From Weed to Wonder Plant: Why Moringa is the New Kale
Immunity booster. Water decontaminant. Antioxidant. Metabolism stimulant. Anti-inflammatory. Superfood. Aphrodisiac. From root to leaf, every bit of the moringa oleifera plant, also known as “the miracle tree”, “the drumstick tree” and “the tree of life”, has a touted beneficial purpose.
Native to parts of Africa and the Himalayas, moringa flourishes in tropical and subtropical areas and has been used in traditional medicines for centuries. I was recently introduced to moringa on a trip to Miami, where it grows like a weed.
“The plant is a great source of nutrition because it contains high levels of vitamin C, vitamin A, calcium, iron, protein and monounsaturated fat (oleic acid),” explains Dr. Robin Berzin, founder of the integrative medical practice Parsley Health, a cutting-edge holistic medicine center in New York. Jed Fehey, a nutritional biochemist at Johns Hopkins, touts moringa in strategies for disease prevention. According to Fehey, who has published peer-reviewed research on the plant following a decades-worth of work, moringa shows promising applications as a therapeutic herb with prophylactic properties.
Among the most exciting finds within Fehey’s body of work involves the potential application of moringa in the fight against global hunger. Moringa is an outstanding indigenous source of highly digestible protein, Ca, Fe, Vitamin C, and carotenoids, all of which are “suitable for utilization in many of the so-called ‘developing’ regions of the world, where undernourishment is a major concern”.
Moringa has also become popular in certain corners of North America, where it is grown and eaten as a super food. On Mexico’s Mayan Riviera, fresh moringa leaves are used to top a “Super Greens” salad at Sanara Tulum’s wellness-focused eatery. “It’s important to use local ingredients, and moringa is easily accessible in this part of the world,” says in-house nutritionist Rhiannon Baker.
Not to worry if your climate is cooler. Moringa leaves retain much of their vitamins and minerals when dried, and an increasing number of health-focused companies and juice bars distribute moringa in powder form. Lisa Curtis, a Peace Corps vet who discovered the plant’s use for malnutrition while in Niger, uses it in her Kuli Kuli fruit and nut bars.
Dr. Berzin also suggests brewing a strong tea of moringa leaves for us as an anti-inflammatory toner. Oil from pressed moringa seeds, meanwhile, can be used as anti-microbial serum for disinfecting or for treating infection– a useful plant-based alternative to antibiotics.
Given the plant’s nutritional and health benefits as well as the simplicity and ease of its growth cycle, moringa looks to be part of the next wave of superfood plantings that are newly coming into vogue in the home gardening world– so slice, dice, brew, stew, crunch, munch, and get your moringa on. Like many of us, the tree loves the sun and does not tolerate freezing temperatures.