In Africa, the Moringa tree is dubbed the “Miracle tree”, and for good reason. It and can be utilised from its roots to leaves for various purposes.
The plant has its origins in the Middle East and India, but has since been spread globally and is produced for commercial purposes.
In South Africa, many cooperatives and projects turn to the Moringa Tree to economically uplift communities and supplement nutrition in poor areas. It has various useful applications, including human consumption, livestock forage, medicine, oil production and water purification.
The Moringa Tree can be found on river banks and in Savannah areas in well drained soils in the Middle East. It is a deciduous tree that forms an umbrella shape from a single stem, and is often deep rooted.
There are up to 14 different species, with the Moringa oleifera and Moringa stenopetala that are used for commercial purposes.
It is used to curb malnutrition, especially in poor communities, since it is drought resistant, and produces edible, nutritious leaves all year round.
- The leaves are dried and ground into Moringa leaf powder.
- It is sold in many health shops as a food supplement.
- The dried leaf powder can be added to dishes, drinks and soups to increase the nutritional value of a meal.
Its health benefits include:
- The reduction of cholesterol levels and triglycerides.
- Controlling blood sugar levels.
- It contains high levels of vitamins and minerals.
- It contains anti-aging and anti-inflammatory properties.
The best way to conserve its nutritional value is by drying the fresh leaves and grinding them into a powder. The nutritional value of this powder is high as it contains vitamins, minerals, and amino acids.
- Chlorophyll and anti-aging compound levels are higher in dried leaves than in fresh ones.
- The dried leaves contain more vitamin A than carrots, more calcium than milk and more protein than yogurt, more vitamin C than oranges, more iron than spinach and more potassium than bananas.
- The young leaves are eaten raw or cooked like other leaf vegetables. They are a good source of vitamin A, B and C, and minerals like iron and amino acids.
- The immature pods can be boiled and enjoyed like green beans.
- The seeds can also be used to produce Ben oil, which has many different uses ranging from everyday cooking to use as a lubricant. For consumption, it is best to use it in its raw form. The seeds can also be eaten raw like nuts, as a snack.
- The flowers are edible and can be eaten raw or cooked, or can be used to make tea.
Another exceptional quality of the seeds is its use for water purification. The dried seeds of the Moringa stenopetala can be used to purify unsafe water for human consumption.
Moringa can also be a good option to increase the quality of ruminant feed during the dry season by planting it as fodder trees and shrub forages.
The leaves, stems and twigs contain protein and can be used as fodder for cattle, sheep, pigs and poultry.
Growth enhancer – farmers can prepare a foliar spray made from the leaves to increase crop yields. The leaves can also be used for mulch.
Erosion control – Moringa oleifera is suited for areas with strong winds and long dry spells, and is thus suited to prevent soil erosion.
Hedges – the tree can be planted as a hedge and provides wind protection and shade.
The Moringa tree has an astounding growth rate and can reach a height of 2.5 m within the first 1 to 3 months, and can grow by 6 m to 7 m in 1 year in areas with a mean rainfall of less than 400 mm. The seeds don’t need pre-treatment and they sprout within 1 to 2 weeks.
To obtain multiple, thick branches it is suggested that the tree is constantly pruned to 1.5 m per year. Topping the tree is a way to ensure you have an abundant supply of leaves, pods and flowers that are easy to reach. Otherwise, the tree will grow straight and tall, and it will be difficult to reach pods and leaves.
Plant growth will be enhanced by mulch, watering and fertiliser. If you cut off branches, new branches will appear soon, so the plant coppices and pollards well.
The tree takes 8 months to a year to reach flowering and can flower year-round if there are favourable climatic conditions.
- The Moringa tree can be cultivated from direct seeding, the transplant of seedlings or by utilising hard stem cuttings.
- It can be grown in different types of soil, from acidic to alkaline, and can tolerate soil pH between 5.0 and 9.0.
- The plant is ideal for the drier climate regions in Africa, since it doesn’t like to grow in cool temperatures, low sunlight and wet conditions.
- The ideal temperature for optimal growth is between 25°C and 35°C, but the plant can tolerate temperatures reaching 48°C.
- It can be grown naturally up to an elevation 1 200 m, but prefers altitudes below 600 m.
- Optimal soil conditions range between well-drained sandy loam and loamy soils.
- Avoid clay soils in areas with high rainfall, since the tree is not very tolerant of prolonged flooding or poorly drained clay soils.
- It is important to prevent water logging.
- Water newly transplanted trees immediately after transplanting to promote early root development.
- If you live in an arid area, irrigate regularly for the first 2 months.
- Once the tree is established, watering is rarely needed.
- The Moringa tree is also used in intercropping and grows well with other crops.
- However, do not plant with plants that might shade the Moringa plant, as this will negatively affect growth.
- Preferable associate crops are shade tolerant leafy vegetables, legumes and herbs, like cowpea or cabbage.
- In high density cultivation, Moringa trees can be harvested when they reach a height of between 1.5m and 2 m.
- The leaves should be harvested by cutting the leaf stems with a sharp knife, or snapping leaf stems from branches at 20 cm to 45 cm above the ground.
- This method promotes the development of new shoots.
- You will be able to harvest again within 35 to 40 days.
- For fodder harvesting, the tree should be harvested every 75 days.
- Do not heap the freshly harvested leaves together, since they will spoil easily. The best time for harvesting is early in the morning to prevent excess water loss if you want to sell them fresh.
- If you want to sell fresh leaves, they should be sold the same day since they lose moisture quickly after harvesting.
DRYING THE LEAVES
- Dry the leaves in an area protected from light to prevent vitamin loss.
- If possible, cover the leaves with a thin cloth to keep them clean from dust and insects.
- The leaves can be spread out in a thin layer, while being mixed frequently. Ensure the leaves are dried out completely and stored in an airtight container, otherwise you might struggle with molds or mildew.
- The can also be dried by tying branches together and hanging them from beams.
- Clean, dried Moringa leaf powder must be stored in airtight containers, away from light and temperatures above 24°.
- It can be stored for up to 6 months.
- The basic rules apply to the storage of the Moringa seeds.
- They can remain viable for a few years if they are stored in an airtight (hermetic) container at low temperatures.
- The seeds must be collected from well-developed pods, but it might be difficult to manage, since seeds drop continuously.