With nutritional properties that give acai and goji berries a run for their money, Moringa oleifera has great potential to become the world’s newest “superfood”. But what makes moringa even better than its counterparts is that it has huge environmental benefits, with applications in water purification, sustainable agriculture, and climate adaptation. The moringa “miracle tree” is native to India, but can be grown in virtually any tropical or sub-tropical region. The “tree that never dies” is drought-resistant, can be grown in a variety of soil and precipitation conditions, and grows really fast – on the order of nearly ten feet in ten months.
Moringa trees have a critical combination of sanitation and nutritional applications that make it potentially very useful in helping to tackle both of these health issues at once. The really great news is that moringa naturally grows where these issues are the most rampant. This means that moringa already fits into local ecosystems, as it can grow easily in these areas and won’t act as a biological toxin or invasive species, while meeting local needs and supplementing existing human culture.
Moringa is Versatile
Something that makes the moringa tree unique is that every single part of the tree can be used to fulfill a need. Talk about efficiency! In total, all the various parts of the tree have applications in nutrition, agriculture, cosmetics, sanitation, and medicine. The leaves can be incorporated into meals (like Kuli Kuli moringa powder!), and the fruit can be used for condiments (moringa ketchup, anyone?). The flowers of the moringa tree produce nectar that has medicinal properties, as does the wood and the oil found in moringa seeds. The seeds and oil can also be used for cosmetics and water purification.
Sanitation and water quality issues are the biggest health issue worldwide, with 748 million people without access to clean and safe drinking water. Moringa could contribute to safer water and better livelihoods on a large scale, as a single moringa tree can sanitize one average family’s water supply. A moringa tree is very easy to take care of, and could definitely be maintained by a single family. Moringa trees are also large enough to serve as infrastructure in the form of live fences, shade for smaller species in a garden, or supports for climbing plants. The trees don’t compete with other plants for surface nutrients, so it is ideal to have in a garden to supplement existing plants.
Moringa Can Purify Water
The incredible water purification properties of moringa have been mentioned here a few times, but how exactly does this work? How could such a tiny seed make that big of an impact on the health of millions of families worldwide? Crushed moringa seeds actually “stick” to bacteria and viruses in contaminated water, causing a huge clump of them to sink to the bottom of any container of water, allowing the newly cleaned water to be poured from the container free of contaminants.
Moringa seeds can also help the water treatment process in a different way by “softening” surface and groundwater. Water is considered “hard” if it has a certain concentration of dissolved metals, such as calcium and magnesium. Hard water causes some problems, such as eroding industrial pipes in water treatment facilities and plumbing systems. Softening water can aid the water treatment process, can improve the taste of water, and can help with the efficient and safe transport of water.
This has very positive implications for agriculture, as softening water can improve agricultural productivity and thereby decrease water use. This is good news for the environment as well as for local economies, as less resource use means fewer costs. Softening water also contributes to safer water agriculture by increasing water safety, improving human health, and decreasing chemical imports that are normally used to soften water, all while using a natural and ecologically safe seed! Moringa seeds are also 40% oil, and the seed “cake” that is left after extracting the oil can serve as a sustainable fertilizer. If more people made use of the moringa seed in agriculture, there would be an increase in water efficiency, a decrease in pollution, and overall healthier soil.
Moringa just makes sense
Not only from a nutritional standpoint, but from ecological, health, societal, and environmental standpoints as well. Increased climate change in the coming years will bring with it more drought, famine, and devastation to the already compromised human populations on the planet. Forests worldwide are on the decline, taking with them the natural ability of trees to improve air quality, uptake carbon dioxide, maintain healthy soil, and decrease erosion. The developing world needs innovative ideas that not only bring about solutions to malnutrition and sanitation issues, but that also avoid environmental and economic degradation.
Moringa is called the “miracle tree”, but I don’t think it is so much a magical and unexplained miracle as it is a plant that makes sense in the here and now. It has mastered efficiency, resistance, and adaptation, and it just makes sense to expand the use of moringa in its natural ecosystem to tackle some of the most widespread and pressing human health and environmental concerns in our world today.