Moringa: An Ancient, New Super Food

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Also known as horseradish tree or Indian horseradish among its many monikers, moringa is emerging as a super food in the Western hemisphere and as a supplement that appears to offer a bevy of benefits to support good health.

Interestingly, all parts of the plant are edible. In its native sub-Himalayan areas of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, where the leaves, bark, flowers, fruit and seeds are used medicinally and the pods are eaten as a vegetable.

Moringa grows easily in poor soil, making it an ideal source of nutrients in under-developed countries. In the U.S., numerous other foods are already cultivated that provide the same nutrients, so moringa hasn’t caught on as a crop. More commonly, the leaves, dried and ground into powder supplement, are the most commonly consumed part of moringa.

“It does have a pretty robust nutrition profile: amino acids, anti-oxidants, anti-bacterial effects, and studies say it can balance insulin levels and increasing insulin sensitivity versus resistance,” said Kristen Gill, registered dietitian with Sisters Metabolic Center for Health & Wellness in Buffalo. “A lot of people are using this as a ‘super food.’”, a website specializing in medical news, states that moringa may be used for anemia, arthritis, asthma; cancer; constipation; diabetes; diarrhea; epilepsy; stomach pain; stomach and intestinal ulcers; intestinal spasms; headache; heart problems; high blood pressure; kidney stones; fluid retention; thyroid disorders; and bacterial, fungal, viral, and parasitic infections.

It’s also used to reduce swelling, increase sex drive, prevent pregnancy, boost the immune system, and increase breast milk production.

The site further stated that some use it topically as a germ-killer or drying agent, and treatment for abscesses, athlete’s foot, dandruff, gum disease, snakebites, warts, and wounds.

“I’ve tried it and it has got a very light taste to it,” Gill said. “You can’t really detect it in things. It’s palatable and has a stevia taste to it, slightly sweet.”

Moringa tastes a bit like green beans or spinach, only slightly sweeter, making it ideal for green smoothies.

Dana Ingebretson, a local registered dietitian, said that anyone interested in supplementing with moringa should check with their doctor to make sure it won’t negatively interact with their current medication.

“Get a variety of more fruits and vegetables,” she said. “Buy in-season, mix up fruits and vegetables and shoot for five servings a day and strive for more if you’re already eating that many. Frozen is just as good as fresh. Or eat canned if that’s most accessible.”

Pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid moringa, as no studies have shown it’s safe for them.

The roots should be avoided as they’re toxic.

Mary Jo Parker, registered dietitian in private practice in Williamsville, cautioned that “quality assessments of safety haven’t been conducted. There isn’t a whole lot of research for all of the claims they’re making.

“It’s very promising because it’s loaded with nutrients, a good source of vitamin A, vitamin c, beta-carotene, calcium, iron, essential amino acids and natural phenols. It’s good for diminishing the effects high cholesterol. But a lot of times what ends up happening is people run with it because it looks like a wonder food without doing research. If you eat a food or part of a food, it’s different than an extract.”