7 Things You Didn’t Know About…Moringa
The tall, thin moringa tree has been used for centuries as a cure-all in its native Indian and North Africa. With the renewed interest in holistic health and Ayurvedic medicine here in the west, moringa is finally crossing the shores, and recently landed on my health-foodie radar.
It’s a food that makes a strong first impression, given the significant effects it can have on the human body. While I was initially impressed by its nutrient profile (loaded with 90 nutrients including all nine essential amino acids, making it one of the few plant-based complete proteins), I was a little taken aback to discover its irreversible effects on female fertility!
The potency of moringa serves as a great reminder of how powerful our foods really are, and how important it is to do your research before jumping on any new health food bandwagon. No doubt this “miracle tree” can do great things for your body, but it’s essential to know all of the other impacts it can have.
Luckily, I’ve given you a head start on this one, with 7 facts I bet you didn’t know about moringa:
1. Moringa is a world traveler: While moringa is native to southern Asia and northern Africa, you can now find it growing all across the world. Commercial production of moringa has not only spread through the rest of Africa and Asia, new farms have also sprung up in Central America, South America, and even Hawaii. Because it doesn’t do well in colder weather, there isn’t currently any large-scale American production of moringa, though you may find farms growing it in southern states like Florida. You could luck out and find it at a farmers market, or you could actually try growing it yourself if you live in a warm climate, though the easiest route to get it is to simply purchase it in powdered form from a health store.
2. Moringa is a traditional cure-all: Moringa got its nickname, “miracle-tree,” from its varied characteristics and purposes including its ability to treat a wide variety of ailments. Science has proven than it does indeed posses a number of medicinal qualities, including being an antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, and antiinflammatory, which would explain why it grew to prominence as a cure-all.
Different parts of the tree, including the leaves, flowers, and seeds, have each been used to treat different ailments. Traditionally, its leaves were steeped in water to make tea as a treatment for diarrhea, fevers, or various infections. The flowers can also be used to make tea, and have been used to improve the quality and amount of a mother’s breast milk. The leaves or crushed seeds were made into poultices to treat wounds, as they have antibacterial and antifungal properties. Due to its high nutritional content, moringa is also an important food source in some parts of the world, particularly in India and Africa, where it is used in feeding programs to fight malnutrition. The pods, which are called drumsticks, are prepared similar to green beans, and the seeds are cooked like peas or roasted like nuts. The leaves are sometimes cooked like spinach, or the powdered leaves used as a condiment.
3. Moringa is a natural birth control: Moringa, like many other Indian herbs, has been found to be an effective antifertility treatment in both in vitro and animal studies. Therefore, women in their childbearing years should avoid it completely. The plant chemicals in moringa root, (which are more potent than the leaves) have been found to cause a fertilized egg not to be able to attach to the lining of the uterine wall, preventing pregnancy, as detailed in this study. It is unclear whether moringa leaves will have the same affect (simply because there are no studies that disprove this), so it’s best to be precautionary. Once pregnant, there is indeed evidence that ingesting the less potent moringa leaves will cause a miscarriage 100% of the time. Traditional literature indicates that moringa was used as a permanent form of birth control, and even today, in certain parts of India, like West Bengal, it is taken by prostitutes to avoid unwanted pregnancies. So ladies, step away from the moringa until you’re sure you don’t want kids. Women who are not looking to get pregnant and men shouldn’t be adversely affected from moringa leaves. Moringa root should be avoided by all, as it not only prevents pregnancy, but also contains toxins that can be lethal.
4. Moringa empowers female farmers: Despite not being a particularly female-friendly herb (see point 3 above), moringa is grown largely by women. The moringa tree is now widely cultivated across Africa through women’s agricultural cooperatives. The ease of cultivation, hardiness, and diverse uses of moringa have made it an excellent business opportunity for the women in these cooperatives. Through their farm work, women are able to generate income, fight back against poverty and malnutrition, and gain bargaining power within their communities.
5. Moringa can purify water: Thanks to its antimicrobial and coagulant properties, moringa seeds are used to purify water cheaply and effectively. They work to kill bacteria while also forcing any large particles (like clay or silt) to be pushed to the bottom of the container so they can be filtered out. Because the seeds are abundant in many countries, and clean water scarce, this helps solve a real dilemma, and contributes to its “miracle tree” nickname.
6. Moringa can survive in the craziest places: Although deep frosts can knock out a moringa tree, it can survive in many other harsh conditions that would destroy most plants. Moringa can endure and thrive in dry and drought prone areas, bad soil, and the banks of the salty sea.
7. Moringa may help fight cancer: The entire moringa tree, including its seeds, leaves, bark, and roots contain compounds, like niaziminin, which have been shown to inhibit cancer cell growth. Animal studies utilizing an aqueous extract specifically from the root of the moringa plant have demonstrated its ability to inhibit the growth of ovarian cancer. While more research needs to be done, the sheer number of nutrients and antioxidants in moringa make it a promising anti-cancer candidate.
Have you ever tried moringa? Tell us about it in the comments below!