The Moringa: Tree of life for the poor
by Tabitha Plueddemann
29 May 2012
A group of 15 people—all of whom have been diagnosed with AIDS, or are HIV positive—gathers in northeast Burkina Faso, a place where the virus is still highly stigmatized. Today an agriculture teacher from a Bible school has come to speak about nutrition. André does not bring imported bottles, costly pills or glossy pamphlets. He brings young tree saplings. He explains how its leaves can be added to foods as a nutritional supplement and immune booster. At the close of the session, each participant receives a bag of powder and a sapling to take home to plant. The tree’s name? Moringa.
Moringa oleifera may be one of the most useful trees on the planet today. From root to tip, flower to pod, bark to leaf, every part is valuable. This drought-resistant plant thrives in tropical climates and grows like a leafy exclamation mark up to four meters tall.
Across Africa, Asia and South America, moringa is being tapped as a supplement for malnourished and sick individuals, especially in AIDS-ravaged areas. Susan McDonald, SIM HOPE for AIDS Projects Mentor writes, “Some African churches are using the moringa plant as the primary natural supplement in their home-based care programs … Health workers are now treating malnutrition in small children and pregnant and nursing women with moringa leaf powder. The results have often been dramatic.”
In Malawi, HOPE for AIDS nurse Liz Piper teaches about the benefits of local plants such as moringa and eucalyptus during monthly meetings for home-based care volunteers. She reports that patients have now added moringa to their diets.
Moringa leaves, gram for gram, contain seven times the Vitamin C of oranges, four times the Vitamin A of carrots, four times the calcium of milk, three times the potassium of bananas, three times the iron of spinach (and is often prescribed for anemia), and three times the Vitamin E of almonds. In total, it provides 30 different nutrients needed by the human body.
Nutrition aside, moringa is also an effective ingredient in soap, skin products, ointments and medicines. It is beneficial as a high-protein animal feed and soil fertilizer. Furthermore, moringa seeds can act as a natural anti-coagulant to clean dirty water of debris.
Today 70 percent of HIV+ sufferers live in sub-Saharan Africa. Their immune systems are being attacked in a context where malnutrition is already rampant. Yet on this same continent grows a resilient and common tree whose every part lends itself to health and vitality. It is not only affordable to the rich, but to the poorest of the poor. While costly ARV drugs remain crucial for advanced stages of AIDS, we thank God that amidst this crisis of historic proportions, he has supplied an ordinary tree which bears extraordinary gifts.
HOPE for AIDS blog: Cooking suggestions for Moringa
HOPE for AIDS is an international family of more than 40 projects spanning 12 countries in Africa and India. The majority of work is accomplished through the commitment of nearly 2,000 courageous volunteers. The mission of HOPE for AIDS is to engage and support local partners in an effective, holistic and compassionate response to HIV and AIDS that transforms individuals, families and communities through Christ's love. Project 99383. Learn more: www.hopeforaids.org
Melissa Lukenbaugh photos