Moringa oleifera: Drumstick tree

Family: Moringaceae
Common name: Drumstick tree, Moringa, Horseradish tree, Ben oil tree, Benzolive tree, Miracle tree, The never die tree, Senjana

Drumstick tree is also called the miracle tree because all parts of this tree are nutrient-rich, and it is an easy source of protein and calcium. Drumstick trees grow to a height of 10-12 meters, but they can be easily grown in big flowerpots and restricted to grow to 2-3 meters for terrace gardens and balconies.

The stem is greyish-white with a fissured bark, especially in full-grown trees. Long thick stems arch downwards and are covered with drooping leaves which are light green when young. Drumstick tree leaves are small, thin, and tripinnate having many leaflets giving the tree a feathery look. The tree flowers abundantly with bunches of white, lightly fragrant flowers which are 1-1.5 cms long.

After pollination, the Moringa trees produce green, long, hanging fruits with a leathery outer covering, which are 30-45 cms long. The fruits contain globular seeds that have 3 white translucent wings, that help in seed dispersal through wind and water. The fruitpods and seeds turn brown on maturity, when the seedpods open up to release the seeds.

Drumstick trees can take severe pruning, and even coppicing where the tree is cut down a few inches above the ground level. The tree can thrive and grow well from this stage, with a well-rounded, bushy crown making it easy to pluck leaves and flowers.

These trees are grown as ornamental trees, living fences, fodder trees and also for the vegetable, moringa, which are also called drumsticks because of their shape. India is the largest producer of drumsticks, averaging 1 million tonnes every year.

The tree is easy to grow, needs very little maintenance and fertilization. Once established in the soil, they can withstand drought, pollution, salinity, weather fluctuations and poor soil. It starts yielding fruits 6-8 months after planting, but seed production will be lower for the first 2-3 years. After that it can produce 500-800 seedpods a year, and also provide an abundance of leaves for cooking.

Different parts of the tree like roots, flowers, immature seedpods and seeds are all used for various purposes. Leaves are the most nutritious with good amounts of Vitamin A, B, C, K, calcium, iron, protein and manganese. These leaves are cooked and eaten, or powdered and added to soups or sauces.

Green seedpods are used in many dishes like sambhar and daal, where they are cut into 4-5 inch pieces after removing the outer layer of green covering. Sometimes, they are also split length-wise to make it easy to eat the soft flesh inside. The flesh inside can also be scraped off with a spoon and used to make savoury dishes.

Drumstick seeds can be roasted and eaten like peanuts, once they are mature. Oil extracted from the seed is edible, and is also used as a biofuel. The seedcakes obtained after oil extraction is used as fertilizers in gardens. Roots of this miracle tree are grated and used in dishes.

Since all parts of this tree can be used in cooking, and is packed full or nutrients, Moringa trees are grown in many poor countries to combat malnutrition, especially among infants and children. It is quite easy to dry Drumstick leaves because of their low water content, and is also easy to store. Dry leaf powder could be used as garnishes in soups, sauces, and baked items like breads, pies and pastries.

Morinage is rich in antioxidants and is used in treatment of diabetes, inflammation, cholesterol, malaria, arthritis, skin diseases, muscle weakness, tumours, anemia, stomach diseases and bacterial infections. Moringa also have antifungal, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory properties. Different parts of the plant available in the market are leaves, seedpods and seeds. The are also available as pills, powders, liquid, tea and oil.

Propagation is through seeds and stem cuttings.