The Burji domesticated it centuries ago and named it Shalqeda. The world adopted and called it Moringa. Join me as I share comprehensive details about the nutritious and medicinal magical tree.
Origin of Moringa
In one of his articles, John Staughton hypothesized that most early humans learned what to eat and not eat through instinctual responses. Others learned behaviours from parents and related kin.
I am not sure which of the two was in play, but, Centuries ago, the Burji found the Moringa, domesticated, and named it Shalqeda.
Secondary texts attribute the origin of the Moringa to Asia and parts of Africa. The name Moringa is derived from the Tamil word for drum stick.
Some call it a “drum stick” tree because it is wider and round at the base and narrower at the top. Others call it “The Tree of Life,” “The Miracle Tree,” and the “Mother’s Helper Tree.”
The most common among the 13 species of Moringa is the Moringa stenopetala and Moringa Oleifera.
Moringa Aloifera is native to the Northwestern Indian area of the Himalayas. On the other hand, Moringa stenopetala is Native to Northern Kenya and Southern Ethiopia.
In Kenya, Moringa stenopetala is indigenous to Moyale, Marsabit, and Isiolo. In Ethiopia, It is found in the Southern Ethiopian regions of the Burji, Konso, Kaffa, Gamo-Gofa, and Sidamo.
It is also found in other east African countries like Uganda, Sudan, Djibouti, and Madagascar.
Other indigenous Moringa species to Kenya and Ethiopia are Moringa Arborea, Moringa longituba, Moringa rivae, and Moringa ruspoliana.
Moringa species are classified based on their leaves, apex, pods, or colour.
Moringa the Burji Identity
Shalqeda has a substantial sentimental value to the Burji. Almost every Burji homestead in Kenya and Ethiopia has a Shalqeda tree in its compound.
Typically, every homestead has at least 2 or more trees, depending on the size of the plot.
For that reason, the tree dots the landscape in Marsabit, Moyale, and even the Juja area of Kiambu-the new Burji settlement.
Similarly, the surest way of identifying places where the Burji had settled in the past is by the shalqeda trees left behind. That is, for instance, evident at Moyale Primary school area on the peripheries of Moyale town.
Perhaps pointing towards their closeness, Moringa is also common with the Konso and Gamo people of southwestern Ethiopia.
While the Burjis call it Shalqeda, The Konso call it Shelaqta, while the Gamo people call it Halako.
Uses of Moringa
Shalqeda is the main vegetable for the Burji, especially during the dry seasons. It is also fodder for the livestock. Due to its evergreen nature, Shalqeda provides shade.
Surplus leaves are harvested and sold at the market. In the recent past, other ethnic groups, upon realizing the benefits of Moringa, have embraced it.
In loglogo, for instance, a town along Isiolo Marsabit highway inhabited by the Rendile tribe has witnessed dozens of Moringa trees.
The Loglogo farm is owned by the catholic church and is right adjacent to the tarmac on the edge of Marsabit town.
Those who frequent the highway will agree with me that they are greeted by parading Moringa trees.
Uses of Different Parts of the Moringa
As a vegetable, it is used in Burji stable foods such as fiqe and qanchibelo.
The Konsos sometimes cook moringa leaves without any cereals. Water is drained from the cooked leaves before rolling them into balls. Kukurfa is made of moringa leaves.
In India, the powder from the leaves is given to nursing mothers to increase milk production, thereby averting malnutrition.
In addition, powdered moringa leaves are also used to make tea.
Moringa seeds are used to purify water. It removes around 90% of impurities in water. It has been found to remove heavy metals and bacteria from water, purifying it for drinking.
The immature pods are used as food, and it has been shown to have high fibre content.
The Moringa roots are dried and ground to powder. The seeds and flowers also produce oil that has medicinal value.
Nutritional Values of Moringa
Moringa is rich in vitamins A, B, C, D, and E. It also contains folic acid, pyridoxine, nicotinic acid, calcium, potassium, zinc, magnesium, iron, and copper
It contains 7 times more vitamin C than oranges and 15 times more potassium than bananas.
Moringa contains phytochemicals such as tannins, sterols, terpenoids, flavonoids, saponins, anthraquinones, and alkaloids. That makes it good in health promotion and disease prevention.
The immature pods have high fibre content, which treats digestive problems and prevents colon cancer.
The pods also have high palmitic, linolenic, linoleic, and oleic acid content, all of which are considered good cholesterol.
The leaves also have high iron, protein, and amino acid content, which help heal the body and build muscles.
Medicinal Value of Moringa
Moringa is called “the tree of life” or “the miracle tree” because it is drought resistant, grows fast, has high nutritional value, and potential medicinal use.
Moringa extracts have high vitamin B content, which helps in the faster and efficient digestion of food and converts the food into beneficial energy rather than storing it as fat.
It is therefore effective in reducing and controlling weight gain. As a result, it reduces fatigue and improves energy levels.
Moringa is considered a highly nutritious antioxidant. It contains a potent compound structurally similar to sulforaphane, a phytochemical that cancels out free radicals, neutralizes toxins, and prevents chances of getting certain cancers.
Extracts from Moringa are also thought to prevent macrophage activation thus believed to have anti-inflammatory effects.
Moringa is also shown to lower cholesterol and blood pressure.
Perhaps the most commonly understood medicinal value even among the rural folks is the belief that Moringa helps treat diabetes.
Research has shown that extracts from Moringa have an anti-diabetic effect, promoting pancreatic health and reducing blood glucose levels.
Moringa leaves, especially the newly sprouted ones, are laxative as they increase bowel movement.
This is especially good when one is having constipation and experiencing problems with digestion or bowel movement. Ensure you also take half a cup of the Moringa leaves green soup.
The medicinal benefits of Shalqeda, aka Moringa tree, are summarised as follow;
- Treating oedema and other inflammation
- Protecting the liver-antioxidant properties
- Prevention and treatment of cancer
- Treat stomach complain (constipation, gastritis, and colitis)
- Fighting against bacterial disease
- It makes bones healthier – calcium
- Protects and nourishes skin and hair – iron
- Treating mood disorders; fatigue, anxiety, depression (improves digestion and energy)
- Helping wounds heal
- Treats diabetes – improves pancreatic health and reduces blood sugar level
- Protects against kidney disorders
- Reduces blood pressure
- Improves eye health – antioxidant properties
- Treating anaemia and sickle cell disease – iron
While several health benefits are associated with supplements from moringa extracts, research is still ongoing. Therefore, the findings are not yet conclusive, especially on the side effects in humans.
Today, edible Moringa powder is found in leading supermarkets. Other products such as Moringa soap are also found in many countries.
The writer is a Veterinary doctor currently pursuing a Masters degree in Field Epidemiology and Public Health.