By Joanna Sabally, CFCA project specialist for the Africa region
I was a Peace Corps volunteer in a rural community in the Gambia, West Africa from 2003-2005. I had an opportunity to learn more about moringa oliefeira, also known as the ìMiracle Tree.î As part of my training, I learned about the nutritional benefits and uses of moringa, which was already widespread in the area. Moringa trees are small but mighty; they have an extremely high content of several vitamins and minerals, including calcium, iron, vitamin C. It also has high protein content.
Organizations in the region were promoting its use to combat malnutrition in pregnant women and young children. Generally, families in my community used the moringa plant to make leaf sauce, but there are many other uses to the plant as well. I promoted the more intensive use of moringa leaves as a healthy supplement to food, and encouraged women not to dump water drained from moringa sauces, but to drink it as a tea instead.
I grew the moringa tree intensively in my backyard and dried its leaves in the shade, so as not to lose nutrients. I would pound the leaves with a mortar and pestle and sifted them to make moringa powder. Although the moringa leaf has a somewhat strong smell and flavor, a few tablespoons of the powder can be blended into any sauce as a nutrition supplement without impacting the flavor too much. I ate the powder frequently myself, and worked with each family in the village to sensitize them about all the benefits of the plant. Adding about four tablespoons a day to a child or pregnant motherís daily food intake can make a dramatic difference in their health.
Moringa seeds can also be used to purify water, the seed pods can be eaten, and the bark and roots have medicinal uses, although parts of the roots are slightly poisonous. It does truly seem to be a ìmiracle tree.î