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Moringa oleifera
Moringa flower 5.jpg
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Magnoliopsida
Order: Brassicales
Family: Moringaceae
Genus: Moringa
Species: M. oleifera
Binomial name
Moringa oleifera

Moringa oleifera, commonly referred to simply as Malunggay, is the most widely cultivated variety of the genus Moringa. It is of the family Moringaceae. It is an exceptionally nutritious vegetable tree with a variety of potential uses. The tree itself is rather slender with drooping branches that grows to approximately 10 m in height; however, it normally is cut back annually to one meter or less, and allowed to regrow, so that pods and leaves remain within arms reach.

The Malunggay tree grows mainly in semi-arid tropical and subtropical areas. While it grows best in dry sandy soil, it tolerates poor soil, including coastal areas. It is a fast-growing, drought-resistant tree that apparently is native only to the southern foothills of the Himalayas. Today it is widely cultivated in Africa, Central and South America, Sri Lanka, India, Mexico, Malaysia and the Philippines. Considered one of the world’s most useful trees, as almost every part of the Malunggay tree can be used for food, or has some other beneficial property. In the tropics it is used as foliage for livestock. The tree has its origin from the South Indian State of Tamilnadu.

The immature green pods, called “drumsticks” are probably the most valued and widely used part of the tree. They are commonly consumed in India, and are generally prepared in a similar fashion to green beans and have a slight asparagus taste. The seeds are sometimes removed from more mature pods and eaten like peas or roasted like nuts. The flowers are edible when cooked, and are said to taste like mushrooms. The roots are shredded and used as a condiment in the same way as horseradish, however it contains the alkaloid spirochin, a potentially fatal nerve paralyzing agent, so such practices should be strongly discouraged.

The leaves are highly nutritious, being a significant source of beta-carotene, Vitamin C, protein, iron and potassium. The leaves are cooked and used like spinach. In addition to being used fresh as a substitute for spinach, its leaves are commonly dried and crushed into a powder, and used in soups and sauces. Murungakai Tamil Tamil as its locally known in Tamil Nadu is used in Siddha medicine. Its leaves are full of medicinal properties. The tree is a good source for calcium and phosphorus. In Siddha medicine, the drumstick seeds are used as a sexual virility drug for treating erectile dysfunction in men and also in women for increasing the sexual activity and prolonging the sexual activity.

The Moringa seeds yield 38–40% edible oil (called ben oil, from the high concentration of behenic acid contained in the oil) that can be used in cooking, cosmetics, and lubrication. The refined oil is clear, odorless, and resists rancidity at least as well as any other botanical oil. The seed cake remaining after oil extraction may be used as a fertilizer or as a flocculant to purify water.

The bark, sap, roots, leaves, seeds, oil and flowers are used in traditional medicine in several countries. In Jamaica, the sap is used for a blue dye.

The flowers are also cooked and relished as a delicacy in West Bengal and Bangladesh, especially during early spring. There it is called sojne ful and is usually cooked with green peas and potato.



Interest is growing in the use of moringa in addressing malnutrition in developing areas of the world. Also Because of its high vitamin and mineral content, in Africa it has become popular as a locally produced nutritional supplement for individuals infected with the HIV/AIDS virus. It can be grown cheaply and easily, so several governments in Africa have promoted Moringa oleifera as locally produced food beneficial to HIV-positive individuals.

Moringa leaves in a market in Baguio, Philippines

It has been used successfully to combat malnutrition among infants and women of childbearing age. In Africa, nursing mothers have been shown to produce far more milk when Moringa leaves have been added to their diet, while severely malnourished children have made significant weight gains when the leaves have been added to their diets. It is commonly added to porridge increase its nutritional content.

One doctor in Senegal (West Africa) explained: "We have always had problems with the classical approach to treating malnourished children. This was based on industrial products: whole milk powder, vegetable oil and sugar. All these things are expensive. When you tell a parent to go out and buy these things—this can be truly costly for him. On the other hand, with Moringa the resource is locally available. The people themselves can produce it. We have done experiments in treating malnourished children with this plant and the results have been really spectacular.”


In India, the plant is propagated by planting limb cuttings 1–2 m long, from June to August, preferably. The plant starts bearing pods 6–8 months after planting but regular bearing commenced after the second year. The tree bears for several years. It does not tolerate freezes or frost. It can also be propagated by seed. As with all plants, optimum cultivation depends on producing the right environment for the plant to thrive. Moringa is a sun and heat loving plant. As a seedling, however, you must monitor the environment in the beginning until the tree is established. Seeds can be germinated year round.


Moringa needs well draining soil. Increase the drainage of your soil by adding perlite or other porous substance.

Planting seeds

Plant an inch from the surface of the soil, cover and tamp gently.

Planting seedlings

Dig a hole twice the depth of the pot. Be careful not to disturb the root when transplanting. Cut the bottom of the pot out and slit one side. Place the pot and seedling into the hole and back fill with soil, tamp gently. Water frequently. Do not let the soil dry out.

Moringa creates a taproot. Sometimes the top plant may die out due to heat, dry soil, or a change in the environment. This does not necessarily mean the plant has died. Check the taproot to see if it is still firm. If it is, keep the seedling damp with filtered sun. Moringa is a very hardy plant and can revive itself given time and good conditions. If the taproot is soft, it is dead. Moringa will die from root rot, which is from poor draining soil.

Frost may cause the tree to drop leaves and even die down to the ground. Keep damp. It will revive in the spring. Freezing temperatures or continuous days of frost can kill Moringa. If you live in a cold climate you must keep the plant warm.

In the Philippines, moringa is commonly grown for its leaves, which are used in soup. <ref>Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Country Pasture/Forage Resource Profiles: Philippines</ref> The leaves (called dahon ng malunggay in Tagalog or dahon sa kamunggay in Cebuano) are commonly sold in local markets. Moringa is also actively cultivated by the AVRDC in Taiwan. The AVRDC is "the principal international center for vegetable research and development in the world. Its mission is to reduce poverty and malnutrition in developing countries through improved production and consumption of vegetables."

Culinary uses

File:Oleifera Fruits.jpg
Seeds and fruit of the M. oleifera, ready for cooking

The fruit of the tree is quite popular as a vegetable in Asia and Africa. The fruit is a long, thin pod, resembling a drum stick. The fruit itself is called drumstick in India and elsewhere. Moringa leaves are also eaten as a leaf vegetable, particularly in the Philippines and Africa.


In the Philippines, malunggay leaves are widely used as culinary ingerdient. Bunches of leaves are available in many markets, priced below many other vegetable leaves . The leaves are most often added to a broth to make a simple and highly nutritious soup. The leaves are also sometimes used as a characteristic ingredient in tinola—a traditional dish, made of chicken, moringa leaves, young papaya, and other secondary vegetables.

Other uses

The tree's bark, roots, fruit, flowers, leaves, seeds and gum are also used medicinally in India. Uses include as an antiseptic and in treating rheumatism, venomous bites and other conditions. The moringa seeds pod is used to cleanse water such as in the salton sea. This experiment was done by a 7th grade student in Palm Desert, California. Their science project experiment cleaned all the water.

Popular myths

There are several popular myths associated with the tree and the fruit in southern India.

  • The fruit is said to increase sexual libido in men. This belief is so common in the state of Tamil Nadu that there have been passive references to this in its legislative assembly.
  • The tree is said to host ghosts during the night. This combined with the fact that the tree attracts a host of insects make it unattractive for people to grow it in their backyards.



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