|Moringa trees in my back yard|
Tuesday, March 1, 2016
I am always looking for something new and amazing to include in my garden. Novelty is good. Edible novelty is even better. My search for new and novel plants led me to the moringa tree. Moringa olifera is a fast-growing tree that is native to
SE Asia and commonly
used as a food source. It has a couple of features that make it ideal for
growing in your garden.
First of all, it is actually the leaves you eat. I know, that is pretty unusual for a tree, but the leaves of the moringa tree are incredibly nutritious. Moringa leaves are very high in protein, calcium, iron, magnesium, vitamins A, B, and C, and more. They are also an antioxidant and possibly even reduce inflamation. Flavor-wise, the leaves taste generically green, but with a little stronger flavor, similar to kale, but not as stong as arugula. The leaves are commonly found in health food stores dried and powdered, but I like them fresh in my morning smoothie. They can also be cooked into just about anything you put spinach in, including spinach itself. They just give a little more flavor and a lot more nutrition.
But it isn't just the leaves that are edible. The flowers supposedly taste like mushrooms. In my family, though, the pods are definitely the favorite. Moringa seed pods are long, sometimes over a foot. When they start growing, they elongate first, then start to thicken. If picked while they are full length, but still soft and floppy, they are sort of like green beans, though they have a distinct asparagus flavor. When they get a little larger, the exterior of the pod becomes fibrous. It can still be eaten, though peeling is required. The seeds inside are rather like peas. I also particularly like the pulpy matrix around the peas. It has a sweet flavor. When eaten raw, all parts of the seed pot have a slightly spicy flavor, kind of like nasturtium, though the spiciness goes away when cooked.
As a landscape plant, it is a fast growing tropical tree. I know, that sounds like you northerners are out of luck. Not true. When I say fast growing, I really mean it. This is a tree that can be treated like an annual. Planted in the ground after the first frost, in most zones it will reach 8 to 10 feet or more before first frost. When I planted my first trees I started with seeds in May and it reached over 12 feet high by fall. If started in a pot indoors, it could go even higher. When I lived in
I had a lemongrass. I could get the plant to overwinter in all but the harshest
winters if I trimmed it back almost to the ground and covered the plant with a
foot or two of mulch. I suspect the same could be accomplished with a moringa
tree. The lightest frost, which we get a couple of times a year here in Prescott, Arizona Phoenix, kills the top of
the tree. But it can die to the ground and, assuming the root doesn't freeze,
come back larger and stronger the next year.
As far as usefulness in the landscape, moringa trees fix nitrogen in the soil. (edit: Or perhaps not. See comments) This shows up most notably in the high protein content of the leaves. But they also add nitrogen to the soil. The wood of moringa trees is also very interesting. Being a fast growing tree, "wood" is almost a misnomer. It is actually a spongy, stiff material that makes balsa wood look strong. But being so light and fast growing, it is actually a great source of organic material for the garden. Any pods that grow on wood older than a year tend to be particularly bitter and inedible, so the tree is usually trimmed to three feet tall every fall or winter. As the trees can get up over 15 to 20 feet tall in a single year (they do come back stronger every year), they end up producing quite a bit of "wood." It is easily processed in an electric chipper, or by hand if you don't have one.
I know this is a plant that will be gracing my garden for years to come. I hope you give it a try as well.