Moringa oleifera is a tree that grows primarily in semi-arid, subtropical, and tropical areas. The Moringa oleifera is considered one of the most useful trees in the world and was even named the Plant of the Year in 2008 by the National Institutes of Health. Moringa oleifera has this distinction because nearly every part of it can be used either for food due to its excellent nutritional content, or for medicinal purposes, and because it is hardy and fast growing.
The Value of Moringa Oleifera
The pods of the Moringa oleifera tree contain seeds from which oil can be extracted. This oil can be used for cooking as well as for moisturizing the skin and managing skin abrasions. The mashed seeds are used to purify water, which is especially critical in areas where potable water is a problem. Seeds removed from mature pods can be eaten like peas or roasted, while immature pods are enjoyed as a vegetable. In Siddha medicine, the seeds are used my men who have erectile dysfunction, but there are no scientific studies to support this use.
Both the bark and roots are used in traditional cultures for medicinal purposes, and the roots can also be shredded as used as a condiment. Cooked flowers reportedly taste like mushrooms.
The leaves are an excellent source of many nutrients, especially vitamin C, beta-carotene, potassium, calcium, and vitamin E. Gram for gram, moringa oleifera leaves are said to contain seven times more vitamin C than oranges, four times more beta-carotene than carrots, four times the calcium in milk, and three times the vitamin E in almonds. Moringa oleifera leaves can be cooked and eaten like spinach or dried and crushed into a powder that can be mixed into food or used in capsules for supplements.
According to a report in Phytotherapy Research, Moringa oleifera “provides a rich and rare combination of zeatin, quercetin, beta-sitosterol, caffeoylquinic acid, and kampferol,” along with the nutrients already mentioned. The various parts of the tree “act as cardiac and circulatory stimulants, possess antitumor, antipyretic, antiepileptic, anti-inflammatory, antiulcer, antispasmodic, diuretic, antihypertensive, cholesterol lowering, antioxidant, antidiabetic, hepatoprotective, antibacterial, and antifungal activities.” (Anwar 2007) Scientific evidence to support all of these claims, however, is not available for all.
Health Benefits of Moringa Oleifera
A review published in 2007 reported on the impact of Moringa oleifera against ovarian cancer. The authors noted that research indicates Moringa oleifera can interfere with certain pathways associated with ovarian cancer, and “thus, the effects of Moringa oleifera Lam in the treatment of epithelial ovarian cancer are worth investigating.” (Bose 2007)
Another study examined the antiproliferation properties of Moringa oleifera and its ability to induce cancer cell death. Investigators used Moringa oleifera leaf extract against a human tumor cell line and found that the extract inhibited cell proliferation in a dose-dependent manner. Moringa oleifera leaf extract also induced cell death. These findings led the authors to conclude that “M. oleifera leaf extracts has the potential for cancer chemoprevention and can be claimed as a therapeutic target for cancer.” (Sreelatha 2011)
In another study, Moringa oleifera demonstrated analgesic properties in a rat model of arthritis. Investigators administered extracts from the root and leaf of M. oleifera individually, a combination of extracts of both the root and leaf, or indomethacin to various groups of rats with induced arthritis. Investigators found that methanolic extracts of the root or leaf were effective in reducing pain in the rats, and that a combination of both root and leaf extracts provided a synergistic effect in reducing pain. (Manaheji 2011)
The European Journal of Pharmacology published a study in which researchers tested the efficacy of beta-sitosterol isolated from the seeds of Moringa oleifera against airway inflammation in guinea pigs. Beta-sitosterol or dexamethasone were administered to the animals before they were challenged with ovalbumin, which caused the inflammation. Beta-sitosterol significantly increased the tidal volume and decreased the respiration rate, while also suppressing an increase in cytokine levels. Overall, “treatment with B-sitosterol protected against airway inflammation in lung tissue histopathology,” which led the authors to conclude that “this compound may have therapeutic potential in allergic asthma.” (Mahajan 2011)
Moringa oleifera also demonstrated cardioprotective properties in a recent study in rats with induced myocardial infarction. Three groups of rats were administered either saline, isoproterenol (ISP), or isoproterenol with M. oleifera for one month. ISP was administered at 24-hour intervals on days 29 and 30 to the two ISP groups. At the end of the experiment, examination of the hearts of the rats revealed that “M. oleifera extract possesses significant cardioprotective effect, which may be attributed to its antioxidant, antiperoxidative, and myocardial preservative properties.” (Nandave 2009)
How to Use Moringa Oleifera
Moringa oleifera is available as a powder, oil, and in capsules. Consult a knowledgeable healthcare professional for dosing information.
Anwar F et al. Moringa oleifera: a food plant with multiple medicinal uses. Phytother Res 2007 Jan; 21(1): 17-25
Bose CK. Possible role of Moringa oleifera Lam root in epithelial ovarian cancer. MedGenMed 2007 Feb 6; 9(1): 26
Manaheji H et al. Analgesic effects of methanolic extracts of the leaf or root of Moringa oleifera on complete Freund’s adjuvant-induced arthritis in rats. Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Xue Bao 2011 Feb; 9(2): 216-22
Mahajan SG, Mehta AA. Suppression of ovalbumin-induced Th2-driven airway inflammation by B-sitosterol in a guinea pig model of asthma. Eur J Pharmacol 2011 Jan 10; 650(1): 458-64
Nandave M et al. Moringa oleifera leaf extract prevents isoproterenol-induced myocardial damage in rats: evidence for an antioxidant, antiperoxidative, and cardioprotective intervention. J Med Food 2009 Feb; 12(1): 47-55
Sreelatha S et al. Antiproliferation and induction of apoptosis by Moringa oleifera leaf extract on human cancer cells. Food Chem Toxicol 2011 Jun; 49(6)