Life & Style Weekend - - MAGAZINE | GARDEN - WORDS: MARE E CUR­RAN Got a gar­den­ing ques­tion? Email ma­[email protected]­nat­by­

We all know that plants are es­sen­tial for our sur­vival, pro­vid­ing as they do the oxy­gen that we breathe as well as an as­tound­ing ar­ray of leaves, fruits and roots to feed us.

Plenty of plants are hailed as “su­per­foods” thanks to their rich nu­tri­tional value. Among these, moringa oleifera is par­tic­u­larly pow­er­ful and is pro­moted by the UN, UNESCO and WHO for its health and nu­tri­tional ben­e­fits, es­pe­cially to chil­dren and nurs­ing moth­ers in third world coun­tries.

Moringa oleifera con­tains more than 90 nu­tri­ents, 46 an­tiox­i­dants, 18 amino acids and 36 anti-in­flam­ma­to­ries. All parts of the plant can be eaten, and it has been used medic­i­nally for thou­sands of years. It’s not sur­pris­ing, then that this tree is known by var­i­ous su­perla­tives, in­clud­ing mir­a­cle tree and tree of life.

It is a fast-grow­ing, slen­der, de­cid­u­ous tree na­tive to In­dia, where it can grow to 12m tall. It is drought tol­er­ant and pest re­sis­tant. It can be grown in full sun to part shade. It is not frost tol­er­ant, so if you live in a colder cli­mate you could grow it as an an­nual.

The leaves make a good spinach sub­sti­tute in sum­mer – they can be eaten raw in sal­ads and smooth­ies, or cooked in soups, stews, cur­ries, etc. You can also har­vest and freeze them so you have them through win­ter. The fra­grant white flow­ers can be eaten raw or cooked, you can even steep them in boil­ing wa­ter to make tea.

But leave some flow­ers so that the seed pods de­velop, be­cause these, too, are ed­i­ble, and give rise to yet an­other com­mon name, drum­stick tree. The seed pods re­sem­ble long, thin beans, and are said to taste a bit like as­para­gus. They are cooked in lots of dif­fer­ent ways, and make a good sub­sti­tute for green beans if har­vested when young and ten­der. Each pod con­tains five to 20 seeds. If pods ma­ture and turn brown, the seeds can be re­moved and cooked like green peas or roasted like nuts.

Even the roots are ed­i­ble and taste like horse­rad­ish, so moringa is also known as horse­rad­ish tree.

Ex­perts rec­om­mend that the tree is cut to 1-2m each year to keep the leaves, flow­ers and seed pods within reach. While that sounds like a chore, you can re­lax – be­cause the tree grows quickly, the wood is quite soft, so it is easy to cut.

Moringa is also rec­om­mended for an­i­mal fod­der, and is an source of green ma­nure.

No won­der they call it the mir­a­cle tree.

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