Sunday, 14 March 2010

New Use for Moringa - Saving Lives



In their (undoubtedly) best-selling book Wildsolutions, Andy Beattie and Paul Ehrlich, described the Neem (Azadirachta indica) as perhaps destined to become the world's most valuable tree crop. It produces some exciting new pesticides, some of which could be used in our home gardens to deter pests but not more helpful birds and mammals.

It certainly gets you thinking about the many values of a crop tree beyond just wood. Another came to light last week.

In a paper from Current Protocols in Microbiology - and downloadable free-of-charge thanks to John Wiley & Sons' Corporate Citizen Initiative - Canadian researcher Micahel Lea and colleagues have shown that Moringa oleifera seeds can be used to kill bacteria in drinking water.

According to the media release, a billion people in developing countries use untreated water for their daily water needs - they drink it, prepare food with it, and wash with it. It's estimated two million die each year from diseases contracted from this water, and most of those are under five years old.

Scientists are always on the look out for cheap and efficient ways to purify water. Moringa oleifera is grown widely in tropical regions of the world and already yields cooking and lighting oil (hence the species name 'oleifera', which means carrying oil), fertiliser and food. Pretty much all parts of the plant are eaten - leaves, flowers, pods (called 'drumsticks') and seeds.

According to a source cited in the on-line paper: "Moringa leaves contain more Vitamin A than carrots, more calcium than milk, more iron than spinach, more Vitamin C than oranges, and more potassium than bananas...and the protein quality of Moringa leaves rivals that of milk and eggs..."

Now another use has been found, reducing bacteria in water by up to 99.99%. The seeds are crushed into a powder and added to the water. The suspension not only kills bacteria, it reduces cloudiness too making the water look cleaner and more attractive.

Leas says by using this technique, thousands of families could free themselves from death and diseases that much of the world eliminated in the 19th century. She describes the Moringa as 'one incredibly useful tree'.

Moringa is easy to propagate and grow, and highly drought resistent. It certainly provides some competition for the Neem.

Image: from the University of British Columbia Botanical Garden site. Thanks very much to Melanie Brown of the APPEF Project, Togo, for permission to use this picture, and to the international team of Daniel, Hannes, Paul and Armelle for helping me gain this permission!

6 comments:

Aerelonian said...

I knew that it could be used to purify water but I thought it was just with regards to suspended solids. Adding anti-bacterial properties to the list makes this plant truly incredible.

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Chris and Purified Water said...

I've never heard of a Moringa. Does it grow in tropical climates like the Philippines? How is it propagated? And how is it eaten? Raw like in a salad?

Tim Entwisle said...

Mostly cooked I gather. The leaves are eaten like spinach but pretty much all parts of the plant are cooked and eaten. It will grow in most warm climates, tropical or otherwise, but I gather it doesn't like 'the cold'. Propagation is easy, by cuttings or seed.

There is a nice article on it by ABC TV Gardening Australia presenter, Josh Byrne, from 2005:
http://tinyurl.com/yz3fr47

Chris and Purified Water said...

Maybe it also comes with another name in other places.

It could have a good niche market though for people going camping. If it can purify water from rivers and streams, that will be really cool.

Tim Entwisle said...

Good point, although there is still the 0.01% of bugs to worry about.