Analyn Abbey, a native of Negros
Occidental, the fourth largest island in the
Philippines, was 8 years old when she cut her hand while
playing in the nearby jungle. Her family home was many
miles away from the nearest hospital.
The cut was
more than two inches long and was bleeding heavily.
Abbey’s mother quickly made a paste with water and the
root bark of a young moringa tree growing near their
house and applied it to Abbey’s cut. The bleeding
stopped within minutes, and the wound healed within a
Abbey left the Philippines a long time
ago, but she still reminisces. “Although the scar on my
hand is a reminder of my childhood mischief, my mother’s
knowledge of the healing powers of the moringa tree is a
testament to its many uses.”
The moringa tree,
called “nebedaye” in several African languages, was
first discovered around 2000 BCE. The name means “never
die.” The tree is believed to have originated in India
and then eventually spread to various parts of the
world. It has been identified by 400 different names.
Depending on whom you ask, and what the tree has been
used for, some of the widely known names are: mother’s
best friend, horseradish tree and tree for life.
However, the most popular name is miracle tree because
every part of it is edible, and it has been known for
its healing, nutritional and beneficial properties.
According to Dr. Joseph Mercola, a world-renowned
physician, moringa is considered a powerhouse of
nutrients. One and a half teaspoons of moringa powder a
day provides seven times the nutritional value of
vitamin C available in oranges, four times the vitamin A
in carrots, four times the calcium in milk, three times
the protein in yogurt, and three times the potassium in
It also contains several types of amino
acids, enzymes and minerals, such as copper, iron,
magnesium, manganese, phosphorus and zinc. Name any
nutrient and the moringa tree has it.
tree seems to grow where it is needed the most — in
impoverished and arid areas. Moringa powder has been
used to prevent or cure malnutrition in children and
pregnant women. Considered “a mother’s milk,” a
breast-feeding mother can subsist on moringa and water
indefinitely because it stimulates milk production and
provides all the necessary nutrients for mother and
The leaves can be eaten fresh. They have
the distinct taste of horseradish, hence the nickname
“horseradish tree.” Steamed, the leaves taste like
artichoke. To make moringa powder, lay the leaves on a
flat area for a few days to dry and either grind them or
rub them against a fine screen. The powder can be used
in soups, salads and smoothies.
benefits of moringa do not stop there. According to
The Epoch Times, moringa is high in fiber and so
“it works like a mop in your intestines…to clean up any
of the extra grunge left over from a greasy diet.”
In Sri Lanka, moringa is known as the drumstick tree
because of the shape of its fruit. The long and slender
pods resemble a drumstick. Harvesting is best when the
pods are young and tender. Consumed raw, the pods taste
similar to asparagus, otherwise they make a great
addition to soups or a stir-fry. The seeds are loaded
with fiber and nutrients as well.
The seeds are
also used as a water-purification agent. When crushed,
they bind with salts, bacteria and other impurities for
easy removal. Oil extracted from the seeds, better known
as Ben oil, is used in several beauty products and
cooking. Unlike olive oil, Ben oil never goes rancid and
has a high smoking point, making it ideal for frying.
The flowers and leaves contain naturally occurring
antibiotic, antiseptic and fungicide ingredients. They
are commonly used in Ayurvedic medicine in India for
treating a host of diseases such as anemia, inflammation
The branches and cuttings not only
provide feed to farm animals because of the high
nutritional content, but also serve as mulch for the
garden. As the branches and cuttings decompose, they
provide nutrients to the soil.
is a native of tropical climates, gardeners have grown
it as far north as Central Texas. Lee Wallace, a
resident of San Marcos, has been growing moringa
successfully for several years. Wallace considers it a
perennial. If winter temperatures fall below 31º F, it
loses its leaves and goes dormant. Usually it comes back
when the weather warms up, around early May. If grown
farther North, moringa is considered an annual. It is
best to harvest seeds in late fall for the next growing
There are 13 varieties of moringa trees.
The most commonly known are Moringa oleifera
and M. stenopetala. They both grow best in dry,
sandy soil with relatively low annual rainfall,
indicating their drought tolerance. Deciding which
variety to grow depends on the weather.
oleifera will develop pods in about eight months.
It seems to handle cold weather better. When the
temperatures drop, it sheds its leaves and the tree may
appear dead. However, when the weather warms up, it
springs back to life.
tends to give larger leaves, but may take several years
before it gives pods. It also takes longer to recover
from cold weather and is therefore recommended for the
southern part of Texas.
“Plant a moringa in a
southern location with mostly sun,” Wallace recommends.
“If a freeze is expected, mulch heavily to keep the
roots warm.” Although Wallace’s trees have even survived
15º F, their survival rate in Central Texas has tended
to be around five years, due to cold stress and extreme
weather changes. Wallace believes, however, that his
moringas would live longer if he paid more attention to
Wallace came across moringa when he was
researching a tree variety that requires no care, is
drought tolerant and grows fast. “A moringa tree can
grow up to 15 feet from May to November,” Wallace
stated, “and the trunk can reach the width of a baseball
in its third year.” Wallace also joked, “Preppers, who
believe a dire emergency or catastrophic event will
happen, thus gravely impacting food supplies, grow
hundreds of moringas as a food source and as a water
It is easy to start a
moringa from seed. Wallace soaks the seeds in water for
24 hours, then plants them in pots until the seedlings
are at least 3 feet tall. “Moringa has big tuberous
roots that do not like containers,” Wallace advises. “It
is best to transplant them into the ground once they
reach the recommended height.”
Moringa is not
bothered by constant pruning. In fact, if left on its
own, it tends to grow tall and spindly. It is best to
keep it at a manageable height of 10 to 12 feet. Moringa
seems to enjoy putting out most of its leaves and
flowers at the top, which makes accessibility hard.
Moringa does not like getting its feet wet. If the
soil is clay based, “plant it at the highest point,”
Wallace indicated. “Otherwise, build up the soil with
compost. If the soil is sandy, you can plant it
anywhere.” Its natural habitat is the arid areas of
Africa, so it does not require fertilization. Occasional
addition of compost would be sufficient to keep moringa
Daniel Vela came across moringa after
completing a permaculture course in the Rio Grande
Valley. He and his partner, Alison Fjerstad, received
seeds from a friend who attended the course as well.
They planted 16 seeds that shot up shortly and became
straight sticks. Vela started cutting them to keep their
height manageable. “The amazing part is that they grew
as fast as we cut them,” he recalled. Vela recommends
cutting the top off to encourage lateral growth.
The benefits of moringa do not stop with its health,
healing and nutritional benefits. Vela has used the
plant to enrich the soil, build a live fence and provide
shade for young plants during the oppressive summer heat
in the Valley.
Vela’s parents bequeathed him a
house in Weslaco, in Hidalgo County, that came with a
big lot. Nothing was growing on the lot with abundant
rocks and dirt. He built up the soil by spreading about
10 inches of mulch that tree trimming companies dumped
on his property on a weekly basis. After two years, he
was ready to start a garden. His first challenge was
keeping young seedlings alive during the summer months.
Considering moringa’s fast-growing pace, Vela uses
them as shade trees in the summer by planting them
around young plants. He explained that “moringa takes
the place of the forest’s top canopy guild” — that is,
their treetops enrich the entire environment below them.
Being old growth, moringa shed their nutrient dense
leaves in the fall. As they decompose, they provide
nutrients to smaller trees, eliminating the need to
fertilize the soil.
In the fall, Vela cuts
moringa branches not only to keep their length in check
but also to reduce the dappled shade they provided to
young plants during the summer. He leaves the branches
on the ground to decompose over time and to provide
mulch for the soil. “The chop-and-drop action recycles
the nutrients in the soil,” Vela said.
started a fence-line of moringa trees, he joked, “It
looked silly for a while, watching sticks growing. As
they started sending out new shoots every few days, they
thrived.” Rooting moringa is easy. After cutting several
branches, Vela digs holes in the ground, plants the
branches with a little amount of compost and mulches
around them. Watering them every few days will ensure
rooting. After about a week, new shoots will start to
Vela recommends planting the cuttings in
the end of summer or beginning of spring. It can root in
super-hot weather, but will require regular watering.
Moringa tends to lose its leaves in the winter and does
not grow much. Therefore, it is best to avoid planting
it when it gets cold.
Moringa is indeed a
“miracle tree.” Although modern science has recently
discovered its medicinal values, its benefits have been
documented since ancient times. Whether you use it for
its nutritional content, its medicinal benefits or as a
soil amendment, it is easy to grow and maintain. Its
tolerance to hot climates and its ability to flourish
with little water make it the tree-of-choice in Texas. A
few moringa seeds can get you started in exploring the
various culinary uses of its leaves, flowers, pods and
seeds. Moringa branches provide live fences, fodder to
farm animals and mulch to enrich garden soil.
other plant or tree can compare to moringa in terms of
the gifts it can provide.