A Guide to Moringa oleifera: Miracle Superfood or Scam?
Imagine one plant that could meet the majority of your needs—one with numerous potential health, medicinal, and nutritional benefits, and seeds that are even capable of purifying water (Ghebremichael, Gunaratna, Henriksson, Brumer, & Dalhammar 2005). Does this sound too good to be true?
Since I am growing three of them in my yard, I can attest to the fact that this special tree does exist!
An Introduction to the Superfood Moringa oleifera
In this introduction to Moringa oleifera, we will cover:
- The Health and Nutritional Benefits of Moringa o.
- Skin, Beauty, and Hair Care
- Benefits of Different Parts of the Moringa Tree
- Moringa o. Recipes
- My Personal Experience With Moringa oleifera
The leaves, fruit, and seeds may be safely eaten as food, however, it's important to avoid consuming the root and its extracts. These parts of the plant may contain a toxic substance that can cause paralysis or death.
1. Health and Nutritional Benefits of the Plant
This super plant has tons of vitamins and nutrients. It is thought to have the following properties:
- Lowers high blood pressure (Aekthammarat, Pannangpetch, & Tangsucharit 2019)
- Builds up the body's immune system (Anudeep, Prasanna, Adya, Radha, 2016)
- Regulates hormones (Tahiliani & Kar, 2000)
- Increases "good" cholesterol (Farooq, Meenu, Tiwari, Khan, & Farooq, 2012)
- Reduces allergic reactions (Farooq et al. 2012)
- Boosts antioxidant levels (Farooq et al. 2012)
- Relieves inflammation (Farooq et al. 2012)
According to ancient Ayurvedic medicine, the leaves of the plant can potentially prevent up to 300 different diseases.
Studies published by the National Institute of Health about Moringa o. oil, seeds, and leaves support its validity as a potential supplement for many ailments (Leone, A., Spada, Battezzati, Schiraldi, Bristol, & Bertoli, 2016; Vergara-Jimenez, Almatrafi, & Fernandez, 2017). Scientific research suggests that these humble leaves are in fact powerful nutrient sources.
Gram for gram, Moringa o. leaves contain:
- 25 times the iron in spinach
- 17 times the calcium in milk
- 4 times the protein in eggs
- 15 times the potassium in bananas
- 10 times the vitamin A in carrots
- 20 types of amino acids
- 46 antioxidants
- 36 anti-inflammatory compounds
- Vitamins A, B, B1, B2, B3, B6, C, and E
- Macrominerals, trace minerals, and phytonutrients (Farooq et al. 2012)
There are a number of different species of Moringa trees, but the one I grow and the one we'll focus on here is Moringa oleifera.
The nutritional benefits of Moringa yield a number of positive effects on the body for different individuals.
- Stamina: This tree is a complete package of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytonutrients. As a result, this supplement is great for boosting energy and stamina as well as increasing concentration. Students and athletes could use it to improve concentration and endurance (Leone et al. 2016).
- Antioxidants: The powder from ground leaves is rich in catechin polyphenols, particularly epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), which is a powerful antioxidant for inhibiting the growth of cancerous cells (Dehshahri, Wink, Afsharypuor, Asghari, & Mohagheghzadeh, 2012).
- Good Cholesterol: Moringa o. is effective for lowering LDL cholesterol levels and inhibiting the abnormal formation of blood clots (Farooq et al. 2012).
- Blood Pressure: The leaf powder is known to lower blood pressure (Aekthammarat et al. 2019)
- Alleviates Depression: The leaf powder is thought to be effective in alleviating depression and anxiety (Kaur, Invally, Sanzagiri, & Buttar, 2015).
2. Skin, Hair Care, and Beauty Uses
Moringa o. can play an important role in skincare as well. Always do a patch test before applying any new product on your skin like ben oil or the paste of Moringa leaves.
- Clears Pores: Moringa o. powder can be used directly as a face mask or can be mixed with Fuller’s earth or sandalwood paste. Apply the mask to the face for smooth, glowing skin.
- Decreases Cellular Decay: Parts of the tree are antioxidant-rich, with high concentrations of vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, and bioflavonoids. Active oxygen radicals cause skin diseases by stealing electrons from normal, healthy molecules. These vitamins help to block the oxidation of healthy tissue by assisting with increasing oxygen in the bloodstream. This keeps cells healthier for longer (Dehshahri, Wink, Afsharypuor, Asghari, & Mohagheghzadeh 2012).
Having a healthy body is necessary for growing healthy hair. Health problems and/or nutritional deficiencies can hinder hair growth. Moringa o. contains calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium, selenium, copper, and manganese, all of which aid in overall health and, thus, healthy hair growth (Farooq et al. 2012).
Enables Keratin Formation
Certain vitamins, minerals, and amino acids contained in Moringa o. powder support the metabolic pathways involved in the formation of keratin protein, which is vital for healthy hair. Moringa contains the amino acid methionine which supplies sulfur to hair and prevents hair loss.
3. Benefits of Different Parts of the Moringa Tree
We've talked a lot about the broad benefits of incorporating Moringa into haircare, skincare, and dietary habits. Different parts of the tree offer different benefits. The roots and oil of the tree have many health as well as industrial purposes.
Moringa Seeds Are Used to Purify Water
The roots of this plant are not deemed safe for consumption; parts of the plant are considered toxic. Do not consume the roots without consulting a doctor or physician. Properly prepared Moringa roots are thought to have a number of medicinal uses, namely:
- Roots were used in ancient medicine to control circulatory system disorders.
- Roots are thought to aid in stimulating the appetite.
- Roots supposedly help to improve the function of the digestive tract.
- They are often used as a stimulant to help correct sexual dysfunction.
- Roots are thought to cleanse the female reproductive tract of problems.
- Roots may relieve arthritis symptoms with anti-inflammatory properties (Farooq et al. 2012).
The seeds of Moringa o. contain an oil called "ben oil". Ben oil is a clear, sweet, and odorless oil that has many conventional uses in day-to-day life. Ben oil is thought to be antioxidant-rich, have anti-inflammatory and antiseptic benefits, and alleviate symptoms from rashes, burns, minor cuts, and insect bites.
Ben oil is similar to olive oil in terms of its nutritional profile. It has an indefinite shelf life as it does not turn rancid like other oils. Ben oils are used in the manufacture of perfumes and aromatherapy oils.
4. Recipes That Use Moringa
The leaves and pods of the tree can be consumed in a number of ways. The following are two recipes I use to incorporate Moringa into my diet: Moringa tea and drumstick masala.
Moringa tea is an excellent way to ingest the nutrients available in the plant.
- Add 1 teaspoon of the dried Moringa o. leaves to a cup of hot water.
- Add 1 teaspoon of lemongrass.
- Add ginger powder to taste.
- Sweeten with raw honey or stevia to taste.
You can play around with the recipe until you find a blend that you love!
Drumstick Masala Recipe
The following recipe using Moringa pods for Drumstick Masala comes from Indian cuisine. Spices and salts should be adjusted to taste.
Grind to a smooth paste:
- 1 medium onion, roughly chopped
- 2 medium tomatoes, roughly chopped
- 1 tablespoon ginger, finely chopped
- 2 to 3 cloves of garlic, chopped
- 4 to 5 medium pods or drumsticks
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds or sabut jeera
- ¼ teaspoon turmeric powder or haldi
- ¼ teaspoon red chili powder
- ¼ teaspoon Punjabi garam masala or regular garam masala
- A pinch of asafoetida or hing
- 1 to 1.5 cups of water
- 2 tablespoon vegetable oil
- Salt to taste
- Coriander leaves for garnish
- Rinse, peel, and chop the drumsticks into 3 to 4-inch pieces.
- Make a smooth paste from the onions, tomatoes, ginger, and garlic. Do not add water.
- Heat oil in a pan. Sauté the cumin, then carefully add the ground paste prepared above.
- Stir well. Add the turmeric, red chili powder, and asafoetida.
- Sauté, stirring often, till you see oil leaving the sides of the masala.
- Add the pods, or "drumsticks", and stir so that the masala coats them well.
- Pour in water and season with salt. Cover the pan and let the drumsticks cook till they become tender. Similar to al dente pasta, the pods should not be mushy, but just slightly soft to the touch.
- Lastly, sprinkle garam masala and stir. Garnish the drumstick masala with coriander leaves.
- Serve drumstick masala with steamed rice or any khichdi.
5. My Experience With Moringa oleifera
Several years ago, I was diagnosed with lupus and was put on many medications. After nearly experiencing cardiac arrest because of the medication I was on, I spent countless hours researching natural, alternative solutions to my health problems.
My findings led me to become a certified herbalist. During my studies, I returned to my Jamaican roots and studied herbs in the Cayman Islands. Since I hadn't used prescribed or over-the-counter pharmaceutical drugs until coming to the United States, it wasn't a stretch for me to trust the herbs and trees from my backyard in the Caymans to heal my body. I would recommend seeking medical advice through your doctor or naturopath about natural remedies for any symptoms.
Moringa o. and Lupus
Moringa oleifera's strong anti-inflammatory properties could be good for rheumatism, joint pain, arthritis, edema, and lupus. It may be safer than NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) and may not have the undesired side effects that come with pharmaceuticals.
As a lupus patient, I am thrilled to be able to go into my backyard and harvest my own Moringa o. leaves to help with my lupus symptoms. I would recommend seeking medical advice through your doctor or naturopath about natural remedies for lupus symptoms.
Have you tried Moringa?
Final Thoughts on Plant-Based Remedies
The benefits of Moringa o. are near indisputable. Given the plant's potential as a health-improving antioxidant, water purifier, and nutrient-rich supplement, Moringa is the ultimate tree.
The medicinal potential of the plant is enormous and difficult to cover in a single article. Although many bioactive compounds have been discovered in Moringa o., the study of the tree is in its infancy. Hopefully, the scientific study of this magnificent plant lends credibility to traditional use and folklore that dates back centuries. Better yet, future rigorous studies directed towards the commercialization of bioactive compounds in the plant can lead to the development of treatments for a number of diverse ailments.
Aekthammarat, Pannangpetch, & Tangsucharit (2019). Citation: Moringa oleifera leaf extract lowers high blood pressure by alleviating vascular dysfunction and decreasing oxidative stress in L-NAME hypertensive rats. Phytomedicine, 54, 9-16. Retrieved July 18th, 2019.
Anudeep, S., Prasanna, V., Adya, S., Radha, C. (2016). Citation: Characterization of soluble dietary fiber from Moringa oleifera seeds and its immunomodulatory effects. International Journal Of Biological Macromolecules, 54, 656-662. Retrieved July 18th, 2019.
Dehshahri, S., Wink, M., Afsharypuor, S., Asghari, G., & Mohagheghzadeh, A. (2012). Antioxidant activity of methanolic leaf extract of Moringa peregrina (Forssk.) Fiori. Research in pharmaceutical sciences, 7(2), 111–118. Retrieved July 18th, 2019.
Farooq, F., Meenu, R., Tiwari, A., Khan, A., Farooq, S. (2012). Citation: Medicinal properties of Moringa oleifera: An overview of promising healer. Journal of Medicinal Plants Research, 6(27), 4368-4374. Retrieved July 18th, 2019.
Ghebremichael, K., Gunaratna, K., Henriksson, H., Brumer, H., Dalhammar, G. (2005). Citation: A simple purification and activity assay of the coagulant protein from Moringa oleifera seed. Water Research, 39(11), 2338-2344. Retrieved July 18th, 2019.
Ferreira, P., Farias, D., Oliveira, J., & Carvalho, A.. (2008). Moringa oleifera: compostos bioativos e potencialidade nutricional. Revista de Nutrição, 21(4), 431-437. Retrieved July 18th, 2019.
Kaur, G., Invally, M., Sanzagiri, R., & Buttar, H. S. (2015). Evaluation of the antidepressant activity of Moringa oleifera alone and in combination with fluoxetine. Journal of Ayurveda and integrative medicine, 6(4), 273–279. Retrieved July 18th, 2019.
Leone, A., Spada, A., Battezzati, A., Schiraldi, A., Bristol, J., Bertoli, S. (2016). Citation: Moringa oleifera Seeds and Oil: Characteristics and Uses for Human Health. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 17(12), 2141. Retrieved July 18th, 2019.
Tahiliani, P., Kar, A. (2000). Citation: Role of Moringa oleifera leaf extract in the regulation of thyroid hormone status in adult male and female rats. Pharmacological research. 41, 319-323. Retrieved July 18th, 2019.
Vergara-Jimenez, M., Almatrafi, M., Fernandez, M. (2017). Citation: Bioactive Components in Moringa Oleifera Leaves Protect against Chronic Disease. Antioxidants (Basel). 6(4), 91. Retrieved July 18th, 2019.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2015 Gina Welds Hulse