It is hard to imagine life without plants. The Nature’s green cover is, in fact, one of the greatest boons to the mankind. Plants have been a source of life, economy and sustainability from times immemorial and Moringa oleifera is one such member that is considered to be a treasure which the human race has long realised and have constantly worked to explore the qualities of this wonder tree.
Moringa oleifera (MO in short) is a member of the family Moringaceae. It is a native of the southern foothills of the Himalayan region of India. It is considered as an auspicious tree and has been used in Ayurveda from the times of Sushruta. National Institute of Health has regarded it as the Botanical Plant of the year for the year 2007 and have praised again in the year 2011 and 2012.
It is a fast growing deciduous tree with feathery foliage. Flowers are bisexual and fragrant. Fruit is hanging, three-sided brown capsule with globular seeds. Moringa seeds have no dormancy period. They can, thus, be planted as soon as they are mature and will retain the ability to germinate for upto one year. It is mainly grown in semiarid, tropical and sub-tropical areas, basically a sun and heat loving plant with temperature ranging from 25-35°C, can tolerate upto 48°C in shade but cannot withstand freeze and frost. Moringa oleifera can tolerate a wide range of soil conditions but has a preference for neutral to slight acidic (pH 6.3 to 7). It thrives well in drained loamy soil. In water logged areas the roots generally rot.
Moringa oleifera pods Moringa oleifera seed
India is the largest producer of Moringa oleifera with Andhra Pradesh leading in both area and production followed by Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Besides India it is cultivated in Thailand, Philippines, World Vegetable Centre (Taiwan), Haiti, Central America Caribbean, northern parts of South America, Africa, Southeast Asia and various countries of Oceania.
Moringa oleifera is a very resourceful plant with phenomenal medical and therapeutic relevance. Almost every part of this tree is of significance to the mankind. It is a wonderful source of nutritional supplements. It has twice the protein contents of yoghurt (very rich in sulphur containing amino acids methionine and cysteine), four times the Vitamin A content of carrots, thrice the potassium contents of banana, four times and the calcium content of milk and seven times the vitamin C contents of oranges.
Besides being a cornucopia of nutritional supplements, MO has astounding medical significance which is stated as follows:
- Antihypertensive, diuretic and cholesterol lowering effect: MO leaf juice is known to have a stabilizing effect on BP lowering. The ethanol and aqueous extracts of whole pods and its parts also have similar effects. Its roots, flowers, leaves and seeds have been reported to show diuretic activity. Crude extract of Moringa leaves have a significant cholesterol lowering action which is attributed to the presence of β-sitosterol.
- Antidiabetic activity: MO is a potent therapeutic agent for high blood sugar level. Its leaves reduce blood sugar concentration and are also a potent source of polyphenols responsible for hypoglycemic activity.
- Anti-inflammatory activity: Several parts of MO have shown to possess anti-inflammatory activity. Methanol leaf extract, alcohol extract of seeds and bioactive compounds present in MO pods have been known to exhbit anti-inflammatory effects. Quercetin along with other 36 natural anti-inflammatory agents is found in MO.
- Anticancer activity: Niamizicin, a bioactive component found in MO leaves has anti cancer activity. Its leaf extract have shown potential cytotoxic effects on human multiple myeloma cell lines.
- Immunomodulatory activity: Methanolic extract of MO parts have shown to stimulate both cellular and humoral immunity.
- A potent Antioxidant: Aqueous extracts of leaf, fruit and seeds of MO act as antioxidative agents. Ethanolic and methanolic extracts of Indian origin MO have shown to possess highest antioxidative property. It has a potent anti oxidant zeatin along with other 46 different types of antioxidants.
- Antifertility activity: Aqueous extracts of roots and bark have demonstrated anti fertility response. Its leaf extract is 100% abortive.
- Protection in Eye diseases: MO leaf pods, pods and leaf powder are rich source of Vitamin A. Thus, they prevent night blindness; have retinoprotective effects and also delays cataract development.
- Antimicrobial effects: Various parts of MO have known to exhibit inhibitory activity against several microbes. Moringa roots have been reported to contain pterygospermin which has powerful antimicrobial and fungicidal effects. Bark extract have been reported to show antifungal activity while the fresh leaf juice has been found to inhibit growth of microbes like Pseudomonas aeroginosa and Staphyllococcus aureus.
- CNS depressant and cerebroprotective: Root extract possess CNS depressant activity. MO leaf extract is a potent neuroprotectant, protects against brain damage and oxidative stress.
Other socio-industrial benefits
- As a source of human consumption: Young leaves are edible; commonly cooked and used in soups and salad. Young green pods are rich in free leucine; boiled and eaten, even made curries or used in pulses curry. Dry seeds and roots from young plants in powdered form can be used as seasoning base.
- MO as a forage plant: Owing to its excellent nutritional properties, easy cultivation practises and wide availability has made this plant the most preferred choice of forage material for cattle.
- Industrial uses: Moringa seed kernels have approximately 42% oil content. The oil is brilliant yellow in colour. It is extensively used in fine machinery such as time pieces because of its little tendency to deteriorate and become rancid and sticky. Also used as vegetative cooking oil and in perfume industry as stabilizing scents.
- In water purification: The press cakes obtained as by-product during oil extraction process of MO seeds contain a very high level of protein, some of which are cationic polyelectrolytes and are thus, used to purify muddy or dirty water as contaminated water contains colloids of anionic nature.
- Plant growth enhancers: Ethanolic extracts of leaves contain growth enhancing hormones of cytokinin type which can be used as spray to accelerate the growth of young plants.
Moringa oleifera is the source of incredible health source. Numerous products are available in the market to help the masses avail its benefits, for example: Moringa oleifera organic extract, Moringa oleifera organic powder, Moringa oleifera organic capsules, and Moringa oleifera organic capsules, etc.
Despite its immense potential and growing demand Moringa has not yet been widely commercialised. Following points can state the reason for this.
- Though medicinal properties and therapeutic importance of Moringa have been well documented in research publications, yet no scientific studies on Moringa have been conducted by recognised research institution which makes it difficult for the companies to market its products with health claims.
- Less research has been done on large scale cultivation of the tree and also less data are available based on its economics.
- Poor commercialisation due to low quality products, an outcome on less knowledge of harvesting and cultivation practices.
Therefore, there is an urgent need to overcome the abovementioned drawbacks and start exploring this ‘tree of life’ through proper, adequate, superior and recognised research studies.