By Dr. Mercola
Moringa is an incredibly nutrient-rich plant touted as a superfood due to its many health benefits. Its small, rounded leaves are packed with significant amounts of nutrition: beta carotene, calcium, magnesium, potassium, protein and vitamin C, to name a few. You name it, moringa's got it. Because moringa grows easily and rapidly and can survive with very little water, it is particularly appealing and useful to people living in areas plagued by drought.
In some cases, moringa is the most nutritious food available, especially in remote, impoverished areas across Africa and India, where it can be harvested year-round. I tried cultivating moringa for about two years, and felt it to be more trouble than it was worth. Moringa does grow quickly, but I found the tiny leaves to be difficult to harvest and use. Your experience may be different, however.
Due to moringa's impressive nutritional profile and health benefits it seems unfair for me to unilaterally discourage you from trying your hand at cultivating it. For that reason, I would like to provide you with all the information you need to grow moringa. Since there's no denying moringa is a powerhouse once it's harvested, you might just want to give it a try.
The History of Moringa
Moringa (Moringa oleifera), also known as the "miracle tree" or "tree of life," is the only genus in the family Moringaceae. Moringa originated in Northern India, where it has been used as a medicinal herb for thousands of years. In Ayurvedic medicine, moringa is thought to be useful in preventing 300 diseases.1 Globally, India is the largest producer and supplier of moringa, accounting for about 80 percent of worldwide demand.2
Since its advent in India, the moringa tree gradually appeared elsewhere in Asia, as well as in Africa. Because it thrives in semiarid, tropical and subtropical areas, moringa is now found in tropical zones in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and Pacific islands and South America. In ancient times, Egyptians, Greeks and Romans used the oil extracted from the moringa tree in medicine, perfume and oils.
Common English names for moringa include ben oil or benzoil tree, drumstick tree and horseradish tree (due to moringa having a taste similar to horseradish). Notably, due to their ability to act as a coagulant and antimicrobial agent, moringa seeds have long been used for water purification in Africa and Central and South America.3
Why Is Moringa Considered a Superfood?
While some foods don't live up to their billing as superfoods — beans for example, due to their toxic lectin content — moringa is a superfood superstar! Why? Because this fast-growing tree is packed with antioxidants, anti-inflammatories and essential vitamins and minerals galore. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1 cup (21 grams) of fresh, chopped moringa leaves (also known as "drumsticks") contains a good deal of your recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for key nutrients, such as:4,5
Iron: 11 percent of your RDA
Magnesium: 8 percent of your RDA
Protein: 2 grams
Riboflavin (B2): 11 percent of your RDA
Vitamin A (from beta carotene): 9 percent of your RDA
Vitamin B6: 19 percent of your RDA
Vitamin C: 12 percent of your RDA
Although it is unlikely you would eat such a large portion of moringa in one sitting, when compared to other nutrient-rich foods by weight, 100 g of dried moringa boasts:6
- 30 times more magnesium than eggs
- 17 times more calcium than milk
- 15 times more potassium than bananas
- 12 times more vitamin C than oranges
- 10 times more vitamin A than carrots
Moringa is rich in vitamins A, B, C, D and E, as well as minerals such as calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, iron and silica. It also contains alpha-linolenic acid, a plant-based omega-3 fat, and all of the essential amino acids your body needs to thrive. Authors of 2012 research about the health benefits of moringa said:7
"Moringa oleifera contains essential amino acids, carotenoids in leaves and components with nutraceutical properties, supporting the idea of using this plant as a nutritional supplement or constituent in food preparation … An important factor that accounts for the medicinal uses of Moringa oleifera is its very wide range of vital antioxidants, antibiotics and nutrients, including vitamins and minerals. Almost all parts from [the] moringa [tree] can be used as a source for nutrition."
Four More Body-Benefiting Reasons to Love Moringa
If you aren't quite sure if this plant can be beneficial to your health, consider the following four additional reasons to love moringa:
1. Lowers blood sugar levels: In a study involving diabetic rats, moringa was shown to have antidiabetic effects, likely due to the beneficial plant compounds contained in its leaves, including isothiocyanates.8 In other research, women taking 7 g of moringa leaf powder daily for three months reduced their fasting blood sugar levels by 13.5 percent.9
2. Maintains healthy cholesterol levels: In terms of cholesterol-lowering properties, an animal study10 involving hypercholesterol-fed rabbits found moringa to be effective in lowering cholesterol by 50 percent, while reducing atherosclerotic plaque formation by 86 percent.
These effects were comparable to those of the cholesterol-lowering drug simvastatin. The study authors noted: "[Moringa] possesses antioxidant, hypolipidemic and antiatherosclerotic activities, and has therapeutic potential for the prevention of cardiovascular diseases."
3. Provides a plethora of antioxidants: Moringa leaves are rich in antioxidants such as beta carotene, chlorogenic acid, quercetin and vitamin C. As noted in the Asian Pacific Journal of Cancer Prevention,11,12 "[Moringa] leaves exhibit strong antioxidant activity against free radicals, prevent oxidative damage to major biomolecules and give significant protection against oxidative damage."
Further, authors of a study13 involving postmenopausal women who took moringa leaf powder daily for three months concluded: "[These] plants possess antioxidant properties and have therapeutic potential for the prevention of complications during postmenopause."
4. Reduces inflammation: The flavonoids, isothiocyanates and phenolic acids in moringa leaves, pods and seeds also possess anti-inflammatory properties.
A 2017 study published in PLOS ONE comparing the anti-inflammatory effects of isothiocyanate-enriched moringa seed extract to those of a curcuminoid-enriched turmeric extract and curcumin-enriched material suggests moringa14 "displayed strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties … making them promising ... for the mitigation of inflammatory-mediated chronic disorders."
How to Quickly Germinate Your Moringa Seeds
Whether you are planting your moringa seeds indoors or outdoors, consider the following tips from professional moringa growers to get a quick start on the germination process:15
- Soak the seeds in water for 24 hours; remove the seeds and pat dry with a paper towel
- Place the seeds in a plastic bag and store in a warm, dark place to encourage germination, which will take about three to 14 days
- Check the seeds every couple of days to see if they have broken loose from the winged shell; when they do, you will notice two shoots protruding from the seed. Once they appear, do not let the shoots grow too long because they can be fragile and may break when handled (rendering the seed useless)
- The shoot boasting the ruffled growth at its extremity contains your moringa plant's first leaves and the other shoot contains the young plants roots
- When planting, place the root end of the germinated seed into the soil and point the leaf end toward the sun
Starting Your Moringa Seeds in Pots Is Highly Recommended
Now that the seeds have germinated, you are ready to plant them in soil. If you live in a cold climate, it's best to grow moringa in pots either indoors or in a greenhouse. Even if you live in a warm climate, it is best to cultivate moringa in pots for at least eight weeks before transplanting them into the ground. This method will afford you more control over the care of the young tree at a time when it is weak and vulnerable. Below are the main steps to follow:16,17
- Select a pot at least 18 inches deep and perhaps a bit larger if this is the final destination for your moringa plant
- Choose a well-drained soil containing 5 to 10 percent sand and at least 5 percent organic matter such as organic compost (you can also add compost worms or earthworms if desired)
- Plant moringa seeds at a depth of three-quarters of an inch, ensuring the leaf end of the plant is facing out
- Maintain a moist soil, but do not overwater because the plant will not thrive if its roots are soaked for extended periods
- Place the pot in direct sun and maintain consistent heat
Transplanting Your Moringa Plant Outdoors
If you live in a warm climate and are ready to transplant your moringa plant outdoors, here are some aspects to consider.18,19,20 First, keep in mind optimum plant growth occurs between 70 to 90 degrees F. While moringa plants can handle a touch of frost, they will not survive if the outdoor temperature dips below 40 degrees F.
Even though moringa is able to tolerate a wide range of soil conditions, it does best in a neutral to slightly acidic environment, with a pH ranging from 6.3 to 7.0. Well-drained sandy or loamy soil is ideal. The presence of a long taproot makes moringa resistant to periods of drought, but you will need to water it regularly.
Prior to transplanting moringa, loosen the soil in the planting bed by digging down about a foot and a half. This will help retain moisture in the root zone and enable the seedling's roots to get off to a good start. Mix compost or aged manure with the topsoil when filling in around the plant. Prepare your potted plant by using a knife to loosen the soil from the inside surface of the pot. Turn the pot upside down and gently shake out the entire plant. Take care to not disturb the root system.
If you are planting more than one, space your moringa plants 7 to 10 feet apart. Because a healthy moringa tree will branch out 3 to 4 feet from its trunk, this spacing will give the trees plenty of air and sun, and allow you to walk between them. If desired, moringa trees make a good windbreak when planted at about 1-foot intervals, a practice that is quite common in Africa and India.
Regardless of how you plant them, be sure to give your moringa trees a good supply of plant food and water to help them thrive. Options for plant food include a light liquid kelp emulsion, compost tea, worm tea and/or living compost addition about once every three weeks. You can mulch dried leaves or straw around your potted and transplanted moringa to help them retain moisture and warmth.
Keeping up With Moringa Growth: The Importance of Pruning
Moringa trees will flower and fruit annually, and even twice annually in some regions. In its first year, you can expect your moringa tree to grow to about 15 feet tall, producing both flowers and fruit. Left unchecked, moringa trees grow fast and can shoot up to 40 feet in just a few years, with a trunk about a foot in diameter.
From my personal experience, pruning seems to be a major factor in ensuring a successful moringa growing experience. For certain, applying proven strategies for effective pruning is a key to keeping up with moringa's exceptionally fast growth.21,22 Moringa experts suggest the more you cut it back, the better it produces, so don't be afraid to use your pruning shears.
For best results, you may want to prune your young moringa trees when they reach a height of about 2 feet. Trim the terminal growing tip 4 inches from the top. About a week after you clip the terminal growing tip, you will notice secondary branches will begin to appear on the main stem below the cut. When these branches reach a length of about 8 inches, you'll want to cut them back to 4 inches. In doing so, tertiary branches will appear, which you can trim back in the same manner.
This pruning, which should be done four times in the early months before flowers appear, will produce a lower-growing, bushier tree that produces pods within easy reach. If you do not prune your moringa trees and instead let them run wild, they will shoot up vertically, grow very tall and produce sparse flowers. What little fruit there is will be, unfortunately, clustered at the very top of the tree, far beyond easy reach.
In addition to doing this early pruning, you might consider cutting your moringa trees back every four or five years to a height of about 3 feet to allow for regrowth. Like I mentioned above, moringa trees respond well to pruning and come out stronger and hardier when cut back.
Assuming the growing conditions are favorable, you can expect healthy moringa trees to yield a bounty of fresh leaves, as well as about 400 to 600 pods annually during their first three years. Mature moringa trees may produce up to 1,600 pods a year.
When harvesting moringa pods,23 you will want to collect them when they are young — less than one-half inch in diameter — and still can be snapped easily. Pods will develop a tough exterior as they age, although the white seeds and flesh will remain edible until the ripening process begins. Pods used for oil extraction are generally left on the tree until they dry out and turn brown.
If you are interested in the leaves, you can harvest seedlings, growing tips or young leaves as soon as they are viable. Older leaves must be stripped from tough and wiry stems and are best suited for making dried leaf powder. Moringa stems make excellent compost material, so feel free to scatter them about at the base of your trees or deposit them in your compost bin.
Other Ways to Get Your Hands on Moringa
If you live in a cold climate, or for other reasons are not able to grow your own moringa, you can still take advantage of this superfood. According to the Epoch Times, here are some other ways you can enjoy moringa:24
- Moringa leaves: Buy organic moringa leaves at farmer's markets or from your local health food store and toss them in salads, use them to make tea or add them to cooked dishes. Some say moringa pairs especially well with chicken. Remember, moringa leaves have a spinach-like texture and a taste similar to a radish, so start with small amounts until you get used to the taste.
- Moringa pods: Moringa's long pods, when young, look like fat green beans and can be eaten similarly. Moringa seeds are either eaten like peas or crushed and transformed into moringa oil.
- Moringa leaf powder: When adding moringa powder to smoothies, soups and other foods to boost their nutrition, start with a small amount. Moringa powder has a distinct, strong green flavor that can easily overpower.
- Moringa leaf capsules: If you are unable to tolerate the taste of moringa leaves or powder, try moringa capsules, which contain leaf powder. Choose only certified organic capsules containing pure green moringa oleifera leaf powder and no additives or flow agents.
- Moringa oil: While you will pay a premium for it (given it can cost up to 15 times as much as olive oil per ounce), moringa oil is another option. For best results, look for 100 percent pure moringa oil that is cold-pressed from organic moringa seeds. Similar to olive oil, the quality of moringa oil varies widely.
If you are looking for a new way to enjoy moringa, try this energy-boosting moringa latte recipe from PaleoHacks. It provides a delicious and healthy alternative to the many sugar-laden beverages available from your local coffee shop. In whatever form you choose to consume moringa, you are sure to enjoy the healthy benefits of this nutritional powerhouse. If you have time and live in a suitable climate, you might even decide to grow a moringa plant of your own.