April 11, 2017 | David F. Coppedge

Miracle Tree Could Feed and Fuel Third World

The ‘drumstick tree’ grows right where it is needed for food, fuel, water safety, stock feed and many other uses, all for free.

It’s been years (3/09/10) since we reported the good news about Moringa oleifera, the drumstick tree – a plant native to Asia and Africa with multiple uses. Now that a new paper has come out about it, it’s time to revisit this amazing plant. Known as “one of the world’s most useful trees,” this one species can do all the following:

PowerPoint slide by David Coppedge

We compared the story to the old Acres of Diamonds parable about a man who wasted his life looking for diamonds, not realizing his property was surrounded by them. Africa may have diamonds (a harsh industry on natives), but it needs nutrition more. The new paper in PLoS One measures how two species of Moringa score on mineral nutrition:

Moringa oleifera (MO) and M. stenopetala (MS) (family Moringaceae; order Brassicales) are multipurpose tree/shrub species. They thrive under marginal environmental conditions and produce nutritious edible parts. The aim of this study was to determine the mineral composition of different parts of MO and MS growing in their natural environments and their potential role in alleviating human mineral micronutrient deficiencies (MND) in sub-Saharan Africa.

Sure enough, these two species of Moringa are rich in minerals – far richer than the usual plant foods.

In Ethiopian crops, MS leaves contained the highest median concentrations of all elements except Cu [copper] and Zn [zinc], which were greater in Enset (a.k.a., false banana). In Kenya, Mo flowers and MS leaves had the highest median Se [selenium] concentration of 1.56 mg kg-1 and 3.96 mg kg-1, respectively. The median concentration of Se in MS leaves was 7-fold, 10-fold, 23-fold, 117-fold and 147-fold more than that in brassica leaves, amaranth leaves, baobab fruits, sorghum grain and maize grain, respectively. The median Se concentration was 78-fold and 98-fold greater in MO seeds than in sorghum and maize grain, respectively.

The five researchers concluded that this plant can really help Africans meet their dietary mineral requirements:

This study confirms previous studies that Moringa is a good source of several of the measured mineral nutrients, and it includes the first wide assessment of Se and I [iodine] concentrations in edible parts of MO and MS grown in various localities. Increasing the consumption of MO and MS, especially the leaves as a fresh vegetable or in powdered form, could reduce the prevalence of MNDs, most notably Se deficiency.

This sounds like a golden opportunity for locals to engage in entrepreneurial business. If people don’t rush to pick the leaves and eat them raw off the tree, why not add them to salads? Why not set up shop to make powder from them, and find ways to make them tasty? Think of the possibilities: Moringa flour, candy, cookies, cocoa, energy drinks – all the things western nations make out of wheat flour or soy. If that works, it could contribute to a cycle of progress: healthier people would have more energy to go into business with Moringa, setting up Moringa farms and all kinds of other enterprises – maybe even exporting this miracle plant’s benefits to the west.

Look at Table 1 for all the places this tree naturally grows. It’s all over the place, waiting to be used for good.

Moringa oleifera and MS are fast growing multipurpose woody plants which grow in diverse ecosystems, from very dry marginal lowland tropical climates to moist high altitude regions. They shed their leaves during long dry seasons. Their tuberous roots enable them to store water and withstand very long dry seasons. The MO tree can grow up to 5–15 m in height, with a diameter at breast height up to 25 cm. A mature MS tree is usually larger in overall size and more drought tolerant than MO, with larger leaves, seeds and trunk. However, MS is slower-growing compared to MO. In experiments conducted in the Sudan, MS flowered after 2.5 years as compared to 11 months for MO.

The authors confirm earlier reports of the many uses of this tree. Its versatility as a useful plant for people is truly astounding:

Amazing FactsThey are used for food, medicine, fodder, fencing, firewood, gum and as a coagulant to treat dirty water. The foliage, immature pods, seeds, and roots are used both as food and medicine. Young shoots are also cooked and eaten. Leaves are either cooked or consumed raw as vegetables. Moringa leaves are used in a similar way as a cabbage and spinach thereby nicknamed ‘cabbage tree’. As a food or forage source, Moringa spp. can supply a wide range of essential macro and micro nutrients.

This super-food and super-material grows right where it is needed: Africa, India and Pakistan, Mexico – even the Solomon Islands. Yet the authors call it an “underutilized crop”.

This is truly amazing. It’s as if God planted a tree of life for people growing in a cursed world. What are we waiting for? Let’s make use of the riches God has put on this earth to help the people who need it most.

This figure is available in the paper as a PowerPoint slide.

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  • mjazz says:

    This plant has been used medicinally for:
    Birth control.
    Stomach pain (gastritis).
    Stomach and intestinal ulcers.
    Heart problems.
    High blood pressure.
    Kidney stones.
    Swelling (inflammation).
    Thyroid disorders.
    As a nutritional supplement.
    Stimulating immunity.
    Increasing sex drive.

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