By Umar Nsubuga
It grows in a number of countries and its name differs from place to place, but, everywhere the moringa oleifera is found, communities agree that it is a miracle tree.
The tree grows well under direct sunlight, below 500 metres above sea level and it tolerates a wide range of soil conditions. However, it grows better in well-drained sandy or loamy soil.
Useful parts of moringa oleifera include the leaves, seeds that contain oil, the bark and roots. In India, it has been discovered that its leaves prevent over 300 different diseases.
Scientists, confirm that the leaves are in fact a power-house of nutritional value.
Ronald Lotet, a senior environment officer in Mubende, says that one gram of moringa leaves contains seven times more Vitamin C than one gram of oranges.
A gram of the leaves also contains four times more calcium than one gram of milk, four times the vitamin A in carrots, two times the proteins in milk, and three times the potassium in bananas.
The fast growing, drought resistant tree produces seeds that can also purify water to the quality of boiled water. Seeds of the tree, introduced by Asians in Uganda, in the 1950s, can also be eaten as food.
“Imagine a tree with miraculous powers. This tree can wipe out malnutrition in our world. Even in poor soils, this tree would be easy to grow, and would be particularly indestructible in that if a branch were cut off, several others would grow in its place”, Lotet says.
Moringa oleifera can be propagated through direct sowing as well as planting cuttings or seedlings.
Every part of the tree, or a mixture of it (bark, seeds, leaves and roots) make a wide variety of herbal medicines, treating diseases like asthma, leprosy, cancer, arthritis, diarrhea, venereal infections powder made from moringa trees can be used to purity honey or sugar-cane juice, without necessarily boiling the substances.
Some people use the tree as a source of dyes. Blue is the common dye produced by moringa. In some parts of the country, crushed moringa leaves are used to scrub cooking utensils.
Gum produced from moringa tree trunks has been used in printing and making medicines hides and skins.
Lotet reveals, that incorporating moringa leaves into soil before planting, can prevent damping off disease among seedlings.
The bark of the tree can be beaten into a fibre and used to make ropes or mats. Oil for cooking, manufacture of soap, cosmetics or other industrial uses can be extracted from the seeds.
Lotet says powder from crushed moringa seed kernels works as a natural coagulant, attracting solid materials in water and sinking them to the bottom.
“Since bacteria in water is generally attached to solid particles, treatment with moringa powder can leave water with 90-99% of the bacteria cleared”.
In Malawi, the national corporation responsible for the water and sewerage activities uses moringa powder to purity its water for public use. Lotet explains that in 1993 the national body spent 400,000 pounds on chemicals required for water treatment.
In Uganda, a kilogramme of moringa seeds costs at least sh50,000. It is estimated that mono-cultivation of moringa trees has a potential to produce up to five tonnes of seeds per hectare. This compares favourably to the average yield of two tonnes of sunflower and 0.5 tonnes of groundnuts.
In a kilogram, there are between 3,200 to 4,670 of moringa seeds, meanwhile, the oil content of unshelled kernels is about 36.4%-40.6%.
“Since the kernels represent about 75% of the whole seed weight, the whole content of the seed ranges between 27.3%to 30.4%”, Lotet notes.
Twaha Kakooza, a naturopathic doctor with Shatwa Medical Herbs says in rural areas like Bbaale the plant is still there, it’s oil is extracted by boiling the de-husked seeds.
He says the tree has many uses its parts like the immature green pods or drumsticks are prepared like the green bean while the seeds are removed from the more mature pods and cooked or roasted.
According to Kakooza the roots are shredded and used as a condiment with sharp flavour. Leaves can also be used as vegetables or dried and used as spices.
Virtually, every part of the tree is useful.
Kakooza says moringa can be useful in combating malnutrition, especially among infants and nursing mothers.