Moringa: The History and the Science

Moringa Oleifera has drawn much attention in scientific circles for its reported medical and nutritional benefits. Already the Moringa tree is making its way internationally to help resolve issues with starvation around the world, standing up as one of the few true “superfoods” in the world. However, the history of Moringa (known by many names as the drumstick tree, horseradish tree, clarifier tree, and more) extends to well before the time when it fell under the scrutiny of Western science. The benefits have been well known in Asia for centuries. This ancient knowledge has now fallen under the lens of science, and it turns out: the history has a strong case.

History

The history of the Moringa tree starts in the southern Himalayas, with roots in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan. Although the timber itself was poor as a construction material, the tree itself was quickly recognized as a food source. As such, the Romans, Greeks, and Egyptians all cultivated the Moringa tree as these civilizations encountered them. While all parts are edible, the highest nutritional value comes from consuming the leaves, ideally in a dried and powdered form. While there are many dishes and recipes that incorporate Moringa leaves, as with any produce, cooking has been known to compromise some of the nutritional value.

While its nutritional benefits were known, it was quickly discovered by ancient civilizations that the tree also provided many medicinal benefits, most notably an energy boost. Those who used Moringa found themselves experiencing inordinately high amounts of energy when compared to others, and it was believed to have many medicinal properties as well. Even more beneficial: the seeds themselves have been found to be useful in water purification (a topic covered in our previous post).

As a consequence of its versatility, the tree has spread far and wide. One of the remarkable properties of the tree is its ability to survive in dry regions (though it is susceptible to the cold), as such it can be found in many developed nations with warmer regions. In the United States, for example, Moringa cultivation occurs primarily in Hawaii, whose tropical climate is ideal for the plant. To reiterate, however, it can survive in regions susceptible to drought, making it a lifesaver in some areas.

The Science

Many lofty claims have been made about Moringa Oleifera, and one can be forgiven for being skeptical. After all, many products make bold claims about their particular ‘health food’, promising radical improvement for minimal investment and effort, but that does not always stand up to scrutiny. Fortunately, Moringa Oleifera has withstood the rigors of science and passed with flying colors. Gram for gram, the leaves of this tree make it the most nutritious known in agriculture. The plant provides all the benefits of carrots, bananas, and spinach in one convenient plant.

The water purification benefits are also well known and well substantiated. Seek cake, which is what remains when a Moringa seed is pressed for oil, contains dimeric cationic proteins, which cause impurities in the water to clump together. As a result of this clumping process, it becomes easy to decontaminate the water simply by removing the resulting sludge through filtration. The process of using colloids (like the proteins mentioned above) to purify water is referred to as “flocculation”. This, combined with the ability of Moringa to survive in drought-stricken regions, makes it an essential component in water reclamation, particularly in developing areas.

The precise medical benefits are still being studied, but there is an enormous amount of anecdotal evidence throughout history pointing to medical benefits. Aid workers in Africa have noticed that families incorporating Moringa leaves into their diet have greater energy throughout the day and tend to be healthier overall. Historical uses of Moringa have included using it to relieve some symptoms of inflammation and joint pain, to help normalize blood pressure, and as a digestive. Even more benefits have been reported from this miracle of nature, and it is only a matter of time before more come to realize the benefits of this amazing plant.

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