Climate zone: Tropical – Dry – Temperate – Continental – Polar
Moringa, also known botanically as Moringa oleifera, is a plant widely known as the “drumstick tree,” “horseradish tree,” or “miracle tree.” The plant has been utilized for decades and centuries because of its health benefits and medicinal properties. It is widely known for its antifungal, antidepressant, anti-inflammatory, and antiviral properties, thereby aiding in the protection of the cells from being damaged and boosting the body’s immune system.
The plant is cultivated mainly for its leaves and young seed pods. The leaves are used as vegetables and for herbal medicine, which aid in protecting the liver from being damaged by oxidation and toxicity. Moringa oil can also restore liver enzymes to normal levels by reducing oxidative stress, increasing protein content in the liver, and purifying water.
Being dubbed the “miracle tree” or “tree of life” by the media, moringa fruit is typically a 3-valved capsule, up to 10 to 60 cm in length, and it is also often identified as a “pod,” looking like a drumstick (hence the name “drumstick tree”).
In its coloration, the moringa fruit is green when it’s at the tender or young stage and turns brown at maturity. The mature fruit splits open along each angle to expose the seeds, while the capsule contains up to 15-20 rounded, oily seeds. The plant contains a variety of proteins, vitamins, and minerals and has few known side effects.
The History of Moringa
Historically, moringa was originally named “Nebedaye,” meaning “the one that never dies,” as identified and used in several African languages. The plant was discovered around 2000 BC in the northern region of India. The efficiency and efficacy of the plant were discovered early by the traditional doctors of India, which led to the plant being named “The Miracle Tree.” Through its effectiveness after consumption by the royal families, the plant later became an integral part of the ancient tradition of Ayurvedic medicine. It was believed in ancient India that the medicinal properties of the plant were able to supply the necessary strength and energy to their soldiers on the war fronts, as well as relieve the stress and injuries gotten during battle. The oil extracted from the plant was of high value among the ancient Egyptians, being used instead of sunscreen, but the various valuable effects of the moringa plant on human health were discovered by ancient Greeks in Europe and then spread throughout the Roman Empire when introduced to them. The moringa plant has also since then expanded into many other countries in the world.
Where Moringa grows
Currently, the Middle East, African, and Asian countries are regions where Moringa oleifera can be mainly found globally, although it is already spreading to several other countries, especially tropical and subtropical lands affected by drought. In this era, quality moringa can now be found in regions including the Philippines, eastern India, China, South Africa, and Southeast Asia. The trees are mainly grown in tropical and subtropical areas worldwide. The plant is also an undemanding plant that grows well in dry, sandy soils and up to higher altitudes.
This indigenous plant was discovered again in the 1990s, and its level of popularity has been increasing in cultivation, especially in Asia and Africa, where it is among the most economically valuable crops.
The best conditions to grow Moringa
Because Moringa oleifera is a crop that thrives with rainfall of 250–3000 mm per year, the best growing conditions for it are in the warm, semi-arid tropics. Moringa can endure a variety of environmental factors, including infertile soils, extreme heat, draughts, and moderate frosts.
The moringa tree grows to its greatest potential in sandy or sandy loam soils that have good drainage. It is able to withstand clayey soils as well, however it cannot tolerate long-term water accumulation because it would stunt its growth.
Freezing temperatures are very difficult on the moringa plant. It can tolerate temperatures between 1 °C and 3 °C during the cold season, as well as brief, low-intensity frosts. The plant dies instantly if the frost persists.
As stated earlier, extreme frost and poorly drained soils are major threats to the maximum performance of the Moringa plant. However, ensuring optimal performance in cold regions or seasons is achievable. This has to do with incorporating moringa production into an agroforestry project plan. Growing Moringa with some selected crops helps create better growth conditions for the crop and increase the soil’s health. Agroforestry with Moringa plays a vital role in soil and water conservation. It can be integrated with various shade-loving crops and create added benefits for the farmers.
Moringa also can be planted in alley cropping. It has been proven that Moringa alley cropping decreases soil acidity .
Also, because of its spreading leaf canopy, Moringa is useful in intercropping agroforestry systems where trees are needed to provide shade. They can be cultivated from either seeds or cuttings in well-drained sandy or loam soil with a neutral pH level .
What to plant with Moringa
The moringa plant can be intercropped with selected crops in an agroforestry field to boost the performance of all crops involved and also improve the soil. However, one must understand that not all crops go well with each other. Certain plant combinations can be beneficial, while others can be highly competitive, reducing maximum productivity. Moringa can be intercropped with maize, sunflower, and other field crops. Sunflower is particularly recommended for helping to control weed growth. However, Moringa trees are reported to be highly competitive with eggplant (Solanum melongena) and sweet corn (Zea mays) and can reduce their yields by up to 50% .
Moringa can be combined with a range of crops especially because they’re trees (due to less competition). You could combine it with pasture, tropical legumes (a whole range of beans, peas, peanut/groundnut, lentils, tamarind, etc), vegetables and tubers like cassava, pumpkin, tomato, kale, and okra. It’s better not to combine Moringa with cereals, but the science around Moringa intercropping is still developing.
reNature Projects with Moringa
ReNature works with projects all over the world, each project focusing on a specific key crop. The projects we work on that focus on Moringa as their key crop include Ambakofi, Wami River, Laikipia, and Kheete. Wami River has already planted 4,500 Moringa trees! Their goal is to regenerate the ranch through productive vanilla and moringa agroforestry systems whilst creating economic opportunities for smallholder farmers. Laikipia is integrating Moringa into their system for the social and health benefits that it brings. Meanwhile, in India, the Kheete project is using Moringa mainly for the ecological impact it will have on the soil.