What is Moringa?
Moringa oleifera is currently enjoying a bit of a spotlight moment in the superfood world, and deservedly so. In the world of superfoods, moringa deserves a top spot. It has been a staple of traditional medicine for over 4,000 years, and Ayurvedic medicine credits it with the prevention and treatment of close to 300 diseases. Moringa, also called the drumstick tree and the miracle tree, is an extremely nutrient-dense plant native to South Asia. It is also cultivated throughout the tropics.
Moringa is anti-inflammatory, extremely nutrient dense, full of antioxidants, and can help to improve health and prevent disease. In many parts of the world, it is used to treat joint pain, cancer, anemia, heart problems, headache, diabetes, digestive issues, asthma, high blood pressure, kidney stones, thyroid disorders, and bacterial, fungal, parasitic, and viral infections.
When applied to the skin, moringa is said to help treat dandruff, warts, fungal and bacterial skin infections, and other conditions. It has also been shown to help substantially increase breastmilk production.
Moringa is a valuable food source around the world, helping to treat and prevent nutrient deficiency and malnourishment.
Moringa Health Benefits
Whether or not moringa has all of the magical healing properties that are widely touted, it is hard to ignore its impressive nutritional profile. The high nutrient density is part of what makes moringa such a compelling superfood, especially for people in parts of the world that struggle with malnutrition.
Moringa is an excellent source of protein, calcium, vitamin A, potassium, vitamin C, and iron. Ounce for ounce, moringa has 4 times the beta carotene of carrots, 7 times the vitamin C of oranges, 4 times the calcium of milk, 3 times the potassium of bananas, and twice the protein of of yogurt.
Moringa leaves and flowers are rich in polyphenols. Most notable are high concentrations of quercetin, chlorogenic acid, vitamin C and beta-carotene. Chlorogenic acid may be responsible for the ability of moringa leaves to lower blood sugar levels. Studies have found this antioxidant to slow the absorption of sugar into cells.
Moringa can lead to a reduction in blood glucose and lipid levels. Studies have shown up to a 13.5% decrease in fasting blood sugar levels among those who took moringa powder regularly for three months. Additionally, adding moringa leaves to the meals of diabetic patients has been shown to reduce the rise in blood sugar by 21%. These effects may be due in part to high levels of chlorogenic acid, which is also found in coffee.
Moringa can also help regulate oxidative stress in diabetic patients, which protects against all types of cell damage.
Inflammation is a contributing, and in some cases causal, factor in many diseases. Lowering inflammation in the body is vital to the treatment of disease and relief of symptoms. Polyphenols and flavonoids, found in moringa in high concentrations, have anti-inflammatory properties. Consuming the leaves, pods, and seeds can help to lower inflammation throughout the body and prevent chronic disease.
The high antioxidant levels in moringa help to repair and prevent cell damage. Specific to the liver, moringa has been shown to reverse oxidation in the liver, reducing liver damage and fibrosis. The oil has also been shown to restore liver enzymes to normal levels. This is particularly important, as normal levels of liver enzymes are vital for the liver to perform its tasks of blood detoxification, fructose and fat metabolism, and bile production.
Nutrient density and antioxidants prevent neuronal degeneration and help to improve brain function. Moringa also appears to help support healthy memory, mood, and mental health through the normalization of the neurotransmitters dopamine, noradrenaline, and serotonin.
Early research indicates that moringa may be a successful treatment for Alzheimer’s disease.
Moringa has been shown to have cholesterol-lowering effects. This is important, as high levels of cholesterol in the blood have consistently been linked to increased heart disease risk. Findings have been repeated in both human and animal studies, providing strong support for moringa’s ability to protect and improve heart health.
Healing Properties of Moringa
Antibacterial and Antifungal
Moringa can help fight infections on the skin and in the blood and urinary tract. Used internally, it can also help treat infections that cause digestive problems. These include bacterial, viral, fungal, and parasitic infections.
Moringa’s antimicrobial properties can help to prevent infection and encourage wound healing. It can also promote blood clotting to slow down bleeding at the site of a wound. Applied topically, moringa can decrease inflammation at the site of an injury, which also assists with pain relief.
Whatever your preferred method of consuming moringa, it is best to use products derived from the leaf, as seed extracts may be toxic to immune cells in large doses. Leaves have been shown to be safe, even in very large doses.
The flavor of moringa has been compared to that of green tea, with smoky undertones. To make a tea, add hot water to 1/2 teaspoon of moringa powder and stir. Add a sweetener such as organic stevia or raw honey if desired.
Another option is to add moringa powder to your usual daily tea. I have heard suggestions to add the powder to matcha lattes made with coconut milk.
If you don’t love the taste, a great option is to add 1/2 to 1 tsp of moringa powder to your smoothie. This is my favorite way to consume moringa – smoothie full of flavorful fruits and veggies can really help to hide the taste.
Liz Wolfe from Real Food Liz recently posted on Instagram about her successful experiments with making moringa banana muffins. She mentioned on the Balanced Bites podcast that she didn’t like the taste of moringa powder, even in smoothies, and was looking for an alternative. Liz’s suggestion is to add a scoop of moringa powder to the regular recipe.
Kuli Kuli makes some great, portable snack bars that contain moringa. These are an awesome way to harness the nutritional power of moringa if you aren’t a fan of baking your own treats.
If you don’t like the taste of moringa powder and aren’t interested in experimenting with baked goods, you can always take it in capsule form. These capsules are a great, high-quality, convenient option for supplementation.
Where to Find Moringa
Moringa is relatively easy to find. Make sure to look for high-quality powder, and avoid seed extracts (consuming seeds in whole food form is safe and widely practiced). Below are my favorite options:
Seed Oil (for topical use)
Moringa has an impressive nutritional profile and a solid record of disease prevention and treatment. It is particularly beneficial for those who are nutritionally deficient and do not have access to nutrient-dense foods. Research points to numerous benefits of moringa consumption. High concentrations of polyphenols help to reduce inflammation and protect the heart, brain, and liver. Traditional cultures have also used to treat hundreds of diseases and illnesses. Certainly a superfood, moringa is worth experimenting with if you’re up for trying something new and testing its nutritive powers.
Chumark, P. et al. (2008). The in vitro and ex vivo antioxidant properties, hypolipidaemic and antiatherosclerotic activities of water extract of Moringa oleifera Lam. leaves. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 116(3). 439-446.
Estrella, P. et al. (2000). A double-blind, randomized controlled trial on the use of malunggay (Moringa oleifera) for augmentation of the volume of breastmilk among non-nursing mothers of preterm infants. The Philippine Journal of Pediatrics, 49(1).
Ghasi, S., Nwobodo, E., & Ofili, J. (2000). Hypocholesterolemic effects of crude extract of leaf of Moringa oleifera Lam in high-fat diet fed wistar rats. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 69(1), 21-25.
Kushwaha, S., Chawla, P., & Kochhar, A. (2014). Effect of supplementation of drumstick (Moringa oleifera) and amaranth (Amaranthus tricolor) leaves powder on antioxidant profile and oxidative status among postmenopausal women. Journal of Food Science and Technology, 51(11), 3464-3469.
Mehta, K. et al. (2003). Effect of fruits of Moringa oleifera on the lipid profile of normal and hypercholesterolaemic rabbits. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 86(2-3), 191-195.
Obulesu, M. & Roa, D. (2011). Effect of plant extracts on Alzheimer’s disease: An insight into therapeutic avenues. Journal of Neurosciences in Rural Practice, 2(1), 56-61.
William, F., Lakshminarayanan, S., & Chegu, H. (1993). Effect of some Indian vegetables on glucose and insulin response in diabetic subjects. International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, 44(3).