Moringa and the scourge of malnutrition

It’s that time of year when so many of us forget there are others out there way less fortunate than ourselves. In this silly season, as we indulge, many suffer.

With a little effort and knowledge, malnutrition can, I believe, be eradicated -partially if not permanently.

To understand what malnutrition is we need to look at its causes, symptoms and treatments.

First off – What is malnutrition?

This is when one’s diet – the intake of food we eat – doesn’t provide us with the nutrition (calories and proteins) our body needs. Malnutrition is also where we consume the wrong/bad/ill nutrition. Mal being a prefix meaning wrong, bad, ill. Or in some instances where we consume too many calories. Animals like humans can also suffer from malnutrition.

WHO (World Health Organisation) says that malnutrition is the gravest single threat to global public health.

In the case of child deaths, 45% can be attributed to malnutrition.

Underweight births and inter-uterine growth restrictions are responsible for about 2.2 million child deaths annually.


Deficiencies in vitamin A cause 1 million deaths each year.

Malnutrition contributes to diseases such as measles, pneumonia and diarrhoea.

We often only attribute malnutrition to third world or developing countries, but in our developed, industrialized countries certain marginalised groups suffer the same fate.

  • Elderly people, especially those in long term institutional care.
  • Poor people.
  • People that are socially isolated.
  • People with chronic eating disorders (bulimia or anorexia nervosa)
  • People convalescing after illness.

Signs and symptoms of malnutrition that may include:

  • Breathing difficulties.
  • Low sex drive.
  • Depression.
  • Longer healing time for wounds.
  • Fatigue, apathy or tiredness.
  • Hair loss.

In children who are malnourished slow behavioural and intellectual development takes place. Even if treated these disabilities may persist – in some cases for life.

In wealthy and industrialised nations malnutrition is usually caused by:

  • Poor diet.
  • Mental health problems (anorexia nervosa or bulimia)
  • Mobility or lack thereof (being able to get fresh foods)
  • Digestive disorders and stomach conditions.
  • Alcoholism.

In poor nations malnutrition is commonly caused by:

  • Food shortages.
  • High food prices and poor food distribution.

One of the saddest facts, according to the 2017 Global Nutrition report, is that the African continent faces serious nutrition-related challenges. It’s the only continent in the world where children are both fat and stunted. 60 million African children under five are not growing properly. 10 million others are classified as overweight.

Could a ‘miracle tree’ help end this pandemic?

According to Steven Putter, executive director of the Imagine Rural Development Initiative, which has been planting Moringa trees in Zambia since 2013 and Kurt Bihlmaeir of CoZim trust who’s been doing the same, but in Zimbabwe – malnutrition can be defeated.

First off — what is Moringa oleifera and just why is it called God’s miracle tree?

  • Moringa oleifera is a tree that is known to have incredible nutritional and   healing properties. Some call it the miracle tree or tree of life. (Some          believe that the earliest reference to Moringa being used was in Exodus  15: 23-27.)
  • Its green leaves and stems are packed with vitamins, amino acids, anti-oxidants and protein.
  • This drought-resistant plant is known by many names including the drumstick tree and horseradish tree.
  • As a food its leaves are rich in protein, minerals and vitamins A, B and C.
  • In ancient Egypt, Greece and throughout the Roman Empire, Moringa oil was used as a prized perfume.
  • Moringa flowers are used to make tea and its seeds can be roasted and eaten like peanuts.
  • Moringa seed powder has anti-bacterial properties and can be used in the process of water purification.
  • In some instances, the Moringa plant is used as a supplement in animal feed.
  • Moringa plants can be harvested every five to seven weeks. The Moringa tree likes sunshine and can withstand drought conditions. It grows quickly from seed or cutting and can reach a height of 12 feet within the first year. It regenerates itself after even the most severe pruning.

How do we use the ‘Miracle Tree?’

  • The leaves and young, green pods can be eaten like vegetables. The leaves are prepared similar to spinach. They are low in fats and carbohydrates, but contain a very high content of protein, calcium, minerals, iron and vitamins A, B and C. Moringa ranks amongst the best of perennial tropical vegetables.
  • Moringa flowers can be fried. Some say they have the texture and taste of mushroom. The flowers can also be made into an herbal tea that’s useful in treating colds.
  • Seeds in the pods are prepared in the same way as green peas, or they are roasted and eaten as peanuts.
  • When the pods turn brown the seeds can be crushed to obtain a high-grade oil comparable to olive oil.
  • The oil in turn can be used for cooking, making soap, for burning lamps and for the treatment of skin infections like scabies.

These are just a few uses for the Moringa tree. (Ways that the Moringa tree can be used.) There are many more.

Just two thoughts:

  • What if a few hundred Moringa trees were to be planted at every rural school and the learners taught how to use and harvest the produce.
  • Could Moringa be the cornerstone that is needed to relieve the nutrition-related challenges of Africa?