Moringa oleifera

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Plants

iMoringa oleifera

Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Magnoliopsida
Order: Brassicales
Family: Moringaceae
Genus: Moringa
Species: M. oleifera
Binomial name
Moringa oleifera

Moringa oleifera, commonly referred to simply as Moringa, is the most widely cultivated variety of the genus Moringa. It is of the family Moringaceae. It is an exceptionally nutritious vegetable tree with a variety of potential uses. The tree itself is rather slender with drooping branches that grows to approximately 10 m in height; however, it normally is cut back annually to one meter or less, and allowed to regrow, so that pods and leaves remain within arms reach.

The Moringa tree grows mainly in semi-arid tropical and subtropical areas. While it grows best in dry sandy soil, it tolerates poor soil, including coastal areas. It is a fast-growing, drought-resistant tree that apparently is native only to the southern foothills of the Himalayas. Today it is widely cultivated in Africa, Central and South America, Sri Lanka, India, Mexico, Malaysia and the Philippines. Considered one of the world’s most useful trees, as almost every part of the Moringa tree can be used for food, or has some other beneficial property. In the tropics it is used as foliage for livestock.

The immature green pods, called “drumsticks” are probably the most valued and widely used part of the tree. They are commonly consumed in India, and are generally prepared in a similar fashion to green beans and have a slight asparagus taste. The seeds are sometimes removed from more mature pods and eaten like peas or roasted like nuts. The flowers are edible when cooked, and are said to taste like mushrooms. The roots are shredded and used as a condiment in the same way as horseradish, however it contains the alkaloid spirochin, a potentially fatal nerve paralyzing agent, so such practices should be strongly discouraged.

The leaves are highly nutritious, being a significant source of beta-carotene, Vitamin C, protein, iron and potassium. The leaves are cooked and used as spinach. In addition to being used fresh as a substitute for spinach, its leaves are commonly dried and crushed into a powder, and used in soups and sauces.

The seeds may be crushed and used as a flocculant to purify water. The Moringa seeds yield 38–40% edible oil (called Ben oil, from the high concentration of behenic acid contained in the oil) that can be used in cooking, cosmetics, and lubrication. The refined oil is clear, odorless, and resists rancidity at least as well as any other botanical oil. The seed cake remaining after oil extraction may be used as a fertilizer.

The bark, sap, roots, leaves, seeds, oil and flowers are used in traditional medicine in several countries. In Jamaica, the sap is used for a blue dye.

The flowers are also cooked and relished as a delicacy in West Bengal and Bangladesh, especially during early spring. There it is called Sojne ful and is usually cooked with green peas and potato.


Interest is growing in the use of moringa in addressing malnutrition in developing areas of the world. Also Because of its high vitamin and mineral content, in Africa it has become popular as a locally produced nutritional supplement for individuals infected with the HIV/AIDS virus. It can be grown cheaply and easily, so several governments in Africa have promoted Moringa oleifera as locally produced food beneficial to HIV-positive individuals

Moringa leaves in a market in Baguio, Philippines
Moringa leaves in a market in Baguio, Philippines

It has been used successfully to combat malnutrition among infants and women of childbearing age. In Africa nursing mothers have been shown to produce far more milk when Moringa leaves have been added to their diet, while severely malnourished children have made significant weight gains when the leaves have been added to their diets. It is commonly added to porridge to increase its nutritional content.

One Doctor in Senegal ( West Africa) explained: "We have always had problems with the classical approach to treating malnourished children. This was based on industrial products: whole milk powder, vegetable oil and sugar. All these things are expensive. When you tell a parent to go out and buy these things -- this can be truly costly for him. On the other hand, with Moringa the resource is locally available. The people themselves can produce it. We have done experiments in treating malnourished children with this plant and the results have been really spectacular.”


In India, the plant is propagated by planting limb cuttings 1–2 m long, from June to August, preferably. The plant starts bearing pods 6–8 months after planting but regular bearing commenced after the second year. The tree bears for several years. It does not tolerate freezes or frost. It can also be propagated by seed. As with all plants optimum cultivation depends on producing the right environment for the plant to thrive. Moringa is a sun and heat loving plant. As a seedling, however, you must monitor the environment in the beginning until the tree is established. Seeds can be germinated year round.


Moringa needs well draining soil. Increase the drainage of your soil by adding perlite or other porous substance.

Planting Seeds

Plant an inch from the surface of the soil, cover and tamp gently.

Planting Seedling

Dig a hole twice the depth of the pot. Be careful not to disturb the root when transplanting. Cut the bottom of the pot out and slit one side. Place the pot and seedling into the hole and back fill with soil, tamp gently. Water frequently. Do not let the soil dry out.

Moringa creates a taproot. Sometimes the top plant may die out due to heat, dry soil, or a change in the environment. This does not necessarily mean the plant has died. Check the taproot to see if it is still firm. If it is, keep the seedling damp with filtered sun. Moringa is a very hardy plant and can revive itself given time and good conditions. If the taproot is soft, it is dead. Moringa will die from root rot, which is from poor draining soil.

Frost may cause the tree to drop leaves and even die down to the ground. Keep damp. It will revive in the spring. Freezing temperatures or continuous days of frost can kill Moringa. If you live in a cold climate you must keep the plant warm.

Rajangam et al write:

India is the largest producer of moringa with an annual production of 1.1 to 1.3 million tonnes of tender fruits from an area of 380 km². Among the states, Andhra Pradesh leads in both area and production (156.65 km²) followed by Karnataka (102.8 km²) and Tamil Nadu (74.08 km²). In other states, it occupies an area of 46.13 km². Tamil Nadu is the pioneering state insomuch as it has varied genotypes from diversified geographical areas, as well as introductions from Sir Lanka.

Moringa is common in India, where its triangular, ribbed pods with winged seeds are used as a vegetable crop. It is particularly suitable for dry regions. The drumstick can be grown using rainwater without expensive irrigation techniques. The yield is good even if the water supply is not. The tree can be even grown on land covered with 10-90 cm of mud.

Moringa is grown in home gardens and as living fences in Thailand, where it is commonly sold in local markets. In the Philippines, moringa is commonly grown for its leaves, which are used in soup. The leaves (called dahon ng malunggay in Tagalog) are commonly sold in local markets. Moringa is also actively cultivated by the AVRDC in Taiwan. The AVRDC is "the principal international centre for vegetable research and development in the world. Its mission is to reduce poverty and malnutrition in developing countries through improved production and consumption of vegetables."

Culinary uses

Seeds and fruit of the M. oleifera, ready for cooking
Seeds and fruit of the M. oleifera, ready for cooking

The fruit of the tree is quite popular as a vegetable in Asia and Africa. The fruit is a long, thin pod, resembling a drum stick. The fruit itself is called drumstick in India and elsewhere. Moringa leaves are also eaten as a leaf vegetable, particularly in the Philippines and Africa.


In South India, it is used to prepare a variety of sambar and is also fried. In Tamil it is called Murungakai. In Marathi is it called "Shevga" .In Gujarati is it called Saragvo. It is also preserved by canning and exported worldwide. In other parts of India, especially West Bengal and also in a neighboring country like Bangladesh it is enjoyed very much. It can be made into varieties of curry by mixing with coconut, poppy seeds and mustard. It can just be boiled, until the drumsticks are semi-soft and consumed directly without any extra processing or cooking. It is used in curries, sambars, kormas, and dals, although it is also used to add flavor to cutlets, etc.

Tender drumstick leaves, finely chopped, make an excellent garnish for any vegetable dishes, dals, sambars, salads, etc. One can use the same in place of or with coriander, as these leaves have high medicinal value. If the pulp has to be scraped out after cooking the sticks, then keep the pieces as long as 4-5 inches long. Also do not scrape the skin before boiling. This will help to hold and scrape them more easily and with less mess. For drumstick sambar follow recipe for traditional sambar, adding boiled drumstick fingers, along with onions in the oil, while stir frying.

Scraped drumstick pulp can be made into drumstick bhurtha, more or less like the baingan bhurtha after the pulp has been obtained. It is a wonderfully unusual and tasty dish. The recipe is identical to that of baingan bhurtha.

Drumstick dal, is also a very tasty version of the traditional ' toor dal'. Add some of the pulp to the boiled dal, and hand beat it along with the dal before seasoning. This will give an unusual, novel flavor to this dal. In another variation you may add pieces of boiled drumstick including the water in which it was boiled, to the traditional toor dal while it is simmering. The pieces are delightful to chew on with the dal & rice.


In the Philippines, the leaves are widely eaten. Bunches of leaves are available in many markets, priced below many other leaf vegetables. The leaves are most often added to a broth to make a simple, and highly nutritious soup. The leaves are also sometimes used as a characteristic ingredient in tinola - a traditional chicken dish, composed of chicked in a broth, moringa leaves, and either papaya or another secondary vegetablle.

Other uses

The tree's bark, roots, fruit, flowers, leaves, seeds and gum are also used medicinally in India. Uses include as an antiseptic and in treating rheumatism, venomous bites and other conditions.


Other names for the Moringa in English include:

  • Drumstick tree,The Marathi Name "Shevga"
  • Drumstick tree, from the appearance of the long, slender, triangular seed pods.
  • Horseradish tree, from the taste of the leaves, which can serve as a rough substitute for horseradish.
  • Ben oil tree, from the oil derived from the seeds

The Chinese name of the Moringa (辣木), pronounced "la mu" in Putonghua and "lat mok" in Cantonese, means "spicy (hot) wood", and is reminiscent of the English name "horseradish tree".

In Haiti, the moringa is called the benzolive (or benzolivier).

The MMPND entry for Moringa gives names in many other languages.

Popular Myths

There are several popular myths associated with the tree and the fruit in southern India.

  • The fruit is considered to increase sexual libido in men. This belief is so common in the state of Tamil Nadu that there have been passive references to this in its legislative assembly.
  • The tree is said to host ghosts during the night. This combined with the fact that the tree attracts a host of insects make it unattractive for people to grow it in their backyards

Drumstick in Marathi "Shevga"

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