Tree Friend Assignment – Moringa Oleifera
Moringa or Drumstick Tree
The Moringa Oleifera is a tree of many names depending on the country it is growing in. As well as being called the Drumstick Tree (because of the shape of its seed pods), it’s also known in English as the Horseradish tree (due to the flavour of its roots), and the Ben-oil tree or Clarifier tree: – Oil of Ben is the lipid extracted from the mature pods, and the ground seed of the Moringa can be used in water-purification. (1)
CLIMATE: The Moringa Oleifera originated in the southern Himalayan foothills in India, where there is a distinct monsoon season from June-September, and rainfall of 3900mm annually. It has become wide spread throughout the world, growing prolifically in humid, tropical or sub-tropical climates (alt: 0-2000m), growing best in temperatures between 25 – 35C. It prefers lots of sun and heat, it can tolerate semi-arid climates and survive temperatures up to 48C (in the shade), and even the occasional light frost (2). It will be killed back to ground level by a freeze but will spring back from the ground quickly afterwards. (5) It is drought-tolerant; it can survive well in dry conditions without the need for extensive irrigation, needing only 250 – 1500mm annually.
DIMENSIONS: While the Moringa tree can grow to a height of up to 12 m under optimal conditions without human interference, most backyard Australian specimens rarely grow above 5 metres, with most gardeners lopping them back to 1-2m to enable easier harvesting (6,8). It has an open, sparse arbour with a span of about 3 m, so provides only light shade.
SOIL: Well-drained sandy/loamy soil, pH neutral to slightly acidic (pH 5-9). Roots can become waterlogged and rot easily if not well-drained, it is NOT flood-tolerant.
LIFE: The expected life span for the Moringa tree is about 20 years, with a production-life of about 16-18 years. If grown from cuttings, the tree can be producing fruit within 8 months; from seed it can take up to 4 years.
HARVEST SEASON: In cooler climates there is a definite Summer flowering/Autumn harvest, but in a warmer climate with less-defined seasons, flowering and fruiting can begin in early Spring and re-occur in Autumn. Some growers have described warm winters as creating an unpredictable fruiting. (8)
CARE: Moringa can be pruned or lopped annually, to 1-2m, both to increase yield and keep harvest within reach. (1) Some gardeners fully pollard, and even coppicing will produce new shoots both from the stump and the ground around. It needs to be protected from cold snaps.
PESTS/DISEASES: The Moringa is mostly pest-resistant, with the most common “pest” being livestock which love the seedling and young plants. So it needs to be protected from stock, either with fencing for young plants or by cutting off lower branches of mature trees. Termites can be a problem, requiring anti-termite mulches or ash to be piled around base of seedlings.
Food: The Moringa is an excellent staple crop tree. The leaves and young seed pods are eaten as vegetables; in many cases the roots are also consumed (although it is worth noting that some sources caution that a nerve paralysant has been found in roots and excess consumption could be harmful (5)).
As the leaves and pods are an excellent source of vitamins, protein, minerals and amino acids, it is a nutritionally-dense food and used for malnutrition-relief in many countries. (1) The young leaves are eaten as spinach would be, the young pods are similar to asparagus. In the mature pods, the green peas and white pod-tissue are removed and eaten in various ways, and the seeds from mature pods can be used to extract the Oil of Ben which is excellent as salad dressing. (5)
Medicinal: The Moringa tree is highly praised for its many health-supporting qualities. The leaves are said to stabilise blood pressure; control glucose levels; treat anxiety and intestinal disorders, colonic inflammation, skin infections and internal parasites, and scurvy (4). The seeds have anti-bacterial qualities, against skin-infecting bacteria such as staphylococcus. The flowers can be made into tea or a tincture to fight cold symptoms. The gum is diuretic, astringent and abortifacient and used against asthma (5). The oil can be used for prostate and bladder problems, the bark and roots for inflammation, cardiac and circulatory problems. (4)
Timber: The wood is very soft, young plants often require support in windy conditions (3) so it is not suitable for building purposes, other than light construction. (5) It is a good firewood but produces poor charcoal (5).
Oil: The Oil of Ben can be used for cosmetic and lubrication purposes, as well as food/medicine, and keeps fairly well. (2)
Fibre: from beaten bark useful for making small ropes and mats. (5)
Flowers: providing nectar for bees. (5)
In addition, lopped and pruned branches are useful as livestock fodder; the bark can be used for tanning hides and the wood yields a blue dye (2); powdered leaves or seeds make good soap for hand-washing and the pressed-cakes (by-product of oil pressing) can be used as water filtration. (1)
When planted closely Moringa can make a living fence or wind-break, and is used for soil-erosion problems.
1. Wikipedia – en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moringa_oleifera
2. Miracle Trees – miracletrees.org
3. Moringa Oleifera Australia – moringa-oleifera.com.au
4. The Lovely Plants – thelovelyplants.com/tag/moringa-oleifera/
5. World Agroforestry Centre – worldagroforestry.org
6. Gardening Australia – Factsheet: Drumstick Tree
7. Daley’s Fruit Tree Nursery
8. Local gardeners!
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