Moringa is native to Northern India, but is now cultivated across many geographical areas from arid environments to tropical parts of Africa and the Caribbean. The moringa tree grows quickly and is relatively slender with drooping branches and has pale green, feathery, compound leaves. The flowers are creamy-white to yellow and bears long triangular pods which can be from 30-100cms in length. The fruits of the moringa tree have winged seeds, which is rich in oil.
Moringa was first introduced into Jamaica in 1784 and was grown for the seed oil which was used as a lubricant for fine machinery such as watches (see below).
Moringa had a long history of medicinal, therapeutic and cosmetic use in India, Egypt and the Far East. The bark and roots were used to treat rheumatism, venomous bites and as an antiseptic. The leaves and roots were used as an expectorant, for strengthening the lungs and also to restore sexual function.
Young moringa leaves were used internally to relieve asthma and painful joints and externally for boils, ulcers, glandular swellings and for skin problems.
In Jamaica the seeds were chewed to relieve stomach problems such as constipation and the leaves were said to be effective for treating stomach ulcers.
Modern Research & Uses
For more than fifty years, there have been a number of studies on the effectiveness of moringa on various health conditions. Most of these studies have looked at traditional uses of moringa for stomach ulcers, tumours and for its antibiotic and antifungal properties.
The evidence seems to support many of the traditional uses of moringa for medicinal purposes. The antibiotic properties of moringa have been confirmed in a number of studies which have shown that the moringa protein is effective against resistant bacteria such as staphylococcus, streptococcus and legionella.
There is specific evidence that plant chemicals in moringa could be particularly effective against the H.Pylori bacteria which is responsible for most cases of stomach ulcers and is designated as a carcinogen by The WHO.
Benzyl isothiocyanate, niazimicin, pterygospermin, Beta-Sitosterol, Tryptophane, Phenylalanine, moringine, moringinine, lysine.
Oil contains palmitic, stearic, behenic and oleic acids
In the early 19th Century, there were calls to Jamaica's parliament for the expansion of moringa farms. The oil was said to be good enough to use for salad dressing but more importantly for lighting purposes as it was odourless and burnt with little or no smoke. The oil from the moringa seeds rarely gets rancid and due to its medicinal and therapeutic properties, the oil is widely used in cosmetics and skincare products.
The main use for moringa however is as a highly nutritious foodstuff. The leaves, the young pods (fruits) and the seeds are all edible and are rich in protein, vitamins A &C, iron, potassium, phosphorous and calcium. The leaves can be dried, crushed or powdered and added to recipes to improve the nutritional value of meals. Moringa also provides nutritious fodder for cattle.
The timber from the moringa tree is used in the manufacture of rayon and cellophane. The residue from the oil extraction process can be used as a low cost water purification medium.