I Grew Up Eating This Common Indian Vegetable. Now It’s a Wellness ‘Superfood.’!
Why aren’t we eating more moringa?
They are packed with nutrients, tasty, versatile, affordable and found just about everywhere
As we drove from Nagercoil to Thiruvananthapuram, I saw the flash of the the Golden Rain Tree (Cassia fistula ) trees laden with yellow flowers, flowering before time, a harbinger that the hot days are here. I saw moringa trees (Moringa oleifera) on both sides — one for every home — laden with fruits and flowers that made my farmer-heart beat faster: the pretty, small, white flowers are beautiful to look at and delicious to eat; the fruit (drumstick) hanging pendulous, long and green.
I wonder when I began to see the beauty in the moringa tree that one usually took for granted. Do people use all the drumsticks that grow in plenty or do they let it go waste? We are constantly running after super foods for immunity, to reduce weight or for anti-oxidants. How is it that we are not chasing one in our own backyards available in such plentiful? Why are we not eating more moringa?
I remember thinking grumpily to myself that when I grew up I would ban idlis and moringa from my kitchen. This was because my mother served both all the time. Idlis for convenience and moringa because we had a tree in the yard that gave prodigious amounts of fruit, leaves and flowers. I now know that tree was her budget lifeline. She cooked with them at every opportunity. This was the cheapest and easiest vegetable she could get hold of. We had dals with the leaves and aviyal and poriyals with the fruit and flowers…We dreaded the moringa days.
When we moved into our home a few years back, I spied the gnarled moringa tree and got a new stump from a gardener friend, which grew tall. Over shadowed by the splendour of our jamun tree, they barely fruit. On the rare occasion it fruits, it gifts us a three-foot-long fruit. The other one fruits way above the roof, out of reach. But neither is laden with fruits like the slender moringa trees I see on the roadsides, standing in the hot sun, branches aloft; gifting splendid bounty during the hot summers of South India.
I believe drumsticks are our super food and slow food rolled into one. Have you noticed how lunch slows down when we have a drumstick preparation? Everybody at the table is engrossed in drawing out the fleshy part from the skin and, at the end, we are left with a pile of skins and a relaxed feeling.Chew on this…
- Make a simple aviyal with drumsticks, potatoes and a smattering of onions along with coarsely ground coconut and curry leaves. Finish it off with a drizzle of coconut oil and more curry leaves
- For a poriyal, combine drumsticks with shallots. The bitter-sweet combination works well
- Try the theeyal, a gravy preparation from Kerala, made with drumsticks, shallots and roasted coconut ground fine with spices
- Fish curries and sambhars can be enriched with the drumstick
- Jackfruit seeds and drumstick poriyal is a staple during the jackfruit-laden South Indian summers
- A drumstick and raw mango aviyal not only helps reduce heat in the body but also provides a large dose of Vitamin C and iron
- Do not forget to add the drumsticks and moringa leaves to your soup
Every part of the tree is rich in curative properties. Summer is when the tree starts fruiting copiously; at other times of the year, the leaves and flowers are available. In his book Medicinal Secrets of Your Food, Aman writes that soup made with tender drumsticks can be used for relief from rheumatism, cold, impotency, urinary stones, enlargement of spleen and liver. Drumsticks are much favoured in Ayurveda and used regularly. The leaves are packed with vitamin C content. According to Aman, a handful of leaves provide as much calcium as 900 gm of almonds or 20 hen’s eggs, and a cup of moringa leaf juice provides Vitamin C equivalent to six limes … this list goes on. The dried seeds of moringa are an effective water purifier.
The West has caught on to the splendour of this miracle tree. I know many farmers who have orchards of moringa trees, harvested regularly to supply moringa leaf to processors who shade dry the leaves and make moringa tea or moringa soup powder. Both have become much-in-demand super drinks now. How nice it would be if every garden or community space had a moringa tree with enough fruit, leaves and flowers to feed one and all.