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. 
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Moringas are often grown as ornamental street trees, as this Moringa oleifera in La Habana, Cuba. More on these outdoor uses later.
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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.
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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.
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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. 
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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. 
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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. 
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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. 
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Like most leaf vegetables, moringa reduces a great deal when you cook it. This amount of leaf reduces to...
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About this much cooked moringa leaf, boiled, drained, and ready to eat, mmm!!
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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 hildebrandtiiMoringa 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!
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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.
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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. 
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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.
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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. 
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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.
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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.
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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. 

 
 
Does taking moringa cause side effects? Before asking this question, stop thinking of moringa as a medicine and think of it as what it really is, a nutritious vegetable. Replace your question with the name of your favorite nutritious vegetable, for example “Are there side effects from eating broccoli?” This will help you think properly about moringa and how to eat moringa, as well as manage your expectations regarding “side effects.”

 
 
When your livelihood depends on plants, nitrogen is an obsession. A little nitrogen can make all the difference between a sapling that barely hangs on year after year and a vigorous, healthy tree that strikes its roots deep and firmly into the ground and bears abundantly year after year. So it's no wonder that a lot of people ask if Moringa can fix nitrogen. The short answer is no. If you want my random speculation on why so many people seem to think it does fix nitrogen, and why it would be so nice if it could, then read on. 

 
 
That brilliant man, Balbir Mathur, of Trees for Life, says "do you avoid planting a tree just because you know that it will be attacked by bugs?" Whether it's a metaphor or a real tree, of course we go ahead!

In January 2014, here at the International Moringa Germplasm Collection, we have spider mites. 
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Mites love Moringa! Here you can see the tell-tale webbing and little dots of spider mites on the leaves of a Moringa rivae.
Spider mites are very fond of moringas, especially when they get stressed. Sooner or later, most moringaphiles have to deal with these evil little creatures. Fortunately, as we will see below, treating them is easy. 

 
 
Verdcourt's 1985 "A synopsis of the Moringaceae" starts with the sentence 
The species of Moringa occupy the well-known arid area distribution stretching from southern Angola and southwestern Africa across to Rajasthan with the addition of Madagascar. 

Verdcourt is referring to a pattern of plant distribution observed across many groups. For example, Commiphora, the myrrh genus, is found in great diversity (many species) and abundance (many individuals) in the dry lowlands of northwestern South Africa and Namibia. As you move north through the tropical deciduous forests of Angola, Commiphora disappears as the West African moist forests come to dominate. They reappear in northeast Africa, especially the northeast Kenya-southeast Ethiopia-Somalia area, where the greatest diversity and abundance of Commiphora species is found. In between, there are few or no species. Many other plants follow this pattern, Moringa among them. 

The greatest diversity of Moringa species is found in the tropical dry lowlands of northeastern Africa, especially the area where Kenya, Ethiopia, and Somalia meet. Moringa arborea, borziana, longituba, peregrina, pygmaea, rivae, ruspoliana, and stenopetala all grow in this area. Moringa borziana is the southernmost of the northeast Africa species, growing west of Mombasa in southeastern Kenya. It has never been collected in Tanzania as far as I know. The westernmost of the northeast African species is M. stenopetala, which grows in the Kenyan Rift Valley in northwestern Kenya. To the west of the Kenyan drylands lie the wet forest of the Congos and Gabon. No moringas there. To the south we only find moringas again in souther Angola and northern to central Namibia, as well as in Madagascar. 

What gives? What causes this pattern, in which related dryland plants are found in southwestern and northeastern Africa but nowhere else? 


Graduate student John Zaborsky, in Ken Systma's lab at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is using Moringa samples from the International Moringa germplasm Collection, plus a bunch of other plant lineages, to examine this issue. John says 
It is hypothesized that an African Arid Corridor existed across the humid, wet interior of Africa numerous times in the past that allowed these plants to move north and south.  I want to test whether the divergence times of these taxa align with the known/hypothesized timing of the corridor or whether long distance dispersal can explain these distributions.
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John with a large Uncarina at the Huntington in San Marino, California. Photograph by Karen Zimmerman of the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.
John plans to obtain as many samples as possible from plant groups that have species growing in both northeast and southwestern Africa. He can then reconstruct the patterns of relationship between the species based on similarities in their DNA sequences. Given some ideas about how fast the DNA of these groups mutates, he will be able more or less to estimate when the northeast-southwest splits occured. If the splits coincide with moments when the African Arid Corridor was available, then this evidence will suggest that the plants migrated along it. If he finds that the splits do not coincide, this might suggest that long-distance dispersal is the likely agent, e.g. birds carrying seeds from northeast to southwest Africa. 

Because of its classic northeast-southwest distribution, Moringa is a key group for John's study. We sent him samples of M. borziana, M. concanensis, M. drouhardii, M. longituba, M. oleifera, M. ovalifolia, M. peregrina, M. rivae, M ruspoliana, and M. stenopetala. The crucial split in the family occurs between the southern species (M. drouhardii, M. hildebrandtii, both Madagascar, and M. ovalifolia, of Namibia) and M. stenopetala + the rest of the genus (northeast Africa, Arabia, and the Indian subcontinent. 

Long-distance dispersal seems unlikely for Moringa given that the seeds are very large and have adaptations for wind dispersal (the wings on the seeds of most species) or possibly even water (the spongy tissue in M. stenopetala seeds), which would only get them relatively short distances. These features also make them unlikely candidates for ingestion and later excretion by birds. They germinate very fast, making long distance floating in salt water seem unlikely. So my bet is that the M. ovalifolia-rest of the genus split falls at a time coincident with the Africa Arid Corridor. We'll keep an eye on John's progress and see what he finds!

References

Olson, M. E. 2002. Combining data from DNA sequences and morphology for a phylogeny of Moringaceae. Systematic Botany 27(1): 55-73. pdf

Verdcourt, B. 1985. A synopsis of Moringaceae. Kew Bulletin 40: 1-23.