Moringa is a small tree that grows in the tropical regions of the word. It is called “malunggay” or “kalamunggay” in the Philippines. The plant can grow as high as 10 to 20 feet. Its bark is whitish gray which is surrounded with thick cork. The leaves are round and small, and the pods are long and slender.
Despite the softness of the plant’s wood and tender parts, moringa is in fact a hardy plant. In tropical climate it grows fast in almost any type of soil and is resistant to drought. Even a discarded trunk or branch on the ground will sprout young leaves and a new plant grows. The plant can be propagated through its seeds or cuttings. Moringa is easy to cultivate. A grown plant can sustain itself without much care and cultivation. In most cases fertilizer and pesticide are not necessary.
Moringa is primarily planted for its leaves and green pods as vegetable. The leaves are added in fish soup and chicken based dish that is called “tinola” and in vegetable dishes that are creamed with coconut milk. The plant is dubbed as a “poor man’s vegetable” because of its cheapness and abundance. In our family, we used to have plenty of this plant in our compound which also served as border fence in the sloping portion of our land. The plants had lush leaves and plentiful fruits. But we seldom harvest them, and if we did we only used the leaves and left the pods alone. Other people could help themselves with the leaves and the pods if they asked for them.
The leaves are the most nutritious parts of the plants. Like almost green leafy vegetables , the moringa leaves contain Vitamins B, C and K, beta carotene, potassium, manganese, protein and other special nutrients. Because of its nutritional value moringa is recommended by the government for consumption of lactating mothers and children. Some bread such as “pan de sal” and noodles are fortified with moringa leaves to enhance its nutritional contents.
The hype that some herbs, fruits and vegetables have medicinal properties that are at par or better than conventional drugs has created an impression to some people that herbal products offer hope for the treatment of diseases such as hypertension, diabetes and even cancer. However, health authorities have warned people over the use of those products as alternative medicines because official confirmation has yet to be issued regarding their effectiveness.
Moringa is used to be regarded only as a backyard plant because of its low commercial importance, but now some farmers cultivate it in large scale because of the increasing demand of natural herbal products for food supplement and alternative medicines. Moringa leaves are dried and made into organic powder, capsule, oil, tea, food supplement and other products. Aside from consuming the leaves as vegetable, locals use it also in traditional medicine. As an example, a cup of boiled moringa leaves is used to treat constipation.