Moringa oleifera, more commonly known as Drumstick, a popular vegetable in India is in the news lately and many hail it as a miracle tree, attributing many features unique to it. The latest to come in full blare is its effectiveness in water purification as the powdered preparations made from the seed can produce clean water. It is called the miracle tree because this plant, commonly found in equatorial region as a food tree, also finds extensive use in traditional medicine and as a biofuel. Here is an excerpt from a report circulating in the web about its new role as a water disinfectant:
"Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania State University wanted to develop a simpler and less expensive way to harness the seed's power. To do that they added an extract of the seed containing the positively charged moringa protein which led to sediment and kill microbes, to negatively charged sand. The resulting functionalized sand or "f-sand" proved effective in capturing lab-grown E.coli and damaging their membrane. The results open the possibility that f-sand can provide a simple, locally sustainable process for producing storable drinking water."
Whether these studies carried out by research scholars are really ground breaking or just an academic exercise remains to be seen. If it is a feasible concept, the findings will have far reaching implications in providing clean and potable water to millions of people living in country side in many developing countries where lack of access to safe water is causing serious diseases and avoidable mortality. Probably considerable further research efforts are required to transform this concept into a workable technology. WHO which is seriously concerned about epidemic diseases caused by unsafe drinking water in tropical countries in Asia, Africa and South America must take up this responsibility for the benefit of humanity. After all Moringa oleifera is one of the hardiest plants ever known requiring practically no care and mass production of the seed powder can easily be accomplished. Whether this powder itself has the binding property is not known.
The above property of drumstick seed has been known for a long time and the deoiled residue of the seed was used as a flocculent in water treatment traditionally. The dried seed contains about 40% oil which has commercial value though the current practice of growing the plant does not permit its large scale utilization. What is new in these findings is the anti-septic value of the proteins present in the seed and the potential it offers in making drinking water safe with no infection possibilities. Interestingly the oil is also known as Ben oil because of high content of Behenic acid in it. Its special property of absorbing and retaining odoriferous materials makes it valuable for perfumery industry.
According to some reports, India is the leading grower of Moringa plant, accounting for about 1.5 million tons of the fruit production annually though the reliability of this figure is some what doubtful because of its scattered growth in patches across the country. Still it is a very common vegetable consumed, especially in South India and production may be substantial. Besides India, this useful plant is found in countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Sri Lanka, some parts of Africa and Central and South America. Moringa pods when plucked tender is claimed to have a taste and flavor similar to that of Asparagus while its flowers remind one of mushroom. Roots are some time used as a condiment but contains Spirachin, a nerve paralyzing agent.
If the admirers of Drumstick tree are to be believed its leaves contain more Vitamin A than that in Carrot, more Vitamin C than that in orange, more Iron than that in Spinach, more Potassium than that in Banana, more Calcium than that in Milk and its protein quality is comparable to that of Milk and Egg. While these are admirable traits, the bio-efficacy of various nutrients in humans is not well known. An interesting claim about the medicinal value of Moringa seed is its use in special drugs recommended for increased sexual virility while its role in enhancing breast milk supply is also being reported. Interestingly Moringa tree parts like Bark, Sap, Roots, dried Leaves, Seed and its oil, flowers, all find extensive use in traditional medicines in some tropical countries, probably justifying its promotion as a "Miracle Tree".