Moringas planted out in the ground tend to have few pests, at least here far from their native range. Here at the collection the only real problem are leafcutter ants. Leafcutter ants are charming in their way. They come out at night from often very large anthills, and form long parades of ants, each carrying a carefully cut piece of leaf or flower like a parasol. Sometimes the trails are so well used and so many ants flow over them that the ants clear a path some 10 cm wide. The remove every stick and pebble and leaf, so it ends up looking like an ant superhighway, especially at night when it is choked with ants with their leafy cargoes, and bumping into one another. Most people think that the ants eat the leaves, but their story is more elaborate. The ants takes the bits of leaves down into their large underground chambers and arrange them just right. As the ants carefully tend them, fungi grow on the leaves, and it is these fungi that the ants actually eat. So, the ants are little fungus farmers, not leaf eaters.
But leaves are a pretty diffuse energy source, so the ants need a lot of them to grow enough fungal food for themselves. The ants prefer leaves that have low amounts of cellulose and therefore high amounts of cell contents. These leaves are easier to cut and pack more nutrition per piece of leaf for the fungi. With their filmy, highly nutritious leaves, moringas are the perfect food for leafcutters. In a single night they can defoliate a whole tree. At the moment, many of the plants in the moringa germplasm collection are small. As a result, a little distraction on our part can mean finding the plants defoliated in the morning. Given that many of the species, at least the small northeast African ones, often grow only in short pulses, a defoliation can set them back a good six months. Even the large, continuously growing species like Moringa hildebrandtii get their growth slowed down from a complete defoliation.
So every night it’s up to the collection with a flashlight. When we find ants carrying leaves, we follow them to find the nest. This is sometimes hard because the ants often nest under piles of debris or travel far from the nest, and come in from well outside the collection lot. One of the ongoing tasks these days is clearing the piles of sticks that then get covered with vines, and under which the ants like to nest, precisely to make spotting anthills easier.
Once we find a nest, it’s time to poison the ants. The cleverest method we use is an insecticide that here is sold as Trompa. It comes in long, slender dark pellets that are impregnated with a bait. This bait odor is irresistable to the ants, and they instantly swarm out to take the pellets down into the anthill. They seem to like the odor so much that they even do this in the day sometimes. Once they have the pellets down in their underground chambers, the humidity vaporizes the poison, apparently abamectin, in the pellets, gassing the ants in their homes. The next night there are usually just a few ants around the hill, and after a little more Trompa the colony is finished. Trompa seems sensitive to temperature, and if it gets a little warm or the jar gets some direct sunglight, the pellets lose their dark color and turn a light tobacco. These pellets are always ignored by the ants. So we also use powdered pyrethroids as a backup. It would seem like it would be less effective, given that the ants do not carry it down into their nest. But a generous dusting around the entrance of the nest does seem to kill all of the ants in one or two days, because after dusting there are no more ants to be seen.
Once the trees get bigger, a few leafcutters won’t make much of a difference. But for now, while they’re small, it’s us or the ants.
Moringa concanensis trees, mostly denuded of leaflets.
Leafcutters carrying Moringa oleifera flower buds.
The Moringa oleifera living fence on the west side of the collection, largely leafless.
The moringa germplasm collection is designed to provide material for research anywhere in the world, with the aim of providing moringas for the entire world. This is why we called it the “International” moringa germplasm collection. But any project is embedded in its local community, and it just so happens that this project is in a remote little corner of the tropical Pacific coast of Mexico. Given that there are no native species of Moringa native to Mexico, this might seem like an odd place for a Moringa germplasm collection. But, as I will discuss in a separate post, Mexico has a centuries-long relationship with Moringa, so maybe it’s not such a strange place for the collection. In any case, the climate is absolutely ideal, and the genus is so widespread that no country has a monopoly on Moringa species. Kenya is the country with the highest number of native species, plus M. oleifera is cultivated there, so if we are going on the basis of number of species, then dead to rights the collection should be in Kenya. In fact, the Kenya Forestry Research Institute in the late 90s had a “moringaboretum” near Kitui, where they grew many plants, including samples that I collected throughout Kenya and Madagascar. I am not sure what the status of these plants is anymore. But the present collection is, as I mentioned, on the Pacific coast of Mexico.
It is near one of my university’s biological field research stations. This is very convenient because when we need a lab or other facilities they are close by. The collection is not at the station, though, because the station preserves a large amount of native tropical dry forest. While no moringa species have ever been known to be weedy, especially not in Mexico, there is always a risk that a botanical garden can introduce new weeds to native habitat. Also, there is not much point in clearing native forest inside a biosphere reserve to plant exotic plants. Even more importantly is what the location of the collection says about our societal commitments. The International Moringa Germplasm Collection is designed to produce scientific results that have direct relevance for community development. Hence, the collection is located in a little village not far from the biosphere reserve. The neighbors all know me, and with moringa being the “medicinal” plant of the moment around here, almost everyone has heard of moringa. But there has been so much work to do that I haven’ really taken the time to explain to the local community what we are doing.
We got lots of interested visitors, most of whom had already heard of Moringa.
Every year my university’s biological station holds an open house event. The station, usually open only to researchers, opens its doors to the public. The researchers who carry out projects at the station come and put up stands to explain their research to visitors in the friendly, simple terms of science outreach. It was a perfect opportunity to have our coming out party. The event spurred me into making a brochure for local distribution on moringa and on the project. The brochure is in Spanish and talks about the aims of the Collection and about Moringa in general, especially what it’s good for and how to consume it. You can download the brochure here
There was a lot of interest. Every group that came by the stand included someone who had heard of moringa. Interestingly, all of them used it or heard of it as used “medicinally,” never just as a vegetable. Everyone said it was for cancer and for diabetes. No one reported actually just eating it, and almost everyone said they hated eating vegetables. The most common uses were all ones in which the consumption was easy and minimal. For example, a lot of people reported boiling the leaves and drinking the water in place of regular drinking water all day long. Others dry the leaves and crumble them on food “like oregano.” Some make a blended “green drink,” with fruit juices and moringa. Other people take the seeds “one seed in the morning and one at night, on an empty stomach.” Most of these practices seem the result of the creative imaginations of people who don’t want to eat healthy diets that include lots of vegetables (or any vegetables) plus a general lack of solid scientific information. Tea made from fresh boiled leaves tastes terrible by the way. Tea from dried leaves tastes great. Who knows if it’s good for you, but it certainly can’t hurt. And there would seem to be no good reason at all to eat the raw seeds. The nutrition and the antioxidants are in the leaves. People want a magic pill, though, and so some are attracted to the seed. I told them what I tell everyone: given the scientific information available, the best bet is to eat moringa as a vegetable.
Some of the visitors even said that they would try it. At the next event, maybe we’ll have moringa dishes. But, at least we have officially presented ourselves to the community.
We brought plenty of leaves to show people how to separate the leaflets from the petioles!
The amazing this is that our team is not only competent, but so handsome as well.
The whole idea of the International Moringa Germplasm Collection is to provide material of Moringa species for research. But Moringa species are all attractive and unusual plants, and I suspect that when the trees are large, in a few years, the collection will start attracting attention from folks who don’t want to do research on the trees but just want to stroll among them. To give visitors the idea of what Moringas look like in the wild, we have left some native tropical dry forest plants here and there. This gives an idea of the sorts of contexts that moringas can be found in in their native habitats, most of which look very similar to the local Mexican tropical dry forest. Here there are Bursera (copal) species, in Moringa country there is the lookalike and closely related Commiphora (myrrh). Here there are countless Acacias, and in Moringa country too. Here there are Jatrophas, and in Africa as well. Here there are cacti of all sizes, and in Moringa country there are Euphorbias. The native forest at the germplasm site was cut down some 15 years ago. Only one original native tree was left standing, a Caesalpinia, and it was badly damaged in hurricane Jova in 2012. But there are nevertheless a surprising number of very interesting native plants here and there on the site. Here are some photos of a few of them.
No posts for quite a while because there has been a lot of work to do. We now have over 100 plants planted out in the botanical garden since June and the plants are doing wonderfully. Moringa oleifera always grows magnificently, and most of the plants are already over 3 meters tall and branching profusely. The ones along the western fence, which will form a living fence, have already been pruned to fence post height. The most dramatic growth has been in the Malagasy species. Some of the Moringa hildebrandtiis are nearly 3 meters tall with trunks more than 8 cm in diameter, all from seed this year. I finally got some of my Moringa drouhardiis in the ground, after more than ten years in pots. Others are from seed planted this year. Either way, they are all doing very well. The Moringa stenopetalas are well on their way to forming a forest, with many of them over 3 meters tall. My Moringa ovalifolias all were less than 20 cm tall, and all are 14 years old and have lived in small pots all their lives. Like a lot of plants from seasonal climates, from the spacing between leaf scars on the stems of Moringa ovalifolia you can work out how old a given stem is. The scars get closer together toward the end of the growing season. I could count 13 annual increments on many of the stems, just a few cm tall. The plants have grown more in stem height and in diameter in 3 months than they have in 13 years.
This is a view of the species from Madagascar (at right) and those from India (at left). Most of the plants in this photo are seedlings from 2014.
As to the non-oleifera slender trees, Moringa concanensis grows a little differently than its close relative Moringa oleifera. It tends to stay in a tuberous phase a little longer than M. oleifera, especially if it’s kept in a pot. It grows up into a magnificent, large leaved sapling, stiffer and more dramatic than M. oleifera, before branching out. There are just a few M. peregrinas in the ground at the moment, but they are doing well. Normally M. peregrina works on its tuber for a very long time before making a permanent aerial stem. I have 1 year old seedlings that already have a stem, and tubers from seed I collected in 1996 from different provenances. The ones from more northerly localities, like the Golan and Egypt, and even northern Oman, are more reluctant to make aerial stems, whereas the more tropical ones, such as from the Dhofar region of Oman, as well as from Sudan, seem to be more prone to making aerial stems directly. We’ll see how they all develop.
I collected seed of Moringa concanensis in the Palni Hills of Tamil Nadu. This seedling is very happy to be in the ground.
The northeast African tuberous species are coming along. Moringa rivae is doing well, making massive tubers that you would never guess are there from the skinny aerial stem. They seem to leaf out twice a year, which is probably what they do in the wild, in concert with the two rainy seasons in the Horn of Africa. This means that they leaf out beautifully at the beginning of the rainy season here, then get ratty, then leaf out again about now, on Africa time. The same goes for M. ruspoliana and M. longituba. I don’t have very many M. borzianas, but they seem happy to grow all the time as long as someone waters them. We’ll have a better idea of everyone’s phenology as the years go by and we have more plants and more experience with them all growing together.
This is a seedling of a plant from Pakistan that I think is Moringa concanensis. When it flowers we will know for sure.
Out of the 100 or so plants planted so far, we have only lost 2 plants. Both were very small M. oleifera seedlings planted in marginal locations. So, really, the success rate has been amazing. A lot of plants spend a year or two or even more investing in roots before really taking off. We’ll keep watering through the dry season to see if we can’t force the moringas to get even bigger. That way when the rains return and they start growing in earnest they’ll really be ready to go. If they double in size by next year, which Moringas usually can do, then the whole maintenance level of the collection will start do go down. While they are small, it’s a constant battle against vines and weeds and leafcutter ants. When they are large they just shrug off all of these nuisances. We’ll keep babying them until that time arrives.
A seedling of Moringa drouhardii just 6 months old.
The seedling of Moringa hildebrandtii on the right is seven months old.
Moringa peregrina spends a long time in the tuberous phase. This plant has been in the ground for seven months and has been growing mostly belowground. The aerial stem is growing slowly but surely, with the lovely wispy blue leaves characteristic of this species.
Moringa rivae happy in the dry tropical heat.
The most recent shipment of Moringas from my collection in Missouri. I planted the small ones in pots, but the large ones went directly into the ground and are already leafing out.
I planted this Moringa drouhardii in 2010; behind it is a massive M. stenopetala, also from 2010. The M. oleifera to the right of the drouhardii is a recent volunteer.
When not being used for food, oil, forage, medicine, water purification, fiber, or biofuels, moringas are often used as ornamentals. I will look at outdoor uses in another post. This post will look at small moringas as ornamentals in pots grown by people who like to look at tubers, roots, and other sculptural dryland plants. Dryland plants that grow with exposed tubers, or that can be grown with exposed tubers, are often known as caudiciforms or caudex plants, and fat, water-storing trees are known as pachycaul trees. They are both esteemed ornamentals. The most recent shipment of my moringa collections from Africa, Asia, and Madagascar just arrived from Missouri, where they have been under expert care for more than ten years. They will soon be planted out here at the collection and grow into trees or shrubs, and lose some of the charm that they now have. So it's a good time to take a snapshot of what they look like now to show what moringas look like when grown very "hard," that is, with very little water.
Moringas are often grown as ornamental street trees, as this Moringa oleifera in La Habana, Cuba. More on these outdoor uses later.
The latest moringa shipment... lots of fat little plants ready for planting out so they can grow into trees or at least shrubs.
You will never kill a moringa for lack of water. Keep them dry, only let them grow a few weeks a year, and you will be rewarded with a very fat-based, compact caudiciform. Most of the plants shown below are 10 years old from seed.
By far one of the best caudiciform species is our old friend Moringa oleifera. Remember that this species is famous for growing into a 6-8 meter tall tree in a year. If you give it just a little too much water, it will shoot for the sky and you will lose the charming caudiciform shape. Keep them dry, though, and you will be rewarded with almost comical, often almost perfectly shperical fat tubers. Most oleiferas will do this-- the photo below includes street tree M. oleifera from India, from Madagascar, and the cultivar PKM. That M. oleifera is so easy to come by inexpensively, along with its tendency to form wonderful caudiciforms, leads several unscrupulous nurserymen to sell hard-grown oleifera seedlings posing as the rare northeast Africa dwarf species such as M. borziana or M. rivae. These are to my knowledge not in the nursery trade and probably represent M. oleifera. If you have doubts, send me photos and I can try to ID your plants.
Perhaps the best caudiciform moringa is M. oleifera. It forms fabulous spherical tubers and flowers small. Keep it dry or it will turn into a tree.
The fabulous globular tuber of a hard-grown M. oleifera.
The pachycaul species Moringa ovalifolia also does well in a pot. It grows as a tuberous herb for many years before forming a permanent stem. This is a good pachycaul tree for a pot because unlike many pachycauls it gets a very fat base in a pot, looking like a miniature version of its wild self.
Moringa ovalifolia forms very fat stem bases when grown in pots, along with slender aerial stems.
Moringa peregrina, one of the slender trees, is one of the most exotic moringas when grown in a pot. A tree in the wild, it hangs on for years as a caudiciform when grown in a pot, dying back to perfect globby tubers when it gets dry. When watered, it produces blue foliage, unique in the family.
The fat tubers of Moringa peregrina seedlings.
Moringa longituba is a coveted species, with its fat tubers and red flowers. The tuber in the wild grows way below ground level and moringas don't like their roots kept warm, so they are not 100% happy with growing with the tuber exposed. They grow quickly enough from seed but as adults get long and rangy if given too much water.
In the wild, this Moringa longituba tuber would have been well below the soil surface. Here we have it slightly exposed to keep an eye on it, and in very open soil to boot to avoid rotting the tuber.
So, Moringa offers great material for growing as ornamental caudiciforms in pots. Just be sparing with the water and watch out for M. oleifera masquerading as other species. Happily, M. oleifera, the easiest species to get ahold of, is also one of the best species for culivation as a caudiciform.
At the end of the day, the question most people have is how much moringa to ingest and in what form to ingest it.
Moringa oleifera leaf provides protein, vitamin A, and compounds that seem to have cancer preventive, glucoregulatory (“anti-diabetes”), and cholesterol-lowering activity in laboratory studies in cultured cells and in animals. There are no real published clinical studies in humans that allow us to say “eat X amount of moringa to have Y benefit.”
So what to do? There is an amazing array of moringa products on the market, from fresh and frozen leaves to leaf powder in every imaginable form—capsules, pills, bulk powder, drink mixes, and teas. There are even extracts and tinctures, all of which might provide some health benefits, some of which might harm you, and all of which are guaranteed to separate you from your money.
Given the current Moringa research situation and lack of clinical trials, what is the best bet for receiving the full health benefits of moringa? The best bet is to eat moringa as a vegetable. Moringa oleifera has been eaten as a vegetable for thousands of years, and in that form there is nothing to suggest that it is not safe and nutritious. Like a lot of other leafy vegetables, moringa leaves reduce quite a bit in volume when you cook them. So cook up a lot—at least 4 liters of fresh leaflets. Get some water boiling vigorously and throw the leaflets in. Return to the boil and throughout the whole proces stir the leaves often. Stirring avoids the leaflets clumping together, which makes them cook up with an especially pungent taste. As with all vegetables, DO NOT OVERCOOK. 3 minutes boiling is about right, maybe a little more if it’s a big batch. Taste the leaves as you cook them to see how they are doing. A quick boil removes the pungent spicy taste and leaves the delicious meaty vegetable taste. Plus, some studies suggest that cooking vegetables helps loosen their cell walls and make the nutritious cell contents more accessible for digestion. Then, drain the leaves and spread them out so the cool quickly. With clean hands, squeeze the water out of the leaves. You can add a little oil to the leaves and store them for use in any dish—add the leaves at the last minute to soup, serve as a side dish, etc. Eat plenty of the leaves. A fist-sized serving is a normal vegetable serving, just as though it were spinach or chard. You get the full nutritional benefits of moringa as a normal part of a normal diet. This amount is much more that you get from one or two moringa capsules, and tastes a hell of a lot better.
Like most leaf vegetables, moringa reduces a great deal when you cook it. This amount of leaf reduces to...
About this much cooked moringa leaf, boiled, drained, and ready to eat, mmm!!
As in, for example, Julieta's famous moringa quesadillas :P
By eating a larger amount, you also raise the chances of receiving the anti-cancer, anti-diabetes, and cholesterol-lowering benefits of moringa. We know that moringa has these properties in laboratory studies. We don’t know how much humans have to take to receive these benefits. So, given the choice between taking only a small amount (in a form that tastes bad) and ingesting a larger amount that provides more nutrition (and tastes good), the choice that would seem to maximize the chance of receiving a health benefit would be the one with the greater quantity. So, the best bet for receiving moringa health benefits would seem to be eating plenty of cooked leaves as a normal vegetable in a normal diet.
In some situations, such as famine or other near starvation situations, moringa leaf powder has proven a life saver. In such situations, assume that the leaf powder is about 25% protein and administer it accordingly, in whatever form is possible. In such situations, far outside a normal diet but unfortunately not rare, the chief concern is nutritional quantity. The form that the powder will be ingested in will depend on locally available food and customs. Some add the powder to sauces, to rice, to flatbread, to beans or pulses, even to fruit juices. So the dried leaf powder is unquestionably valuable nutritionally.
But as part of a normal diet, moringa leaf powder is often expensive and tastes terrible. To hedge our bets at home, we have plenty of cooked moringa leaf—the best way of ingesting moringa.
In 1997-1998 I was in Toliara (Tuléar), southwestern Madgascar, to collect, among other things, Moringa drouhardii and to look for wild Moringa hildebrandtii. Moringa drouhardii is reasonably common in a variety of settings in southern Madagascar. I saw it growing in dry scrub south of Toliara on bare limestone hillsides, where, at maybe 4-5 meters tall, it was the tallest plant in the area. It also grew in dense tropical dry forest on the steep limestone slopes of the Onilahy River canyon. There the plants were taller, to about 7 meters tall. In southeastern Madagascar it grows in the Berenty area dry forest, which is relatively flat and rolling on deep soil. There the trees were about 6 meters tall. It also grew in the same general area but in the gallery forest at Amboasary along the Mandrare river. This is tall riparian forest on deep alluvial soil with plenty of moisture. There the trees were tall and relatively slender and at least 8 meters tall. In early 1998, all the plants were in flower. Given that Moringa oleifera flowers so quickly in cultivation, about 6 months, I was curious to know how long it takes the other species to get to flowering age.
In Toliara town, I saw a Moringa drouhardii
planted as an ornamental on the grounds of a hotel. It was in full flower, so I asked the gardener about the plant. He said he had planted the tree as a small seedling four years ago, and that this was the first time that it had flowered. So, four years to flower.
I collected seeds of M. drouhardii
in southeastern Madagascar and planted them in 1998 for my research. They grew well and the experiments also came out fine. Then the plants remained in pots, some in a greenhouse in Califorina, some in Missouri. There they survived nicely but the cool temperatures and limited root run kept them small, less than a meter tall. I brought them down to Mexico in 2000, and they remained in Mexico City outside in pots. Mexico City is at 2000 meters elevation and with its tropical highland climate it is always cool at night and can even freeze at the height of winter. So, not a good climate for moringas. Moringa oleifera
simply refused to grow for me. I lost an M. longituba
seedling to the cold, which bothered me considerably. The M. drouhardii
, which is one of the species that best tolerates cooler temperatures, though, did hang on, growing a cm or two a year but never more.
Finally, in 2010, I planted two individuals here in the coastal lowlands (see post on Moringa drouhardii in the ground
). Now, four years later, just like in Toliara, M. drouhardii
is in bloom!
Moringa drouhardii flowers. They are very sweet scented and similar to those of M. stenopetala (below) but have L-shaped petals that bend outwards above the level of the sepals.
Moringa stenopetala flowers are not as strongly sweet scented and have petals that bend outward from among the sepals, a very subtle difference from M. drouhardii.
The four bottle tree Moringa species (M. drouhardii, M. hildebrandtii, M. stenopetala, and M. ovalifolia) have flowers that are very much unlike M. oleifera. Instead of being bilaterally symmetrical when seen from the front, they are more or less radially symmetrical. The flowers of the four bottle tree species are fairly similar. Here are photos of the flowers of M. drouhardii fallen on the ground here in Mexico. They have a powerful jasmine scent that you can smell from several meters away, perfuming the air around the trees. The flowers were perfumed during the day in Madagascar and were visited by bees, and here they are attracting bees and bumblebees as well. Here also is a photo of the flowers of Moringa stenopetala, which began flowering here in May and, with green fruits now developing, still has inflorescences in full flower. Moringa drouhardii and M. stenopetala flowers are distinguished by subtle differences. The easiest difference to see in these photos is that the petals of M. drouhardii have small “claws,” that is, have portions of the petals that are straight before reflexing. Moringa stenopetala petals, instead, are reflexed more or less directly without a claw.
With any luck, we’ll have seed of M. drouhardii soon, the first generation born and bred in the New World, from the seeds collected in Madagascar.
After months of gathering my moringa collection, dispersed in Missouri and California, here in Mexico, and growing the plants up to 1-2 meters tall, last week I planted out the first 60 trees in the permanent moringa germplasm site.
Moringas brought down from the shadehouse waiting to be transported up to the permanent germplasm collection site. Each plant has a metal label plus its name on pink flagging.
Left to right, Moringa drouhardii, M. stenopetala, and M. concanensis. The flagging will help to keep track of the plants when they are planted out in the field, and hopefully will keep them from getting damaged during weed clearing.
Different moringa species have different cultural requirements, so the site has a flat area of deep soil and is relatively moist, a shady hollow, and a hot, dry ridge. This combination is perfect for growing all members of the family. I planted out the giant species M. drouhardii and M. hildebrandtii along a shallow drainage in the area of deep soil. This will allow them to reach their full sizes--M. hildebrandtii can grow to 25 meters tall when growing in shady river bottom country, as I have seen along southwestern Madagascar’s Onilahy River.
I planted M. concanensis and M. concanensisXoleifera on the drier parts of the flat area, and along about 60 meters of the egde of the property I planted a bunch of different M. oleifera plants to serve as a living fence. On the dry, exposed ridge I planted some M. peregrina and M. ovalifolia to see how they do, but they might require soil amendment because they like very well-drained soil. We’ll see what happens.
Stenopetala Gulch, just planted. In a few years, this small drainage should turn into a shady tropical dry forest full of fat-trunked Moringa stenopetala trees. You can see one at lower left, plus pink flagging up the hillside marking the other seedlings planted.
The shady hollow will be stenopetala gulch. This small drainage has some intact bits of native woods on it, and in the gaps I planted about 20 Moringa stenopetala plants of various provenances, including seedling from trees I collected in the wild on Parmalok Island in Kenya’s Great Rift Valley. Most M. stenopetala plants in cultivation are probably not from wild plants but from cultivated ones in northern central Kenya and southern Ethiopia, where they are grown for food. In the wild, M. stenopetala seems to grow near water, and can get a very massive single trunk. In cultivation, they often grow into giant bushes. I am hoping that growing up among other trees, the ones I just planted will look more like the wild trees, with a single fat trunk.
This is a view up the street, standing on the cistern where we collect water for pumping to the water tank on the hillside (the white tank at upper center).
We got water to the site! The municipal water system doesn't reach the site, so we collect water in a cistern and then pump it via a 1hp electric pump to the water tank on the hillside. It's 250 meters and a 30 m elevation difference, so I am very impressed with the pump. The system seems to be working like a charm. Getting water to the site was a major triumph because getting the plants through their first dry season or two is all about water. Once they are established, they won't need any supplemental watering, but to get the plants going there is not botanical garden without water.
The little storeroom/ office/ receiving area, coming along nicely.
I’m giving the trees a month to see how they do. The rains have started, which means that the weeds will be growing. Between the weeds and the leafcutter ants, being a small tree in the dry tropics can be daunting. But moringas grow fast and my bet is that in a month’s time, which is when I will evaluate the success or failure of the first planting, the trees will be established and growing at the usual shockingly fast moringa pace.
I get an awful lot of emails about Zija. Most are from folks who are thinking about getting involved and they want to know if Moringa really is a miracle plant. Other people write to invite me to desist from useful real research on moringa to peddle their products. This post is a collective reply to these various questions. The short answer is that, yes, moringa is a very promising plant, and that there is nothing to suggest that taking moringa products could hurt you any more than drinking a spinach or broccoli drink is likely to hurt you. However, beyond nutrition, there is no proof in humans regarding how much moringa provides a given benefit. And even nutritionally, there isn’t much in a dose of Zija. Here are a few considerations:
1. My involvement with Zija. Many people think that I am involved with Zija because I appeared in a promotional video that the company uses (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-9e2WNPdN-I). The video was made by an excellent documentary producer, and I was pleased to work with him on the video. Note that no one in the video says anything about Zija; the entire video is about Moringa oleifera. I appeared strictly as a botanical expert on the family, not as someone promoting the product or receiving any compensation from the company.
2. Zija’s products include a mix of dried moringa leaf, “seed cake” (normally this refers to the solids remaining after the oil has been pressed out of the seeds), and “fruit powder,” i.e. ground up dried fruits. Why this mix and not just leaves? Leaves are the most nutritious part of the plant, and the parts with the highest antioxidant activity, so there’s no reason to eat seed cake or dried fruits. I suspect that added seed cake and dried fruit is to give their products a “proprietary mix” to distinguish them from other moringa products that are just leaf. That way they can promote their products as having a special plus that other just-leaf products don’t have. But for nutrition, and at least judging from studies in the laboratory in cultured cells and in animals, for nutraceutical applications like cancer chemoprevention and glucose regulation for diabetes, pure leaf is by far the best part of the moringa and I can’t see any health advantage in adding seed and fruit to the mix.
3. As I have mentioned in other posts, dry powder may be a convenient way to transport moringa, but it tastes like hell. Broccoli or spinach are also nutritious vegetables. Why don’t you take them in dry powder form as well? A lot of us burp dry leaf powder all day. It is just as silly to “take” moringa as if it were a medicine when it is a nutritious vegetable. Better to eat moringa as a vegetable and receive all of its benefits.
4. On my desk I have a packet of Zija Xmam capsules that someone gave me. It says that the capsules contain 495 mg of stuff, including caffeine, coffee, Seville orange, and a species of stonecrop, plus, of course, moringa. The Zija web page about the product (accessed 1 July 2014) says that “Zija’s proprietary Moringa oleifera blend provides a healthy dose of 90+ verifiable, cell-ready vitamins, minerals, vital proteins, antioxidants, omega oils, and other benefits.” Let’s see how much in the way of “vital proteins” you get from your daily Xmam pill. The moringa leaf powder that’s in the product is, remember, diluted with seed cake and dried fruit powder, so who knows really how much nutritious leaf powder is in it. Let’s be generous and imagine that all 495 mg in the capsule is moringa leaf. Remember that moringa leaf powder contains about 25% protein. 25% of 495 mg = 124 mg protein. From a previous post you will remember the World Health Organization guideline that an average adult needs about 105 g protein /kg body weight /day, so about 8400 milligrams/day. So 124/8400 X 100 shows that an Xmam capsule would provide about 1.5% of the “vital proteins” that you need in a day, provided that the capsule is pure moringa leaf, which it isn’t. The claim is true—the capsule will provide protein of high quality, it just isn’t a significant amount. The moringa in Zija won’t hurt you, but it won’t provide much nutrition either.
So, the message, as always with moringa, is that moringa is a vegetable and it should be eaten that way. Products such as pills, drinks, extracts, and other nonsense misunderstand what moringa offers and in some cases, especially concentrates, could even be dangerous. But moringa has been eaten as a vegetable for thousands of years. To receive the full benefits of moringa, cook up some leaves and have a nice big helping with your next meal.
If you are reading this post, you probably do not really need moringa.