Moringa, also referred to as a ‘supermarket on a trunk’, is potentially one of earth’s most valuable plants.
In addition to serving as a reliable source of diverse foods, the tree provides lamp oil, wood, paper, liquid fuel, skin treatments and the means to help purify water. Despite its multiple uses, the moringa tree is relatively unknown to most people outside Africa.
The tree comprises four edible parts; pods, leaves, seeds and roots. The green bean-like pods are the most sought after portion, not only because of their taste-similar to asparagus-but also because they are highly nutritious.
Dr Twaha Kakooza, a herbal expert, says the pods provide a good balance of amino acids and minerals and contain one of the highest vitamin C levels of any tropical vegetable.
He says moringa leaves are also an excellent source of nutrition. People commonly boil the tiny leaflets and eat them like spinach. The leaves contain vitamins A and C in addition to more calcium than most other greens.
They also contain such high levels of iron that doctors frequently prescribe them for people with anaemia.
Before they are fully mature, Kakooza says the pods can be picked for their soft seeds. The seeds can be boiled and eaten like fresh peas or fried to taste like peanuts.
The seeds can also be pressed for oil that can be used in cooking, medicinal ointments, lamp fuel and in soap making. The thick, soft roots are another important food resource, and are usually used to make a condiment similar to horseradish. The roots and shoot tips have a high protein content.
Ronald Lotet, a senior environment officer in Mubende, says one gramme of moringa leaves contains seven times more vitamin C than one gramme of oranges.
A gramme of the leaves also contains four times more calcium than one gramme of milk, four times the vitamin A in carrots, two times the proteins in milk, and three times the potassium in bananas.