Malunggay: Nutritionally-packed vegetable

Malunggay, known in the science world as “Moringa oleifera,” is one of the of the world’s most useful, yet often overlooked, plants.  The “natural nutrition for the tropics” is how the Florida-based Education Concerns for Hunger Organization described malunggay.

For centuries, people in India, Philippines, Malaysia , and Thailand have been eating malunggay leaves as part of their food.

Emily Laurence, writing for “Good Food,” considered malunggay, which she described as “super green” as “a stronger anti-inflammatory than turmeric.”  She wrote: “When it comes to fighting inflammation – also known as the root of all health evils – turmeric is the most talked-about holistic solution…  Another superfood is starting to become just as popular due to the fact that it’s even stronger than turmeric.”

People these days are becoming interested on anything green.  “People are looking for ways to get the most nutrient-dense (green) they can,” pointed out Lisa Curtis, founder of Kuli Kuli, America’s leading moringa supplier.

Malunggay is the answer to that quest.  “Most greens are 90% water, leaving only 10% for nutrients.  But moringa is only 80% water,” Curtis claimed.  She recommends eating just two grams a day but for those who want to take it medically to fight inflammation, she urges people to take up to 10 grams a day.

If apple is the food that keeps Americans from the doctor away, it’s malunggay in the Philippines.  “If Manny Pacquiao shows how a Filipino fights in the ring,” commented one scribe, “malunggay is the symbol of Filipino fight against malnutrition.”

In fact, during the Marcos administration, there was a craze about malunggay, being a solution to the malnutrition problem in the countryside.  The late president himself was a malunggay addict, consuming soup littered with green leaves in every meal in addition to the legendary saluyot and labong ( bamboo shoots) as his main fare.

It may sound like magic, but nutritionists aver that 100 grams of malunggay leaves yield the following: 75 calories of energy (higher than ampalaya, squash, tomatoes, or carrots), 5.9 grams protein (higher than cauliflower, lettuce, or mustard), 12.8 grams carbohydrate (higher than okra, papaya, or watermelon), 353 milligrams calcium (higher than gabi leaves, mung beans, squash, and camote tops), 3.7 milligrams niacin (higher than other vegetables analyzed).  And for thiamin, phosphorus, and ascorbic acid, malunggay is at the top of the list.

That’s only for starter.  Nutritionists also affirm that 200 grams of malunggay leaves would give a nutritive value roughly equivalent to four eggs and two glasses of milk.   Its iron compound prevents deficiency of red blood cells known as anemia.  And being a very rich source of calcium, it aids in maintaining healthy bones and teeth.

In addition, malunggay is rich in vitamin A (higher than red and green mung beans, radish, or eggplant), thus helping prevent xerophthalmia, a disease of the eye.   Adults are urged to eat malunggay leaves as its vitamin C content is higher than those of ampalaya leaves.

Malunggay seeds
But how much malunggay should a person eat? Lowell Fuglie, author of Moringa oleifera: Natural Nutrition for the Tropics, writes: “For a child aged 1-3, a 100-gram serving of fresh, cooked leaves would provide all his daily requirements of calcium, about 75% of his iron and half of his protein needs, as well as important amounts of potassium, B vitamins, copper, and all the essential amino acids.  As little as 20 grams of leaves would provide a child with all the vitamins A and C he needs.”

Several antioxidant plant compounds have been found in malunggay leaves.  In addition to vitamin C and beta-carotene, it also contains quercetin (which may help lower blood pressure) and chlorogenic acid (may aid moderate blood sugar levels after meals).

Dr. Atli Arnarson, writing for the website,, reported of a study where 30 women took seven grams of malunggay leaf powder every day for three months.  The result: fasting blood sugar levels was reduced by 13.5%.

“Additionally, a small study in six diabetic patients found that adding 50 grams of moringa leaves to a meal reduced the rise in blood sugar by 21%,” Dr. Arnarson wrote.

Filipino women consider malunggay as ally in nurturing babies.  In fact, most mothers call malunggay as their “best friend.” For lactating women, malunggay aids in the production of vitamin-rich milk for the newly-born baby.

“Moringa leaves and pods can do much to preserve the mother’s health and pass on strength to the fetus or nursing child,” Fuglie points out.  “One 100-gram portion of leaves could provide a woman with over a third of her daily need of calcium and give her important quantities of iron, protein, copper, sulfur, and B-vitamins.”

The leaves are not the only parts that can be used for health reasons.  Malunggay seeds contain 40% oil, which is considered excellent massage oil because it has good anti-oxidant properties and shelf life ranging from four to five years. As the oil is anti-oxidant, it is also good for cooking.  In fact, it can be an alternative for olive oil, as it is odorless and has a mild nutty flavor.

The seeds can also be used to purify drinking water, according to Geoff Folkard and John Sutherland, both members of the Environmental Engineering Group at the University of Leicester in United Kingdom.  To do this, remove first the light ‘wings” and the shells of the seeds.   The remaining white seed kernels are finely crushed and pounded, using a pestle and mortar.

To treat 20 liters of water, about two grams of crushed seeds is needed.  A small amount of clean water is added to the crushed seed to form a paste.  The paste is placed into a clean bottle.  A cup (200 milliliters) of clean water is added and the bottle is shaken for five minutes.  This action activates the chemicals in the crushed seed.

The solution is filtered through clean white cotton cloth into a 20-liter bucket of water.  The contents are stirred rapidly for two minutes, followed by slow stirring for 10-15 minutes.  “During the slow mixing period, the moringa seed binds together the fine particles and bacteria into larger particles which sink and settle at the bottom of the bucket,” Folkard and Sutherland contend.  “After an hour, clear water can be drawn off.”

According to the two authors, the process removes 90% to 99.9% of the bacteria, which are attached to the solid particles, as well as clearing the water.  However, some harmful microorganisms still in the water may not be removed, “especially if the water is badly polluted.”

For drinking water, further purification is recommended – either by boiling or with a simple sand filter.  As for the dried seeds not used in the process or already powdered, they can be stored in a safe place.  However, the paste must be prepared fresh each time it is used for water purification.

Malunggay is touted to be a “miracle vegetable” because it is not only a food, it is also a medicine.  The leaves are good for curing headache, bleeding from a shallow cut, and can be used as anti-inflammatory, or cure for gastric ulcers and diarrhea.  The seeds, on the other hand, can treat arthritis, rheumatism, gout, cramp, sexually transmitted diseases, boils, and urinary problems. It is also used as relaxant for epilepsy.   The roots, bark and gum of malunggay likewise have potential medicinal value.

Malunggay also helps in strengthening the immune system, control blood pressure, restores skin condition, relieves headache and migraine, reduces inflammation and arthritis pains, manage the sugar level thereby preventing diabetes, restrict growth of tumors and heal ulcers.

But that’s not all.  If you plant malunggay in your backyard, you help curb the consequences brought about by climate change.  In addition, malunggay trees also help stabilize soil.  The tree is highly resistant to drought and needs little care.  It is fast-growing and lives for average of 50 years.   Each tree can produce approximately 10,000 seeds a year.  It also makes an excellent fuel and fertilizer.