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Moringa oleifera, known as Moringa, is native to north India but is now found throughout the tropics. Moringa is also known as horseradish tree, drumstick tree and mother’s best friend. It grows fast and reaches up to 12m. The bark is grey and thick and looks like cork, peeling in patches.
It looses its leaves from December to January and new growth starts in February to March. Moringa produces cream coloured flowers when it is 8 months old and the flowering season begins in January and continues through to March. The fruit ripens from April to June and the pods are triangular in cross section, 30 to 50cm long and contain oily, black, winged seeds.
How does Moringa grow? Rainfall and altitude
Moringa requires an annual rainfall of between 250 and 3000mm. It is drought resistant, though in drought conditions it may loose its leaves. This does not mean it is dead and it should recover when the rains arrive. It grows best at altitudes up to 600m but it will grow at altitutes of 1000m.
It will survive in a temperature range of 25ºC to 40ºC but has been known to tolerate temperatures of 48ºC and light frosts.
Moringa prefers neutral to slightly acidic soils and grows best in well-drained loam to clay-loam. It tolerates clay soils but does not grow well if waterlogged.
All of the parts of the tree can be used in a variety of ways. Moringa is full of nutrients and vitamins and is good in your food as well as in the food of your animals. Moringa helps to clean dirty water and is a useful source of medecines. It provides lots of leafy material that is useful when using alley cropping systems. There are many other uses and these will all be described in this booklet:
Moringa Human food
All Moringa food products have a very high nutritional value. You can eat the leaves, especially young shoots, young pods, flowers, roots, and in some species even the bark. Leaves are low in fats and carbohydrates and rich in minerals, iron and vitamin B.
It is particularly useful as a human food because the leaves appear towards the end of the dry season when few other sources of green leafy vegetables are available.
Moringa Fresh leaves
Of all the products of the tree the leaves are used the most. They become tougher as they get older so it is best to pick the growing tips and young leaves. Remove the leaves from the woody stem, as this will not soften during cooking. The leaves can be used in the same way as spinach. An easy way of cooking them is to steam 2 cups of freshly picked leaves for a few minutes in one cup of water, seasoned with an onion, butter and salt or other seasonings according to taste.
A leaf powder can be produced by drying the leaves and crushing or pounding them. You can sift the powder to remove leaf stems. This powder can then be added to sauces at the same time as other condiments or vegetables are added.
The flowers can be cooked and mixed with other foods or fried in batter. They can also be placed in hot water for five minutes to make a kind of tea. They are also a good source of nectar for honey producing bees.
The pods can be eaten from when they first appear to when they become too woody to snap easily (up to 30cm long). They are cooked like other green beans and have a similar flavour to asparagus. Beware as some bitter varieties are poisonous if too many are eaten.
Even the pods that have become too woody can be boiled until they are tender. They are opened and the white flesh is scraped out and returned to the boiling water. This can be used in soups and stews.
The seeds are often referred to as peas and can be used from the time they appear until they turn yellow and their shells begin to harden. Experience will help decide when the best time to harvest the pods for their peas.
To cook, remove from the pod with their soft winged shells
intact and as much white flesh that can be scraped out from the pod. Put the peas and flesh into a strainer and wash them to remove the sticky, bitter film that covers
them, or boil them for a few minutes then drain and boil again in fresh water. They can then be used as any other green pea.
When the seeds are mature, their coating hardens and
becomes bitter. This can be pressed for oil extraction. If a press is not available the seeds can be browned or roasted, ground, added to boiling water and the oil floats to the surface. The seeds contain 35% oil and this is used for cooking purposes. The oil does not turn rancid and also burns without smoke.
A sauce similar to horseradish sauce can be made from the roots when the seedling is only 60cm tall. The root bark should be completely removed as it contains harmful substances, then the root is ground up and vinegar and salt are added. However, it should not be eaten in excess. It is best to store the sauce in a refrigerator.
The gum that is found in the bark can be used to season food.
Animal fodder with Moringa
Cattle, sheep, pigs, goats and poultry browse the bark, leaves and young shoots of Moringa. The best diet for pigs is 70% Moringa, 10% Leucaena and 20% other leaves. It is possible for their diet to be 100% Moringa but it should be no more than 30% Leucaena. The pork from pigs fed on this diet is lean. If trees are intended for animal fodder it is useful to prune them to 4m high, but if they are not they should be pruned to 6m so harvesting for human consumption can be easily carried out.
Livestock diets are improved by the addition of Moringa products
Moringa Water purifying
Seed powder can be used as a quick and simple method for cleaning dirty river water. The powder joins with the solids in the water and sinks to the bottom. This treatment also removes 90-99% of bacteria contained in water. Using Moringa to purify water replaces chemicals such as aluminium sulphate, which are dangerous to people and the environment, and are expensive.
Twenty litres of water can be treated in the following way:
Making Moringa seed powder to purify water
Water from varying sources will need different amounts of powder because of the impurities present will not be the same. Experiments with a jar will help in working out the correct amount needed.
Both the seeds and the seed powder can be stored but the solution made in stage 3 should not be stored. It should be freshly made every time water is to be purified.
Honey and sugar cane juice can also be cleared of impurities using the powder.
Moringa stenopetala seeds have better water purifying properties than Moringa oleifera.
Moringa Natural medicines
Around the world every part of the Moringa tree has been used effectively against varying ailments. Some of the remedies are described here but there is no guarantee they will work for every case!
Moringa Roots, bark and gum
The roots and the bark have all of the properties described above but are more concentrated. Therefore much more care should be taken if using them as medicines.
The seed cake, which is produced by pressing the seeds to extract oil, cannot be eaten as it contains harmful substances. However, it contains high levels of protein and makes a good fertiliser for use in agriculture.
Moringa Living fence
Planted as a living fence, Moringa provides wind protection and shade. It grows very quickly and if cuttings are planted close together they will form a fence that livestock cannot get through in just 3 months.
Moringa Alley cropping
Moringa has a large tap root and few lateral roots so it will not compete for nutrients with the crops. It will also add to the nutrients available as it produces many protein rich leaves. They grow very quickly but do not provide too much shade due to the structure of their leaves. They are also very good at reclaiming marginal land.
Moringa Natural pesticide
By digging Moringa leaves into the soil before planting, damping off disease (Pythium debaryanum) can be prevented among seedlings.
Domestic cleaning agent
Crushed leaves are used to clean cooking utensils or even walls.
Moringa Fuelwood and other uses
The wood is light and is a good fuel for cooking. However, it is not suitable for building. The bark can be beaten into a fibre that can be used to make rope or mats and the wood produces a blue dye. Chippings of wood can be used to make a good quality paper. The tree also produces viscose resin that is used in the textile industry.
Growing moringa from seed
Seeds can be planted as soon as they are mature but should only be kept for up to 3 months in natural conditions. Before sowing, soak the seeds in water for one day then plant the seeds 2cm apart and 1cm deep. Water lightly and they will germinate in 15 days. When the seedlings reach 30cm in height they should be thinned to 10cm apart and when they reach 60 to 90cm tall they can be planted out, but they will be very fragile.
Growing moringa from cuttings
Cuttings of healthy branches with hard wood, 45cm to 1.5m long and 10cm wide, should be taken in the rainy season. Trim any green wood without damaging the bark of the hardwood and leave the cutting ends in a shady place for 3 days to dry. Plant the cutting directly in the soil or in polybags containing 3 parts soil and 2 parts sand. One third of the cutting’s length should be placed in the soil (i.e. if the cutting is 1.5m long, plant it 50cm deep). The soil should be moist but not over watered. Cuttings planted in polybags will take a long time to develop roots and may be planted out after 2 or 3 months.
Moringa Production rates
Within 3 years of planting one tree will produce 300 to 400 pods every year and a mature tree can produce up to 1000 pods. Frequent pruning of the growth tips will maintain and increase leaf growth and the height can be controlled to make harvesting easier.
Moringa is the source of incredible health benefits.