THE drumstick tree has been a part of Indian cuisine for decades. Added to mutton curry, or dhall curry, the leaves from the tree are said to add a different flavour to food.
The good news is that apart from its taste the miracle tree, also known as the Moringa Oleifera, may be the answer to malnutrition.
Dr Samson Tesfay, a Pietermaritzburg-based UKZN scientist, said after two years of research he found the plant to be highly nutritious.
“Apart from its medicinal properties, the leaves are amazingly nutritious as they possess, gram for gram, three times as much potassium as bananas, seven times the vitamin C content of oranges, four times the amount of calcium in milk, twice the amount of protein in milk and eggs, and four times the amount of vitamin A found in carrots.” A researcher at Horticultural Science Department Tesfay, who completed his thesis last year on avocados as a source of energy and antioxidants, was asked to conduct laboratory tests on the moringa seeds.
“The leaf powder is given to children suffering from malnutrition and promotes lactation in breast-feeding mothers as it contains all 8 essential amino acids,” said Tesfay, originally from Ethiopia.
Tesfay said the plant was indigenous to the Western world, but was common in the Indian communities.
“Even though the plant is available is West Africa, Indian communities tend to grow the plant in their homes right here in Durban.”
Tesfay said he enjoyed eating drumstick leaves in a curry or a salad. “They can be eaten raw or cooked, and can be used in the form of a tea.” He said most interesting about the plant was that every part of the tree was edible.
“While the leaves are used for its nutritious benefits, the seeds are used for producing bio-diesel and cooking oil. Certain rural areas use the plant for water purification.”
Tesfay is currently collaborating with the iLembe District Municipality, for plans for a Moringa plantation project.
The programme seeks to build the capacity of small-scale emerging farmers, empowering them to grow Moringa trees, harvest the pods and sell them for biodiesel processing. “It is still in the pipeline.”
The drumstick tree native to India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, now grows in tropical areas in West Africa and South America. In the Ayurvedic system of medicine it is said to cure or prevent around 300 diseases.
Other benefits include an anti-cancer potential, lower high blood pressure and it has antibacterial properties.
It is also used to reduce inflammation caused by rheumatism and arthritis, and a paste is applied to the forehead to stop headaches and joint pains.
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