Geographical Distribution in Africa
Geographical Distribution of Moringa in Africa, Source ICRAF. Updated on 26th March 2019.
General Information and Agronomic Aspects
Moringa is a slender, fast growing, deciduous shrub or small tree reaching 9 to 15 m in height, with an umbrella shaped, open crown. It is an exceptionally nutritious tree with a variety of potential uses.
Almost every part of plant is of value for food. Seed is said to be eaten like a peanut in Malaysia. The thickened root is used as a substitute for horseradish. Foliage is eaten as greens, in salads, in vegetable curries, as pickles and for seasoning. Seeds yield 38 to 40% of a non-drying oil, known as "ben oil", used in arts and for lubricating watches and other delicate machinery. Ben oil is clear and odourless, has an unusually long shelf life, never becoming rancid. It is edible (with a sweet, mild pleasant taste) and useful in the manufacture of perfumes and hairdressings.
(c) Courtesy EcoPort (http://www.ecoport.org): R. Botha
(c) Courtesy EcoPort (http://www.ecoport.org): M.E. Oson
Climatic conditions, soil and water management
It grows best in direct sunlight below 500 metres altitude, but it can grow in altitudes up to 1200 m in the tropics. It grows best between 25 to 35°C, but will tolerate up to 48°C in the shade and can survive a light frost. It tolerates a wide range of soil conditions, but prefers a neutral to slightly acidic (pH. 6.3 to 7.0), well-drained sandy or loamy soil. Minimum annual rainfall requirements are estimated at 250 mm with maximum at over 3,000 mm, but in waterlogged soil the roots have a tendency to rot. (In areas with heavy rainfall, trees can be planted on small hills to encourage water run-off). Presence of a long taproot makes it resistant to periods of drought. It readily colonises stream banks and savannah areas where the soils are well drained and the water table remains fairly high all the year round (EcoPort; AVRDC; Fuglie; Moringa Farms)
Propagation and planting
- Moringa trees grow easily from seeds or hard-stem cuttings. When using seeds they can be directly sown in the field or used for raising seedlings in nursery beds and transplanted. Direct seeding is preferred when plenty of seed is available and labour is limited, and when enough water is available. Thus, direct seeding can be done in the backyard garden, when there is enough water available for irrigation. In a large field, trees can be seeded directly at the beginning of the wet season. Transplanting allows flexibility in field planting but requires extra labour and cost in raising seedlings. Stem cuttings are used when the availability of seed is limited but labour is plentiful.
Moringa seeds have wings and are about the size of a large pea. Seeds do not need sunlight in order to germinate. Moringa seeds have no dormancy period, so they can be planted as soon as they are mature and they will retain the ability to germinate for up to one year (Fuglie, Trees for Life, AVRDC). To encourage rapid germination, one of three pre-seeding treatments can be employed:
- Soak the seeds in water overnight before planting.
- Crack the shells before planting.
- Remove shells and plant kernels only.
- Choose an area with light and sandy soil, not heavy with clay or water-logged.
- If planting a large plot it is recommended to first plough the land.
- Prior to planting a seed or seedling, prepare a planting pit by digging holes 30 to 50 cm wide and deep, water, and then fill in the pit with topsoil mixed with compost or manure (at the rate of 5 kg per pit ) before planting seeds. This planting hole serves to loosen the soil and helps retain moisture in the root zone. This will enable the roots of the seedlings to develop rapidly. Compost or manure will help the tree grow better, even though Moringa trees can grow in poor soils. Avoid using the soil taken out of the pit for this purpose: fresh topsoil contains beneficial microbes that can promote more effective root growth.
- Moringa can also be planted on 30-cm-high raised beds to facilitate drainage (AVRDC).
To plant seeds directly in the ground:
- Plant 2 or 3 seeds in each hole, 5 cm apart. Plant the seeds at a depth of 2 cm (approximately the size of one's thumbnail).
- Do not water heavily for the first few days. Keep the soil moist enough so that the top soil will not dry and choke the emerging saplings, but not too wet or else the seeds can drown and rot.
- Two weeks after germination, or when the seedlings are 10 to 15 cm tall, keep the healthiest seedling in the ground and remove the rest.
(Fuglie, Trees for Life, AVRDC)
In the nursery:
Seedlings for transplanting can be grown in divided trays, individual pots, plastic bags, or seedbeds. Use of divided trays and individual containers such as poly bags is recommended because there is less damage to seedlings when they are transplanted. Grow seedlings under shade or in a screenhouse.
Use poly-bags with dimensions of about 18 cm in height and 12 cm in diameter. The soil mixture for the bags should be light, i.e. 3 parts soil to 1 part sand. Plant 2 or 3 seeds in each bag, 1 to 2 centimetres deep. Keep moist but not too wet. Germination will occur within 5 to 12 days, depending on the age of the seed and pre-treatment method used. Remove extra seedlings, leaving the strongest seedling in each bag. Seedlings can be transplanted in the field when they are 60 to 90 cm high. When transplanting, cut a hole in the bottom of the bag big enough to allow the roots to emerge. Be sure to retain the soil around the roots of the seedling (AVRDC).
Transplanting to the field
- The day before transplanting, water the filled pits (see land preparation) or wait until a good rain before out-planting seedlings. Fill in the hole before transplanting the seedling. In areas of heavy rainfall, the soil can be shaped in the form of a mound to encourage drainage
- Do not water heavily for the first few days. Keep the soil moist enough so that the topsoil will not dry and choke the emerging saplings, but not too wet or else the seeds can drown and rot.
- If the seedlings fall over, tie them to stick 40 cm high for support.
Growing from cuttings
To grow trees from cuttings use hard wood, avoid using young green stem tissue. Cut off the branches after the trees have stopped producing fruits. This will promote fresh growth and the cut branches provide excellent cuttings for growing new trees. Compared to trees planted from seed, trees from stem cuttings grow faster but develop a shallow root system that makes them more susceptible to moisture stress and wind damage.
Cuttings can be planted directly or planted in sacks in the nursery. When the cuttings are planted in the nursery, the root system is slow to develop. Cuttings planted in a nursery can be transplanted after 2 or 3 months. Cuttings can be 45 to 180 cm long with diameters of 4 to 16 cm. Cuttings can be dried in the shade for 3 days before planting in the nursery or in the field.
When planting direct in the field:
- Dig a hole 1m x 1m wide and 1 m deep
- Place cutting in this hole and fill with a mixture of soil, sand and composted manure. Pack firmly around base of the cutting. This will facilitate drainage. It is not desirable that water touches the stem of the new tree
- Water generously, but do not drown the cutting in water. If the soil is too heavy or wet, the roots may rot.
In India, some cow dung is put on top of the open end of the cutting to protect the cutting from pests (Trees for Life)
For intensive moringa production, plant the tree every 3 metres in rows 3 metres apart. When the trees are part of an alley-cropping system, there should be 10 metres between the rows. The area between trees should be kept free of weeds (Fuglie and Sreeja).
The Asian Vegetable Research and Development Center (AVRDC) recommends, if using raised beds, to form beds with 2-m-wide tops, and space plants 3 to 5 metres apart in a single row. For production of leaves only, space plants 50 cm within rows 1 metre apart. For intensive production of leaves, space plants 10 to 20 cm within rows 30 to 50 cm apart. Closer spacing allows harvest of young edible shoots every 2 to 3 weeks.
Trees are often spaced in a line 1 metre apart or closer to establish living fence posts.
Moringa trees are planted in gardens to provide support for climbing crops such as pole beans, although only mature trees should be used for this purpose since the vine growth can choke off the young tree. Moringa trees can be planted in gardens to provide shade to vegetables less tolerant to direct sunlight. Trees are planted in hedgerows forming wide alleys where vegetables are planted within. Choose vegetables that are adapted to alley cropping, such as shade-tolerant leafy vegetables and herbs, since moringa hedgerows are highly competitive and can reduce yields of companion plants significantly. From the second year onwards, moringa can be intercropped with maize, sunflower and other field crops. Sunflower is particularly recommended for helping to control weed growth. However, moringa trees are reported to be highly competitive with eggplant and sweet maize and can reduce their yields by up to 50% (Fuglie and Sreeja; AVRDC).
Moringa trees do not need much watering. In very dry conditions, water regularly for the first two months and afterwards only when the tree is obviously suffering. moringa trees will flower and produce pods whenever there is sufficient water available. If rainfall is continuous throughout the year, moringa trees will have a nearly continuous yield. In arid conditions, flowering can be induced through irrigation.
Pinching the terminal tips: When the seedlings reach a height of 60 cm in the main field, pinch (trim) the terminal growing tip 10 cm from the top. This can be done using fingers since the terminal growth is tender, devoid of bark fibre and brittle, and therefore breaks easily. A knife blade can also be used. Secondary branches will begin appearing on the main stem below the cut about a week later. When they reach a length of 20 cm, cut these back to 10 cm. Use a sharp blade and make a slanting cut. Tertiary branches will appear, and these are also to be pinched in the same manner. This pinching, done four times before the flowers appear (when the tree is about three months old), will encourage the tree to become bushy and produce many pods within easy reach. Pinching helps the tree develop a strong production frame for maximising the yield. If the pinching is not done, the tree has a tendency to shoot up vertically and grow tall, like a mast, with sparse flowers and few fruits found only at the very top. During its first year, a moringa tree will grow up to five meters in height and produce flowers and fruit. Left alone, the tree can eventually reach 12 meters in height with a trunk 30 cm wide; however, the tree can be annually cut back to 1 metre from the ground. The tree will quickly recover and produce leaves and pods within easy reach (Fuglie).
When harvesting pods for human consumption, harvest when the pods are still young (about 1 cm in diameter) and snap easily. Older pods develop a tough exterior, but the white seeds and flesh remain edible until the ripening process begins.
When producing seed for planting or for oil extraction, allow the pods to dry and turn brown on the tree. In some cases, it may be necessary to prop up a branch that holds many pods to prevent it breaking off. Harvest the pods before they split open and seeds fall to the ground. Seeds can be stored in well-ventilated sacks in dry, shady places.
For making leaf sauces, harvest seedlings, growing tips or young leaves. Older leaves must be stripped from the tough and wiry stems. Older leaves are more suited for making dried leaf powder since the stems are removed in the pounding and sifting process (Fuglie).
Nutritional Values and Recipes
Moringa oleifera has an impressive range of medicinal uses and a high nutritional value.
Moringa is one of the world's most nutritious crops. Different parts of this plant contain a profile of important minerals, and are a good source of protein, vitamins, beta-carotene, amino acids and various phenolics (Anwar 2007). The leaves are outstanding as a source of vitamins A and, when raw, vitamin C. They are also a good source of B vitamins and among the best plant sources of minerals. The calcium content is very high for a plant and phosphorous is low. The content of iron is very good (it is reportedly prescribed for anaemia in the Philippines) and the leaves are an excellent source of protein and a very low source of fat and carbohydrates. Thus, the leaves are one of the best plant foods that can be found (Moringa Garden Circle).
According to a gram-to-gram comparison of nutritional information, moringa leaves contain four times vitamin A of carrots, four times calcium of milk, three times potassium of bananas and twice protein of yoghurt and more iron than spinach (Trees of Life; Gopalan 1971; AVRDC).
Virtually every part of moringa is edible. The leaflets can be stripped from the feathery, fernlike leaves and used in any spinach recipe. Small trees can be pulled up after a few months and the taproot ground, mixed with vinegar and salt and used in place of horseradish. Very young plants can be used as a tender vegetable.
Leaves: Of all parts of the tree, the leaves are most extensively used. The growing tips and young leaves are best. The leaves can be used any way you would use spinach. One easy way to cook them is this:
Steam 2 cups freshly picked leaves for just a few minutes in 1 cup water seasoned with an onion, butter and salt. Vary or add other seasons according to your taste.
In India, leaves are used in vegetable curries, seasonings and in pickles. (Moringa Garden Circle)
Pods: Young moringa pods, known as "drumsticks" are edible whole, with a delicate flavour like asparagus. They can be used from the time they emerge from the flower cluster until they become too woody to snap easily (the largest ones usable in this way will probably be 30 to 40 cm long and 0.6 cm in diameter). At this stage, they can be prepared in many ways. These are three possibilities:
- Cut the pods into one-inch lengths. Add onion, butter and salt. Boil for 10 minutes or until tender. Steam the pods without seasonings, and then marinade in a mixture of oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, garlic, and parsley.
- Steam the pods without seasonings, and then marinade in a mixture of oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, garlic, and parsley
- Make a soup by boiling the pods with onion until tender. Add milk, thicken, and season to taste.
(Source: Moringa Garden Circle)
Root: The root, best known in India and the Far East, is extremely pungent. When the plant is only 60 cm tall, it can be pulled up, its root scraped, ground up and vinegar and salt added to make a popular condiment much like true horseradish. However, the root bark MUST be completely removed because of its toxicity it contains two alkaloids (e.g. moringinine and spirachin), that affects the nerve system and which can be fatal following ingestion. Even when free of bark, the condiment, in excess, may be harmful. (Echo Technical Notes, 1996)
Peas: The seeds (peas) can be used from the time they begin to form until they begin to turn yellow and their shells begin to harden. Only experience can tell you at what stage to harvest the pods for their peas. To open the pod, take it in both hands and twist with your thumbnail; slit open the pod along the line that appears. Remove the peas with their soft winged shells intact and as much soft white flesh as you can by scraping the inside of the pod with the side of a spoon. Place the peas and flesh in a sieve and wash well to remove the sticky, bitter film that coats them. A better option is to blanch them for a few minutes, then pour off the water before boiling again in fresh water.
Now they are ready to use in any recipe you would use for green peas. They can be boiled as they are or seasoned with onion, butter and salt, much the same as the leaves and young pods. They can be cooked with rice as you would any bean. The peas can also be prepared using this recipe:
- 12-15 horseradish tree pods
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 4 cups grated coconut
- 2 bouillon cubes
- 2 inches ginger root
- 4 tablespoons oil or bacon grease
- 1 clove garlic
- 2 eggs, hard-boiled
- Salt and pepper to taste
Blanch both peas and pods and drain. Remove milk from 2-1/2 cups grated coconut by squeezing water through it 2 or 3 times. Crush ginger root and garlic, save half for later. Mix peas, flesh, coconut milk, ginger root and garlic together with onion, bouillon cubes, oil, salt and pepper. Bring to boiling and cook until the peas are soft - about 20 minutes. Fry remaining half of crushed ginger root and garlic in 2 tablespoons of oil. Dice eggs. Add coconut, ginger, garlic and eggs to first mixture. Heat through. Serve. (Moringa Garden Circle)
Medicinal Properties and Uses
In addition to its high nutritional value, M. oleifera is very important for its medicinal value. (Anwar 2007)
The flowers, leaves and roots are widely used as remedies for several ailments.
- Fresh leaves are good for pregnant and lactating mothers; they improve milk production and are prescribed for anaemia.
- Leaf juice is used as a diuretic; it increases urine flow and cures gonorrhoea. Leaf juice mixed with honey treats diarrhoea, dysentery and colitis (colon inflammation).
- The leaf juice has a stabilising effect on blood pressure and controls glucose levels in diabetic patients.
- In India and Nicaragua, leaves and young buds are rubbed on the temple for headache.
- In India and the Philippines, a poultice made from fresh leaves is applied to reduce glandular swelling.
- Leaf juice is sometimes used as a skin antiseptic.
- Leaves are used as an irritant and as a purgative.
- In Nicaragua, Guatemala and Senegal, leaves are applied as poultice on sores and skin infections.
(Source: Maroyi, 2006; Moringa for Life: Moringa Medicine Pharmacopoeia)
Moringa seeds are effective against skin-infecting bacteria Staphylococcus aureus and Pseudomonas aeruginosa (Council of Scientific and Industrial Research 1962, Oliver-Bever 1986).
The bark of the moringa root should be scraped off because of its toxicity and the flesh of the root should be eaten sparingly (Oliver-Bever, 1986). A paste made from bark treats boils. Paste from ground bark can be applied to relieve pain caused by snake, scorpion and insect bites. Oil is sometimes applied externally for skin diseases (Maroyi, 2006).
Moringa oleifera is already highly esteemed by people in the tropics and sub-tropics for the many ways it is used medicinally by local herbalists. In recent years, laboratory investigation has confirmed the efficacy of some of these applications (Moringa for Life).
Information on Pests and Diseases
Moringa is resistant to most pests and diseases, but outbreaks may occur under certain conditions. For example, diplodia root rot may appear in waterlogged soils, causing severe wilting and death of plants. Mite populations can increase during dry and cool weather. Mite attack may lead to yellowing of leaves, but plants usually recover during warm weather. Other insect pests include termites, aphids, leafminers, whiteflies; and caterpillars. Termites can be a problem, especially when cuttings are planted. Suggested measures to protect seedlings from termite attack include:
- Applying mulches of castor oil plant leaves, mahogany chips, tephrosia leaves or Persian lilac leaves around the base of the plants.
- Heaping ashes around the base of seedlings.
- Spreading dry and crushed stems and leaves of lion's ear or Mexican poppy around the base of plants.
Cattle, sheep, pigs, and goats will eat moringa seedlings, pods and leaves. Protect moringa seedlings from livestock by installing fence or by planting a hedge around the plot (AVRDC; Fuglie and Sreeja).
Information Source Links
- AVRDC (2003). International Cooperator's Guide: Suggested Cultivation Practices for Moringa. www.moringanews.org
- Anwar F, Latif S, Ashraf M. and Gilani AH (2007). Moringa oleifera: a food plant with multiple medicinal uses. Phytother Res. 2007 Jan;21(1):17-25
- Council of Scientific and Industrial Research. (1962). The Wealth of India - A dictionary of raw materials and industrial products. New Delhi. Vol. V. pp 425 - 429.
- Echo Technical Note: Moringa Recipes. www.echotech.org
- EcoPort, the consilience engine: www.ecoport.org
- Fuglie, Lowell J. (1999). The Miracle Tree/Moringa oleifera: Natural Nutrition for the Tropics.
- Fuglie, Lowell J. and Sreeja K. V. Growing Moringa for Personal or Commercial Use. Moringa farms: www.moringafarms.com
- Gopalan, C., Rama Sastri, B.V.and Balasubramanian S.C. (1089). Nutritive value of Indian foods. Hyderabad, India: (National Institute of Nutrition), 1971 (revised and updated by B.S. Narasinga Rao, Y.G. Deosthale, and K.C. Pant, 1989).
- Hartwell, J.L. 1967-1971. Plants used against cancer. A survey. Lloydia 30-34.
- Illustrated brochure on Moringa leaf and fruit preparation (PDF, 233 kb) www.moringanews.org
- ICRAF, tree database www.worldagroforestry.org
- Maroyi, Alfred (2006). The Utilization of Moringa oleifera in Zimbabwe: A Sustainable Livelihood Approach. Journal of Sustainable Development in Africa. Vol.8, No.2 online version
- Moringa Garden Circle Official Tree: www.moringagardencircle.org
- Moringa for Life: A medical pharmacopoeia www.moringaforlife.com
- Moringa oleifera. The Wikipedia. en.wikipedia.org
- Oliver-Bever, B. (1986). Medicinal Plants in Tropical West Africa. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
- Purdue University, Center for New Crops & Plant Products: www.hort.purdue.edu
- Trees for Life: Moringa book www.treesforlife.org
- You can buy high-quality seed and obtain cultural information from:
Dr. David Odee
Head Biotechnology Division
Kenya Forestry Research Institute
PO Box 20412
011 254 (0)154 32891-3 or 32541 (voice)
011 254 (0)154 328-44 (fax)
email: email@example.com; put "ATTN DAVID ODEE" in the subject line.