Moringa leaves are being used by many programs to fight malnutrition and its associated diseases with the World Health Organisation promoting Moringa as an excellent alternative to expensive imported food supplements to treat malnutrition.
Moringa leaves are used as livestock feed for cattle, sheep, goats and poultry, plant growth hormone, organic fertilizer and pesticide, biogas production and in traditional medicines among a host of other uses. They are used in the agricultural, food, pharmaceutical and chemical industries for the production of various essential products. In natural or traditional medicines, the leaves are used for their anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory effects on wounds or insect bites and on the skin to treat skin complaints. Gastric ulcers, diarrhoea and malnutrition are reported to be treated by using the leaves.
The flowers taste like mushrooms and are very useful for beekeepers as they are available all the year round for their bees. Pterygospermin, a powerful antibiotic with fungicidal effects is found in the flowers and roots.
In traditional medicine, the flower juice is used to improve the flow and quality of a mother’s milk during lactation and solve urinary retention by encouraging urination.
The pods of Moringa are shaped like drumsticks and that gave the tree the name of drumstick tree in India. In India and some parts of Asia, Moringa pods are widely consumed especially the young tender ones and large plantations have been established to produce such for export, either as fresh or tinned, to overseas consumers especially Asia immigrants.
The tender young pods taste like asparagus and are eaten like green beans. The green tender seeds resembling peas are removed in addition to the white material in older and larger pods and used in various recipes. Pods eaten raw is reported to act as a de-wormer and a treatment for liver and spleen problems and joint pains in addition to treatment of malnutrition and diarrhoea.
Moringa seeds are used for agricultural, food and industrial purposes. Varieties of Moringa seeds like PKM1 and PKM2 are used for plantation whilst the industrial grade seeds are used in oil extraction.
From a study on Moringa Oleifera seed by A. S. Mohammed and two other scientists from the University Putra Malaysia and Malaysia Agricultural Research and Development Institute, Malaysia, it was shown that the average oil content was about 31% by weight and was rich in oleic acid (67%) with other fatty acids present being: myristic (0.1%), palmitic (7.8%), palmitoleic acid (1.5%), stearic (7.6%), linoleic (1.1%), linolenic (0.2%), arachidic (4.0%), eicosenoic (1.5%), behenic (6.2%), and lignoceric (1.3%). Depending on the plant variety and climate, the oil content of seeds ranges between 30 – 40% by weight.
The oil, also known as Ben oil, is liquid at ambient temperature, translucent and pale yellow in color, highly unsaturated, edible and very similar to olive oil. When compared to palm olein, a commodity of high economic importance with about 45% oleic acid, Moringa oleifera seed oil (67%) has a high potential as a new source of oil to supplement existing ones like olive oil (80%), canola oil (75%), sunflower oil (>80%) and safflower oil (77%).
With a reported yield of 3,000 kg seeds per hectare and an oil yield of about 900 kg per hectare as compared to about 3,000 kg seeds/hectare for soybeans which have 20% oil yield giving about 600 kg oil/hectare, Moringa has an advantage over soybeans in terms of oil yield. Moringa seed oil or Ben oil, as it is referred to at times, on account of its richness in monounsaturated fatty acids, is stable to oxidative rancidity, being reputed to be the most stable natural oil, and is an excellent deep frying oil, vegetable based lubricant, spray oil and can be used in food industries especially as a preservative on account of its Behenic acid and in the cosmetic industry.
Extraction is done by the cold press system and enzymes have been added on laboratory basis to improve the efficiency of oil extraction, which is being employed commercially for greater efficiency. In Ghana, the use of Ben oil is virtually non-existent except in a few cosmetic industries. With a high-oleic acid content, the oil is usually healthier with lower risk of coronary heart disease than many oils and can be of great use in food preparation. With some modifications, Ben oil can be used as a substitute to olive oil which is much expensive.
Moringa seed cake or powder remaining after oil extraction is a powerful natural coagulant which is used for water purification and is being considered for use as a replacement for proprietary coagulants in the water and waste water sectors. Researchers found that Moringa powder is capable of treating water much in the same way as imported commercial chemicals like alum at a far less cost.
Experimentation with Moringa seeds for treating water on a commercial scale in Malawi had been conducted by the University of Leicester (UK) and the UK’s Overseas Development Administration with very good results. Aluminium sulphate, an important chemical used in water purification, produces a lot of side effects which is eliminated when Moringa seed cake is used thereby making the cake a good alternative for it especially for developing countries in terms of simple and easy to maintain systems and technology.
The seed cake can be used to purify honey and sugar cane juice and is suitable for use in such industries at the cottage, small and large scale levels. It is reported that Moringa stenopetala seeds possess excellent water purifying properties that those of Moringa oleifera.
Use is made of the antibiotic and anti-inflammatory properties of the seeds to treat arthritis, rheumatism, gout, sexually transmitted diseases and boils in addition to encouraging urination. The oil is used for such purposes also.
The roots, especially the tap root, of Moringa trees which are a few months old and about 60 centimetres in height, are scraped to remove the bark which contains two alkaloids and a toxin. The roots, when ground and mixed with vinegar and salt, are used as a sauce in place of horseradish which gave the tree the name of a horseradish tree. The roots also have antibiotic and anti-inflammatory properties, encourage urination and used to treat scurvy. It is unadvisable to eat large amounts of the roots or frequently on account of the chemical content.
Wood and Bark
The wood is soft and is therefore unsuitable for charcoal production but can be used as firewood and for making pulp. In Senegal, a blue dye is made from the wood. The bark can be beaten to make mats and ropes in addition to being used to treat scurvy and diarrhoea. Gum or viscose resin is produced from bark which is used in the textile industry and can be employed also as seasoning.
Alley cropping and Living Fencing
On account of Moringa’s large tap root system with few lateral roots and the structure of the leaves which does not give too much shade, the tree can be used in alley cropping where it assists in enriching the soil thereby making it useful in reclaiming waste and marginal lands. Planted as a fence, the cuttings grow quickly into a strong barrier to keep out livestock in a short period.