Moringa – Find out all the Properties from the Tree of Life

Moringa – Find out all the Properties from the Tree of Life

Moringa is the only genus including in the botanical family Moringaceae. Said genus is made up by thirteen species, among which the most well-known is Moringa oleifera. It is a deciduous tree native to the Hindustan peninsula that grows very quickly. Nowadays, these trees mainly grow in subtropical countries from Asia and Africa.

What is Moringa?

We could openly say that moringa is something like the “pig from the plant kingdom”. By this we mean that we use it in its entirety, that is, leaves, sheath, oil, flowers, roots, branches and bark. The different parts have many uses both in the food industry as well as to make medicines. So, it keeps us nourished and allow us to make natural treatments for more than three hundred diseases. All of this is due to its outstanding nutritional and therapeutic qualities that we will explain in more detail.

Moringa is the base of the diet of people who live in very precarious situations. This is mainly thanks to its ability to grow in soils with very different physical and chemical features. Moreover, this plant is resistant to long drought cycles.

For all these things, it is not surprise that it is universally known as “the tree of life”. Some of its common names are drumstick tree, horseradish tree or ben oil tree, among many others. As we are going to see, it is extremely important to treat common pathologies such as diabetes and cancer.

On the one hand, its potential has led to many studies and clinical trials designed to extract as much information from this plant. On the other hand, this has also increased its cultivation and the development of supplements and extracts with its active ingredients. Above all, this will help us take advantage from its multiple properties and benefits.

Moringa, a diverse botanical genus

How many varieties of moringa are there in the world? The biological evolution of this genus is connected to its ability to adapt to many different territories. This resulted in a dozen of species that we are going to describe now. They all have things in common that compete against their singularities.

Moringa arborea

It is a very specific variety that grows between Kenya an Ethiopia. This plant grows better in desert-like and rocky soils. Its flowers are pale pink or wine red and its barely has leaves. People mainly use it as an ornament and for medicinal purposes.

Moringa leaves

Moringna borziana

Another species native to Africa, mainly from Kenya and Somalia. Visually, it is different because their flowers are greenish yellow with little brown spots. Moreover, it has a penetrating and intense scent and a sweet taste. Its ideal soil is humid and with a good drainage, since it these are areas with long hours of sunlight.

Moringa concanensis

It is the most similar to the star species, Moringa oleifera, in terms of its morphology and leaves. This variety grows in the dry forest of southeast Pakistan. In fact, it has been recently found by experts in the jungles of Bangladesh or Eastern Pakistan. Its anfractuous bark tends to measure around 15cm. A very peculiar feature is the presence of green spots on the petals from its flowers.

Moringa drouhardii

Endemic variety from the Madagascar island, where it grows in alkaline rock and surrounded with plenty of thorny vegetation. Like all the moringaceae, it has many medicinal and nutritional properties, but the people from this land use it as ornament.

Moringa hildebrandtii

This species is extinct in the wild. However, we preserve an important genetic patrimony, since people cultivate it with ornamental purposes. Its aspect is similar to that of the emblematic baobab from the African savanna.

Moringa longituba

Said species can grow up to 3 meters in height, which is why it is regarded as a shrub. This variety cannot stand waterlogging, which is why it grows better in soils with good drainage and with plenty of sun. A peculiar feature from this plant is its bright red flowers. A peculiar feature is the fact that is quite used in animal medicine in order to treat digestive problems from cattle.

Moringa ovalifolia

It is the most well-known Moringa species after M. oleifera. This variety is native to Namibia, where it is used as ornament and food. It has a peculiar bottle-shape, with a wide trunk in the central and lower parts and narrow at the top. Moringa ovalifolia tends to grow 7 meters in height. In fact, people from Namibia call it “ghost tree” because its shadow resembles a human figure. Actually, this plant is legally protected by the Namibian government.

Moringa peregrina

Native to the Red Sea and the Horn of Africa, it grows in all the countries from this area. Its main element are its seeds, which provide an edible oil with a similar fatty acid profile to olive oil. The flavor is quite pleasant and it is also used as lotion for skin treatment. As well as a medicinal supplement in order to treat digestive disorders.

Moringa rivae

We can find this variety in Kenya and Southeast Ethiopia. Its main uses are against muscle and joint problems, but it is specially interesting due to two factors. On the one hand, we can extract a polysaccharide from its bark that is extremely effective to treat arthritis. On the other hand, it could potentially have antibacterial properties from its methanol content.

Moringa ruspoliana

Like other varieties, it is native to the Horn of Africa. It is one of the smallest varieties, since it can grow up to 6 meters in height. However, it has the most voluminous flowers. Unlike the rest, it is a very bushy plant that grows better in more humid climates.

Moringa stenopetala

This species only grows in the Baringo lake Island, in Kenya, and around the Turkana lake, between Ethiopia and Kenya. It stands out because it is much more resistant to drought than oleifera. This feature is best seen in the shape of its trunk, designed to store water.

Features of the cultivation of Moringa

This plant grows better in light soils, with good drainage and sandy texture. They are not demanding in terms of organic matter, even though it requires a lot of direct sunlight. Nevertheless, it is advisable to add a layer of 2cm thick of compost or worm humus. Moreover, the experts suggest using a proportion of one part of sand for three of dirt.

Moringa leaves and powder in a bowl

We need to make sure that it is not excessively exposed to wind since it is quite susceptible to this phenomenon. This is specially important at the beginning, when it starts growing and it is still fragile. Therefore, find a place where the wind does not blow.

Cutting, seeds and other ways

You can either use a cutting or seeds. If you choose the cutting, you need to take one from an adult tree and it needs to grow roots before planting it. On the contrary, if you use seeds, leave 30 or 40cm between each other and bury them two centimeters deep.

If you plan to plant it in a pot, it needs to have at least 40 liters capacity and at least 30cm depth. After planting it, it is important to ensure that the soil is humid for 7 – 10 days.

These tree can grow spectacularly with good conditions. At the end of the first year it could grow up to 5 meters in height. When it matures, it can easily grow more than 10 meters. If we want to keep a certain height, you can cut it once a year in order to limit its growth. Moreover, you can also take this chance to remove old branches and stimulate the growth of new sprouts.

This plant also blooms quite early, around 8 months after planting it. Said phenomenon can occur twice a year depending on the climate. Its sheath-shaped fruits have a maturation process of 3 months after which they are harvested.

Moringa, a treasure from nature

More than 90 nutrients, 46 antioxidant substances, 36 anti-inflammatory agents and 19 amino acids (6 out of the essential 9). This seems enough to say that we are dealing with one of the main natural sources of health. After all, it deserves to be called “tree of life”. In fact, plenty of people have classified moringa as an important food for health due to its incredible properties.

Its many beneficial effects on the body are associated with its endless biologically active compounds. For instance, vitamins, minerals, polyphenols, flavonoids, isothiocyanates, tannins, saponins, etc.

Antioxidant content

Perhaps, one of its most important features is its remarkable antioxidant potential. We can measure it thanks to the ORAC score (oxygen radical absorbance capacity). According to this, its value is around 50000 units per 100g. What does this mean? Well, it means that it is one of the plants with the highest ORAC score that have been studied. Let’s not forget that the role of antioxidants in the organism is crucial. Above all, the prevent the deterioration of the cell membranes caused by the free radicals, which can cause chronic and degenerative diseases.

Within its antioxidants, we want to highlight the presence of quercetin: this substance belongs to the flavonoids and it helps to lower a high blood pressure. Moreover, it also regulates the chlorogenic acid, stabilizing the blood glucose levels after eating.

In addition, moringa also has a antibacterial effect, mainly present in its seed powder. Consequently, it becomes an interesting treatment against bacterial infections. This is specially useful for poorer communities which have more nutritional problems as well as a higher risk of infection.

Amino acid and protein content

Moringa is also a quality vegetable source of amino acids and protein (it has a 27% of proteins, like an egg and twice as milk). Therefore, it will be specially useful for vegetarians and vegans. Apart from improving the skin, cartilaginous tissues and the endogenous formation of, the protein that supports these tissues.

The moringa plant also has a good mineral content, including iron, potassium (three times more than bananas), magnesium and calcium (four times more than milk); the last two work in synergy to regulate the blood pressure, strengthen the bones and control the bone mineralization process.

Ground moringa leaves in a wooden bowl and capsules

Vitamin content

In terms of vitamins, its vitamin A content is four times higher than carrot; that of vitamin C is seven times higher than oranges); and it also has, although it lower amounts, B group (including folic acid) and tocopherols (vitamin E).

Its ground dry leaves are very beneficial for the skin due to their ability to rejuvenate the epidermis. That is why many cosmetics companies use them in their formulas designed to slow down the onset of wrinkles and expression lines. On the contrary, you can use the fresh leaves to relieve the feeling of itchiness or irritation.

The seeds have important industrial uses. For example, they are one of the best natural flocculant substances to purify water. This is due to the presence of a polyelectrolyte that captures suspended solids to sink them to the bottom. To do this, we need to extract the ripe seeds from the grind and ground them. Then, use some cloth to prevent them from spreading in the water. Apart from this use, we can use them to clarify thick substances like honey or sugar cane juice.

Fifteen medicinal uses of Moringa oleifera tested in clinical trials

Moringa is a plant with an immense medicinal potential. In Africa, Asia and Oceania, the flowers, leaves, seeds and roots are used for countless ancient therapies. For instance, it is useful against diabetes, blood hypertension and tumors, among other pathologies. Its bitter roots have toning, expectorant, diuretic and stimulating properties for some nervous system disorders, including paralysis.

Now, let’s have a look at the different fields where it produces its beneficial effects.

The antioxidant power of moringa leaf extract

These leaves are rich in antioxidants from different families and with different effects. For example, it has carotenoids, flavonoids and phenols. All of them are more than capable of inhibiting the synthesis of free radicals that produce irreparable damage to the cell membranes and DNA.

Brown eyes looking up

Moringa and diabetes

The moringa leaves also have a clear anti-hyperglycemic effect. In others words, it lowers the blood glucose levels. A study conducted on patients who suffered type II diabetes who took moringa leaf powder showed how it could lower the glycemia.

Moreover, one of the most common problems of diabetes, cataracts, can be avoided by taking moringa.

Moringa and cholesterol

The ground leaves and their extract have an anti-dyslipidemic effect. In others words, they can lower the blood lipid levels, apart from the LDL cholesterol. Moreover, they are capable of lowering the triglyceride deposits as well as the bilirubin in the liver.

It shortens wound healing processes and protects the tissues

Another therapeutic virtue been proven in clinical trials is the fact that it can protect the tissues from vital organs. For instance, the liver, heart, kidneys and lungs. Moreover, it has a renowned hepatoprotective effect apart from being able to heal injuries by improving the wound healing process.

Analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties

These combined properties are particularly helpful for arthritis. In fact, its anti-inflammatory effect is quite helpful when it comes to treating diseases that cause inflammation, such as hepatitis, dermatitis, etc.

There are several experimental studies that reveal how the leaves, sheath and seeds from this vegetable have powerful anti-inflammatory effects. This is mainly due to its isothiocyanate content.

To treat stomach ulcers and acidity

It is an excellent natural remedy in order to prevent stomach ulcers. In fact, it is quite useful for those who suffer gastroduodenal ulcer caused by aggressive medicines like aspirin. On the one hand, it helps to improve its evolution while buffering the stomach acidity.

Moringa and hypertension

Its hypotensive effect should be taken into account by those who suffer blood hypertension. Otherwise, it could result in serious disorders such as renal insufficiency, arrhythmia, coronary disease and myocardial infarct, among others.

Moringa and cancer

It has been scientifically proven that moringa extract can inhibit the proliferation of tumor cells, particularly in the lungs.

It enhances the immune system

There are some laboratory studies conducted on animals that mention an interesting immunostimulating effect by moringa.

Moringa and the central nervous system

The protective effect of moringa on the neurons is still being studied. Up until now, the studies show that it can stimulate the cognition, that is, the learning and memory. Moreover, it can prevent degenerative disorders like dementia. In fact, it seems that it can reduce the failure of the neuronal function in cases of ischemia (lack of blood flow).

Cardioprotective effect

Moringa supports the functioning of the heart by stimulating the blood flow thanks to its anticoagulant effect. Thus, it could be interesting when it comes to preventing cardiovascular diseases. Not in vain, it is the main mortality factor in developed countries.

A solution against hunger and malnutrition

When we talk about moringa, we cannot avoid mentioning the serious problem of malnutrition in underdeveloped countries. A rational use of moringa could help to prevent malnutrition and many diseases caused by nutrient deficiencies in third world countries.

A long-term strategy could consists of encouraging its cultivation in order to lower its cost. Therefore, most of the population would be able to afford it or it could be subsidized by the authorities. In fact, the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) and World Agroforestry, as well as other organizations, have reached an agreement in terms of increasing the resources for this issue. Their aim is to advance on the research, cultivation, development and distribution of Moringa oleifera seeds.

However, there are some underdeveloped countries like Haiti, Senegal or Mali where moringa is already a basic ingredient. In fact, its cultivation is increasingly expanding.

Its properties as a lactation enhancer

During this period, the mother runs the risk of suffering nutrient deficiencies. This is due to the fact that most of the nutrients go to her mammary glands.

Currently, the ability of moringa to stimulate the production of milk has been deeply studied. In fact, some studies state that taking 250mg of leaf daily for 5 days can increase its production in a 150 – 175%. In this case, the mother would be taking the following nutrients that then would be used by the baby:

  • Protein: 21 %
  • Calcium: 84 %
  • Magnesium: 54 %
  • Potassium: 22 %
  • Iron: 94 %
  • Vitamin A: 143 %

An excellent resource to lose weight

This product is at the top of vegetable foods because it also provides the nine essential amino acids for the body. Moreover, its biological value increases by including eighteen out of the twenty amino acids that we need to synthesise proteins endogenously. Together with its low energy content (specially due to its low fat content), , it is a first-choice product when it comes to planning weight loss diets.

Consequently, taking moringa to lose weight is a great idea, specially if we follow strict diets. Let’s not forget that many of these diets can compromise the availability of some indispensable nutrients. Therefore, moringa is a great product that meets many of these requirements without interfering with our objectives.

Rule in centimeters

How does it work?

Basically, moringa stimulates the metabolism, which shortens the nutrient absorption cycle. Moreover, the generated energy requires burning more fats, contributing to a gradual weight loss.

To top it all, this food also has a collateral effect, since it improves the mood and gets rid of food anxiety.

All in all, combining the intake of moringa, a healthy diet and physical exercise will help us lose weight in a short period of time. We want to emphasize that moringa or a supplement alone cannot help us lose weight magically. In fact, we will not benefit from its properties if we do not eat healthily and do not work out regularly.

Here you have some recipes to make moringa smoothies in order to support your weight loss process:

  • Pineapple and moringa smoothie: take a cup of sliced pineapple, another cup of water and half a tablespoon of moringa powder. Blend all the ingredients together until they are well combined.
  • Ginger and moringa lemonade: pour the juice from two lemons in a liter of water and add a tablespoon of ginger and another of moringa powder.
  • Oat, apple and moringa smoothie: you just have to blend a cup of water, an apple, a tablespoon of oats and half a tablespoon of moringa powder.
  • Spirulina and moringa juice: blend 4 grams of moringa leaves with a spirulina capsule 300mg, one lemon juice and half a liter of water. Drink this juice on a daily basis.

Side effects and contraindications

First of all, we need to highlight that taking certain amounts of moringa needs medical supervision. Because despite of its benefits, this product or supplement can be contraindicated in some cases.

Above all, the most frequent side effects of taking moringa are nausea, vomits and diarrhea. The latter is generally due to a fiber excess (specially if it is taken on an empty stomach). All these effects disappear after suppressing its intake. What is important is avoid taking the root and its extracts since it contains toxic substances with dangerous consequences.

Moreover, some people can experience allergies without knowing that they were actually allergic to this product. That is why it is advisable to start taking small doses in order to test our tolerance to the product.

As usual, pregnant women should consult a physician before taking this product or supplements.

On the other hand, those who have blood coagulation problems need to consult a specialist before taking moringa since it is a natural anticoagulant.

There are more rare cases that have reported that it can cause polycythemia (red cell increase) as well as microbial proliferation in the digestive tube.

Intake and possible combinations

This product is available in several formats, you can choose the one that you like the most. Although these are the most common ones:

  • Powder: obtained from the dried leaf, in an amount of about one teaspoon a day (5 grams), which can be mixed into juices, broths, coffees, yoghurts or smoothies, for example, and can be added to them without any problem.
  • Capsules: ideal when there is not enough time to prepare it in other ways, and it is recommended to consume around 500-1000 mg of Moringa Leaf Extract per day (they can be taken once or twice before any meal).

Above all, the main parts that are used for its consumption are the leaves and seeds. The latter, ripe and dry, are ground to make some kind of curry. When it comes to the leaves, they are dried and ground to make food supplements. You can add it to infusions, soups, puree or stews or eat it in cold dishes like salads. But we need to take into account that it will lose many phytonutrients over 47ºC, including its vitamins. That is why we need to be extremely careful when it comes to cooking them.

From all the possibilities, the most extended format is probably the infusion. To make it, you can buy moringa leaves in a herbalist’s shop, although the best thing would be using fresh leaves (which is quite complicated). You just need to boil the dry leaves for a few minutes like any other infusion.

Those who want to can take food supplements that are available in specialized stores. Clearly, it is the most comfortable format, although sometimes it also includes many chemical ingredients.

On the other hand, the seed oil is an excellent way of taking care of the skin and hair.

How to include moringa in the diet

Those who plan to include moringa in their diet should take these following tips into account:

  • You need to be careful with the powder because it is strong and it can cause side effects. Start taking half a teaspoon the first 3-5 days. Then, you can start taking it with breakfast, never without some food.
  • After this period, you can increase the dose to a teaspoon a day.
  • If you suffer a chronic disease you can take two teaspoons a day, unless the disease involves some kind of stomach disorder.

Moringa and ginger

This combination is made up of both ingredients in a 2:1 ratio. You can also add maca powder and orange juice, all of it diluted in water. All these ingredients have excellent properties for the body. As we mentioned previously, moringa is a detox, diuretic and cleansing product that also satiates the appetite and stimulates the metabolism. To this, we have to add the energizing effect of maca; the stimulating effect of ginger on the blood flow and the metabolism; and finally, the plus of vitamin C from the orange juice. Take it in the morning to start the day off right!

Ginger root and powder in a crystal bowl

This combination has renowned effects against amenorrhea or a lack of menstruation.

Moringa and ginseng

Taking 3 capsules of moringa with ginseng a day is a renowned remedy against immune system diseases. Actually, it is advisable to remove fats and refined sugars from the diet in order to obtain an effective blend.

Without any doubt, the regular intake of this functional food will provide essential nutrients to our diet. Therefore, it will contribute to our health thanks to its bioactive properties.

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About Alberto Ricón
Alberto Ricón
Alberto Ricón is a specialist in nutrition and food hygiene with large experience in the sector as well as being a Food Health Technician.
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