Part of a new wave of exotic vegetables, Moringa oleifera (MO) is a botanical platypus. A member of the order Brassicales, it’s a distant relative of both the cabbage and papaya. Its roots taste so much like its cousin horseradish, that it’s earned the title ‘horseradish tree’. Its fruit, a popular Indian vegetable, looks like a cross between an okra and a pole bean with the flavor of asparagus. Its cooked flowers mimic mushrooms in taste, while its leaves hint at spinach and lettuce. Its immature seeds are used like peas and if fried when mature, resemble peanuts.
In fact, it’s hard to find a part of Moringa that isn’t edible. Even the bark is sometimes taken internally for diarrhea. But that doesn’t come as a surprise to the locals, who consider it a living pharmacy. Moringa has proven to be a multipurpose arsenal that dispenses some of the best secrets nature has to offer. For centuries, it has been used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat a host of ailments including anemia, bronchitis, tumors, scurvy, and skin infections.
Drought hardy and disease resistant, MO is a godsend during the dry season, when little food is available. The fresh leaves and branches serve as an excellent source of forage. Indeed, a Nicaraguan study confirms MO’s ability to boost milk production in cows without affecting its taste, smell, or color.
The leaves offer a spectrum of nutrition, rich in vitamins A, B, and C, as well as protein, calcium, and iron. They are so nutritious in fact, that they contain more vitamin A than carrots, more vitamin C than oranges, more calcium than milk, more iron than spinach, more potassium than bananas, and more protein than either milk or eggs! A traditional item in pickles and curries, the raw leaves are also perfect for salads.