There is a simple tree known as “the drumstick tree,” or scientifically as Moringa oleifera, which is commonly touted as a superfood since it is rich in nutrients, antioxidants and other beneficial compounds. Unfortunately, there is also a dark side to this small tree that is native to India, and there are some important cautions to know before consuming it.
What is Moringa?
The Moringa oleifera tree is a small tree that is native to India but that grows in many parts of the world. The entire tree is considered edible and it is known for its long twisted pods, from which it derives its name. “Murungai” means “twisted pod” in the Tamil language. (1)
The Moringa tree has several names in different parts of the world including its common name of “horseradish tree,” since its roots taste similar to horseradish root when raw. In Ayurvedic medicine it is known as shigru and in Spanish it is referred to as Jacinto.
Moringa is beneficial as a food because of its ability to grow in a variety of climates, especially subtropical climates. In fact, Moringa Oleifera grows in virtually all countries where malnutrition is widespread and may be a great part of a comprehensive plan to alleviate malnutrition throughout the world. In fact:
It is believed that the moringa tree originated in northern India and was being used in Indian medicine around 5,000 years ago, and there are also accounts of it being utilized by the ancient Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians. This tree was, and still is, considered a panacea, and is referred to as the ‘The Wonder Tree’, ‘The Divine Tree’, and ‘The Miracle Tree’ amongst many others. (2)
It is also important to note that there are technically 13 different species of Moringa tree, though for simplicity, I’m referencing the Moringa oleifera tree in this post and using the common name of just “Moringa.”
Potential Benefits of Moringa
The same properties that make Moringa beneficial in fighting malnourishment lead many to believe that this plant is beneficial for everyone. It is well-documented for its nutritive abilities and there are even supplement companies based entirely around the benefits of Moringa, (though it is widely available in many forms including capsules, teas, and other forms at much lower prices).
The leaves are considered the most nutritious part and are most often used in supplements. Since a large part of the population is considered “overfed but undernourished,” Moringa may be a useful tea and supplement for many people, even in the developed world, but it is important to understand the cautions below, especially concerning the roots and stems of this plant.
These are a few of the benefits attributed to Moringa:
1. High in Nutrients
As mentioned, Moringa is a source of antioxidants and some vitamins, including:
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin A
Perhaps you’ve seen some of the health claims that gram-for-gram, Moringa has more protein than yogurt, more potassium than bananas, more calcium than milk and more Vitamin C than oranges.(3) While this is technically true, it is important to note the distinction that this is “gram for gram,” and not by volume. Since Moringa leaves are relatively lightweight, 100 grams of Moringa leaves would be substantially more volume than 100 grams of an orange.
Consider this: a medium size orange is approximately 130 grams, or 4.5 ounces. Now consider a leafy substance like Moringa leaves. For simplicity, we’ll use a similar leaf, Spinach, for comparison. The FDA estimates that 1 cup of raw spinach is about 30 grams. This means that to get the same “gram for gram” comparison, a person would have to eat 4+ cups of fresh spinach leaves to consume the same number of grams as one orange.
This comparison becomes even more glaring with some of the other nutrients. For instance, it is claimed that “gram for gram” this plant contains two times the protein of yogurt, but 100 grams of yogurt is only about 1/2 cup, while a person would have to consume 3+ cups (or six times as much by volume) fresh leaves to get to 100 grams.
While I’m not discounting the nutrients in this plant, I show this comparison to point out that for those of us eating a balanced diet, Moringa may not be as beneficial as it is to those who are truly malnourished.
Additionally, while it is a good natural source of the nutrients listed above, 1 cup of fresh Moringa leaves provides only 10-20% of the RDA for these nutrients listed above, so a person would have to consume a lot to obtain “superfood” levels of these nutrients. Most Moringa supplements are dried, not fresh, which reduces the amount of certain nutrients and concentrates others.
2. May Reduce Inflammation
Though Moringa isn’t a spectacular source of nutrients for those already consuming a nutrient-dense diet, it may have another benefit that makes it helpful for those in the developed world. The levels of antioxidants present in the leaves may help reduce certain types of inflammation.
Moringa has been found to contain Flavonoids, such as quercetin, as well as beta-carotene, Vitamin C, and Chlorogenic acid. Quercetin is sometimes used as a natural antihistamine for its ability to stabilize histamine production in the body. Chlorogenic acid is also found (in higher amounts) in coffee and has been found to have a balancing effect on blood sugar in some lab trials. (4)
As blood sugar imbalances have been linked to diabetes, inflammation and other problems, balancing blood sugar may be an important step for reducing inflammation.
In one study, 30 women took seven grams of moringa leaf powder every day for three months. This reduced fasting blood sugar levels by 13.5% (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% (6).
I personally wouldn’t use Moringa just for its blood sugar balancing abilities, as quite a bit must be consumed regularly to see the benefits, but for some people it may be helpful as part of an overall diet and lifestyle plan (though certainly check with a doctor or specialist to make sure it is safe and won’t interact with any medications before taking it).
3. Positive Effects on Cholesterol
Moringa has also been studied for its ability to reduce cholesterol levels in human trials. This may be significant with the emerging research discounting the effectiveness and safety of Statin drugs. From Chris Kresser:
- Statin drugs do not reduce the risk of death in 95% of the population, including healthy men with no pre-existing heart disease, women of any age, and the elderly.
- Statin drugs do reduce mortality for young and middle-aged men with pre-existing heart disease, but the benefit is small and not without significant adverse effects, risks and costs.
- Aspirin works just as well as statins do for preventing heart disease, and is 20 times more cost effective.(7)
Many foods that help reduce inflammation in the body may also have positive effect on blood cholesterol levels and eating a diet high in antioxidant rich foods and vegetables and low in sugar may also be beneficial, but Moringa seems to be especially beneficial in human and animal studies. (source)
4. Help for Breastfeeding Mothers
Another often-cited use for Moringa is to help increase milk supply in breastfeeding mothers. In fact, certain supplement companies regularly recommend their Moringa-based supplements as a prenatal vitamin and during breastfeeding (although see please see the cautions below before taking this supplement if you are a woman of childbearing age!).
The only scientific backing I could find for the use of Moringa as a galactogogue (to increase milk supply) is in an old study from the Philippines that looked at the use of this plant for mothers with pre-term babies in the first three days of breastfeeding only, and found:
In women during postpartum days 3-5 (after giving birth to preterm infants), supplementation of 250mg moringa oleifera leaf extract twice daily appears to increase milk production in a time dependent manner on the first day of supplementation (31% increase over placebo) as well as the second (48%) and third (165%) day. (8)
Though there are some anecdotal accounts of women using Moringa to increase milk supply, I couldn’t find enough research to back this up, and perhaps any increase in milk supply would just be due to increase nutrient consumption, which is important during breastfeeding. Hopefully more data on Moringa will be available soon!
5. Possible Arsenic Protection
Though it hasn’t been studied in humans, there is some evidence (from studies on rats and mice) that certain compounds in the leaves of the Moringa plant may be protective against arsenic poisoning.
Observational studies indicate that long-term exposure to arsenic may increase the risk of cancer and heart disease (9, 10).
Several studies of mice and rats show that the leaves and seeds of Moringa oleiferamay protect against some effects of arsenic toxicity (11, 12, 13).These studies are promising, but it is not yet known whether this also applies to humans.
6. Natural Energy Booster
This is one benefit of Moringa that definitely seems to have a large amount of anecdotal evidence and this may be due to the amino acid profile of this plant. Many people in online forums and discussion boards claim that they have seen a noticeable increase in energy levels from taking Moringa, though I found relatively little science to back this up and “energy levels” are one of the most difficult factors to measure objectively. (14)
Simply consuming more vitamins, minerals and amino acids may lead to an increase in energy in many people, so it would be difficult to know if this benefit is specific to Moringa or just a result of consuming more nutrients in general.
Cautions about Moringa
Like many herbs and plants used as remedies, certain parts of the plant are beneficial while others can be harmful in some way. This is true with elderberries, which are excellent at helping boost the immune system, but whose leave and stems should be avoided because of the natural Cyanogenic glycoside content, which is toxic to humans.
The leaves of the Moringa oleifera tree are generally considered to be safe and edible, but there is some controversy regarding the roots and stems and their potentially harmful effects, especially in women. These parts of the plant may not only act as a contraceptive (both temporary or permanent) but may also lead to miscarriage and other problems. (15)
There is research showing a potentially immunosuppressive and cytotoxic effect of the seeds of the plant, and extracts or supplements that contain the roots, seeds and stems should be avoided for this reason until more research is done. (16)
Additionally, the leaves of the plant have been shown to have a mildly laxative effect and may cause digestive disturbances in some people.
Some sources recommend avoiding Moringa entirely as the nutrients it contains can be easily obtained from other sources and a well-balanced diet.
How to Use Moringa
Moringa seems to be most potent when fresh, and since the tree readily grows in most climates, it is possible to cultivate the plant for use as an herbal remedy. Dr. Mercola reports that he has done this but doesn’t recommend it because the leaves are very small and time consuming to harvest. (17)
It is also available in many forms like dried leaves and capsules, though due to its possible effects on hormones and cholesterol, it is important to check with a doctor or specialist before using.
There are definitely some potential benefits to Moringa, especially in countries where malnourishment is widespread, but it isn’t as exceptional of a nutrient source as it is often claimed to be and there may be much better sources of these important nutrients for those who live in the developed world.
Additionally, the potentially negative effects on hormones and fertility warrant caution and are the reason I avoid using this plant, at least until more research is done.
This article was medically reviewed by Jessica Meyers, MPAP, PA-C, RH(AHG), who specializes in herbal protocols and functional medicine. You can also find Jessica on Instagram. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.
Have you ever used Moringa? What was your experience?
Discussion (118 Comments)
I am an avid reader of your blog and subscriber to your newsletter. I enjoy your posts and would like to thank you for this Interesting article.
However, it appears your research sources seem to be quite one-sided and mostly sourced from the Western world. Moringa is widely researched in Africa and Asia because those are the regions where it actually grows and researchers have direct access to the trees. In my home country, Kenya, there is ample scientific evidence unearthed by Scientists and Agricultural researchers with international credentials, proving the benefits of this plant. As regards the anecdotal evidence, we have online forums with literally thousands of women who would attest to its benefits for breastfeeding. (Kenya has a 51% exclusive breastfeeding rate up to 6 months of age.)
Let’s not be so quick to discount something new simply because we may not have access to enough information.
Thank You Pat for your post here, I was wondering about the studies as I had read other places that I trusted about them and the benefits found, Thanks again
Agreed. My family is in Nairobi and easy access to Moringa in its raw form. It is well known, although some markets store it but do not know how to advise customers in its preparation.
Love your comment, Pat. This plant is literally saving third-world countries from starvation. Since it’s the most nutrient-dense plant on earth, why wouldn’t everyone start their day with this “SUPERFOOD”?????
I Completely agree! I’ve read many research articles on the plant and the research has been taken seriously. There is a lot of evidence that this plant has many amazing properties. As for your gram for gram break down, you never put into consideration that most people are taking this as a supplement therefore they’re taking it in a very condensed form so less would be more. I think this is a very bias article.
Hi Pat, in my experience moringa seems very safe. I would love to read the studies from Africa and Asia. Do you happen to have any links?
We have a few moringa trees at our place – they are just so easy to grow! They don’t need much water and grow from cuttings. The leaves are so easy to harvest, I just slide my hand down the sprigs to get the small leaves off. I throw several cups of the leaves into soups, curries, stir-fries- almost everything!
i use moringa leaf powder daily in my morning smoothie, it helps me keep up my energy all day long. My joints are less painful, and my blood sugar levels have been a bit lower as well ( diabetes type 2 and too stubborn to take medication).
What a great article! Thanks for always being real and not falling for all the guru hype! It is a wonderful food but just like the above comment or said superfood is a word we need to stop using . Thank you for how you broke down the grandpa Graham nutrient debacle that onedrives me crazy! I grow Moringa trees in Florida and have been consuming the leaves in some form for the past three years through pregnancy and now nursing. My favorite ways to consume it are as an herbal vinegar, as a freshly ground powder or in a handful in my soups and smoothies!
I was unaware of potential harmful effects of moringa but aware of positive effects so I’ve given it to my son for over 3 years. He’s now 4.5 years old. Approximately 2.5 years ago he fell so hard that his lips swelled significantly making it hard for him to open his mouth. I made all of his baby food and made him what we called “sauce”as he grew older, which consisted of various berries and fruits pureed into applesauce consistency and I added moringa. Within the hour his swelling was noticeably lessened and within 2 hours it was almost completely gone. I was sold then on (at least) it’s anti inflammatory effects! Additionally, approximately 2 years ago I broke my foot. I heard it break when I fell, but wasn’t sure because (as a regular user of moringa) it was hardly swollen. In fact, I ended up w a greenstick fracture of the 5th metatarsal ( my bone had literally snapped in half). Again, I contribute the lack of swelling to moringa as I was on no medications nor anti inflammatories.
I am from the southern most state of India called KERALA. Right now living in UNited States. We grew up eating a lot of Moringa. In fact , when we are out of veggies my MOM just go out to the backyard and get MORINGA ( drumstick leaves ) . Really missing that here. we eat the drumsticks too.
I was really surprised and happy to see that you covered this topic here.
Did you feel that there was any effect on hormones (as she cautions in this article that that it could act as a contraceptive permanently or temporarily)?
I know women who had fertility issues conceive after adding Mornga to their diet. Two of my friends both got pregnant in their early forties while consuming Moringa and continued to consume it throughout their pregnacies.
Interesting! Good to hear.
Drumsticks have been used in lentils and curries in India for long time. In south India, no sambhar (Lentils with vegetable and tamarind) is prepared without drumsticks.
I noticed that every time I consume Moringa I have an allergic reaction (itching all over with raised bums) that goes away with antihistamine . Should I continue to consume? It reduces my arthritic pain, gives me energy and there is also appreciable weight loss.
Folks in South India use Moringa very often. It’s a staple diet, only in the freshest of its form. They make curries, dried sabzi & chutney and other local recipes. Many old communities have a tree in their yard. The fruit, the drumstick is super yummy & nutritious. It’s aptly called as the Miracle Tree
We need to get away from the term “superfood”
Agreed. I thought this was a discussion on the article here but seems like moms are just ignoring it and posting recipes. First relevant comment I have seen.
My son is a verry picky eater, so I’ve tried Moringa powder in your homemade marshmallow, vitamin and jello recipes. They all taste the same (like Moringa) and look unappetizing due to the green, so it is a fail. I used natural food color, but it only mixes with, not overpowers the green.
Mic, if your son likes peanut butter, try a pb/banana smoothie. My 5 y.o loves it and doesn’t notice the color. Here’s what I do: 1C milk(almond, coconut, or cow’s, your choice!), 1 banana (fresh or frozen), 1/2-1 scoop vanilla protein powder, 1-2 TBSP peanut/almond/cashew butter (again your choice), 1/4 tsp moringa powder, ice (if not using frozen banana). Blend well. It is not a creamy color, because of the green moringa powder, and over-ripe bananas that I freeze. (My son saw the color of a frozen banana and he sees why the smoothie is that color!) Hope it works! I’ve never tried chocolate protein powder, but that would certainly mask the color!
That sounds good with the chocolate powder, I’ll try it. Thank you!
Hey Mic, We had a lot of success with my grandkids by slowly incorporating it into food…meaning start small then taper up gradually and as they became more familiar with the taste it became less noticeable to them. they now enjoy a lot of Moringa dishes and even ask for more. Moringa totally has strong flavor as many healthy things do but like Michele suggested it is less noticeable with nut butters, cacao/chocolate, mixed berries, garlic…. We have tried a Moringa Overnight Oat recipe. One with chocolate and peanut butter and one with Mango, Pineapples and coconut. I also incorporates them into Moringa truffles (this is a date base so more of a fruity chocolate taste) or my daughter does Moringa Chocolate Hearts (using Wellness Mama’s recipe as a base then add Moringa). No heating required so your still benefiting from a raw product. Also stir in soups or substitute up to 1-2 TBSP into baking. My neighbor has made Moringa Meatballs or Moringa Cheese Chicken fingers. Lots of options but definitely start little as its an acquired taste and look:) Moringa holds such an unusual and loaded array of nutrients that it has a lot of bang for one low-calorie naturally grown ingredient…it could a great option if your son if he’s able to find an enjoyable way to eat it. Hope this will be of some help!
The fresh leaf is brighter green, but it has a distinct flavor. I haven’t been successful at making it appetizing for the more discerning palette of my daughter. The pasta came out pretty good though.