Also known as horseradish tree, drumstick tree and malunggay, as well as several other names, Moringa oleifera is a fast-growing evergreen or deciduous tree that grows mainly in tropic and subtropic countries, where it is valued for its nutritional and medicinal use.
Moringa oleifera is indigenous to the foothills of the Himalayas, from Pakistan to India in South Asia, but has naturalised in many other countries where it is an important source of food, including the Philippines, Hawaii and parts of Africa. The leaves, flowers, immature pods and fruit of the plant are used as a vegetable. Reports indicate that the leaves are a rich source of protein, vitamins A, B and C, calcium, potassium and other nutrients. The leaves can be eaten fresh or cooked, and they can be dried and stored in powder form for several months without refrigeration. The immature pods, known as drumsticks, can be prepared like green beans and the seeds are cooked or roasted.
The pods are readily available in the UK, where they are especially popular among the Asian population.
The root, leaves, bark, gum, flowers, immature pods and the seeds of the moringa tree are all used in traditional medicinal remedies, especially in South Asia and the Ayurvedic system of medicine popular in India. It is claimed that the various parts of the tree have anti-inflammatory, anti- hypertensive, anti-spasmodic, anti-epileptic, anti-tumour and diuretic properties and they have been used to stimulate the circulatory system and lower cholesterol. Moringa has been used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat anaemia, anxiety, asthma, bronchitis, catarrah, contstipation, cough, diarrhoea, eye and ear infections, fever, painful joints, headaches and ulcers, as well as numerous other health problems.
However, although moringa has been used for centuries to treat various medical conditions, there is currently not enough scientific evidence to support claims that it has medicinal properties effective in treating these conditions.
Moringa supplements are available in the UK in capsule form and as a powder produced from the leaves. Moringa is also sold as a tea. The UK medicines regulator MHRA recommends always reading the packaging information to check the correct way to take any medicine, supplement or herbal product.