Home » Issue 18 » Moringa: the science behind the miracle tree Moringa: the science behind the miracle tree
Submitted by rau on 03 March 2011
A flower from a moringa tree
© WEDC, Loughborough University| Moringas have long been known as miracle trees. Now scientists are investigating their properties in depth, as Sue Nelson andMarlene Rau report.In the foothills of the Himalayas grow trees, five to ten metres tall, with clusters of small oval leaves and delicately perfumed cream-coloured flowers. These are Moringa oleifera – the most widely cultivated of the 14 species of the genusMoringa, known as ‘miracle trees’.“It is called a miracle tree because every part of the tree has benefits,” says Balbir Mathur, president of Trees for Life Internationalw1, a US-based non-profit organisation that provides developmental aid through planting fruit trees, moringas among them. “The roots, leaves, bark, parts of the fruits and seeds – everything. The list is endless.”| Reports in the press about the miraculous nature of the tree may be exaggerated, but it does have some truly impressive properties. Native to northern India but now found widely in Asia, Africa and Latin America, moringas have been used in villages in developing countries for hundreds of years, their uses ranging from traditional medicine, food and cooking oil, to natural pesticide, domestic cleaning agent, and – the latest addition – biofuel. Moringas are extremely hardy, known in parts of Africa as nebedies, meaning ‘never-die trees’, because they grow on marginal soils, regrow after being chopped down, and are one of the few trees that produce fruit during a drought.It is yet another useful property of Moringa oleifera, though, that is exciting scientists: when crushed, moringa seeds can help purify dirty water. This could save lives: the World Health Organization estimates that unsafe water, poor sanitation and inadequate hygiene cause about 1.6 million deaths a year...