interviewBy Onimisi Alao
Jos — A researcher on Moringa, Vou Moses Shut of the University of Jos, says you can't go wrong as a grower of the food and medicinal plant called Moringa
Could we start with a general view of Moringa? What is Moringa?
Moringa is a plant of high medicinal values. Moringa is the botanical name. The commonest species is Moringa Oleifera, but Moringa generally has many names. It is commonly a simple plant with long and slender branches growing to a height of approximately 10 metres, but the grower could normally prune it to the desired height. It's called a Wonder Tree. That's one of its common names. It is also called Magic Tree. Both names are because of the plant's enormous benefits to mankind. It is a medicinal plant from the roots, pods, fruits, flowers, leaves, and even to the bark of the tree. It is used to treat diabetes, hypertension, stress, and so many other health problems. Its seed is also used in water treatment. Dropped in water, the seeds take care of impurities in the water. It's called Tree of Life because it touches life in many ways. It nourishes the body and is highly nutritious.
For food value, you can cook the leaves and the pods, you can make stew with it. The way it is mostly eaten in Plateau State is by boiling the leaves with salt and pounding pepper and kulikuli, that is groundnut cake, and adding onions and tomatoes. You will have a great meal from that. Some other people make soup with it. Just as you put Ugu leaves in Egusi to make soup, they add Moringa leaves to other soup ingredients to make Moringa soup.
Do you find many people farming Moringa around the country?
You don't find it being cultivated as a main crop. There is no plantation where Moringa is grown on a wide scale. You find it instead, in most cases, around the house. Many plant it in the family garden or use it as fence. It is relatively common where the weather is warm. A good thing about the Jos Plateau is that it is able to house the plant. Apple also grows well in Jos. It makes you wonder, what kind of land is this? That's how Jos Plateau is.
It may not grow in elaborate scale, but the Plateau weather tolerates it fairly well. The main place in Plateau where Moringa is grown more elaborately and is better appreciated as food is Langtang (Southern part of Plateau State). I am talking about both Langtang North and Langtang South (local government areas). The temperatures are warmer there than in the upper region of the state. Earlier in the year, the University of Jos took Moringa and a couple of other plants there and introduced them to the people as highly valuable plants that grow very well there and which the people would do well to cultivate. We took Jatropha, Artemesia, as well as Moringa there.
Why is it that despite its famed qualities, people do not grow Moringa in more quantities than they do?
It's because we are just beginning to know how valuable it is. We didn't know what we had. It's just as if you are lying next to money but you don't know that the money is there. Just like when people didn't know about coffee till it broke into the consciousness of everyone. Suddenly, let me talk about Plateau, everyone was or wanted to grow coffee. When you don't know what you have, you will not do anything about it.
Considering what has been known of it, there seems to be lukewarm attitude towards Moringa? What could be the reason?
I won't say there is lukewarm attitude towards it. Awareness is rising and more people are beginning to grow it. Before now, you wouldn't find Moringa being sold in markets in Jos. These days, it's being sold fresh and dried. About five years ago it was not so. People are getting more conscious of the plant, demand is increasing, and supply is increasing.
What would you say to potential growers of Moringa? Is it something just anybody can grow?
You don't need any technical knowhow to grow Moringa. You have only to find the seed. And it has many exciting potentials for those who may wish to go into its cultivation. It is highly adaptable. Researches are being done on how its cultivation value can be enhanced. I have spoken about how you can trim or prune a Moringa tree to achieve your specific result. Take the forms that mango tree has taken. Mango trees were big and elaborate before and produced fruits that were well up and beyond your reach unless you climbed or used long sticks or hooks to pluck them. With plant breeding the mangoes are smaller now with big fruits that weigh down the branches. With more researches and better enlightenment on Moringa, it would be attracting more growers as time passes. With breeding, more varieties that would not need much time to mature will be discovered.
Right now, between six and 10 months of planting the seed, you can get leaves from a Moringa tree; but with breeding of more varieties, we could soon get to the time when you will grow Moringa much the same way you grow green vegetable and in weeks you have something you can eat. With Moringa being celebrated more and more, you will have people coming in to do more research and bringing out more literature on the plant.
You spoke briefly on the health values of Moringa, what are the nutritional contents that make it so medicinal?
One gram of Moringa contains four times the Vitamin A in carrot. Carrot was said to be the richest in Vitamin A, but researches have now shown that Moringa leaves contain four times the Vitamin A available in carrot and seven times the Vitamin C in orange. Anything that has more Vitamin C than oranges is indeed a marvel. Moringa has four times the measure of calcium in milk, trice the protein in milk and three times the potassium in banana. A good thing about Moringa is that you don't even have to eat it.
You don't have to chew the seed or the pod or the leaves. You could just boil to bring out the extract, refrigerate the extract, and be taking a cup of it every morning.
You have what you need to keep very healthy. It's like squeezing bitter leaf and drinking the water. You know the water is very bitter. It is because you have squeezed out the leaves' vital contents. So, if you cannot take the leaves, seeds or pod of Moringa, why not boil them and drink the water?
How is the boiling best done?
Just enough to have the juice out, and don't add potash or any such thing. Just as when you are boiling beans and you say you want to shorten the cooking time by putting potash. You simply don't have to reduce Moringa's cooking time. And you can also obtain Moringa powder for your food. You dry and pound it to the fine powder form that you want and it is ready for use in your tea or wherever you may desire. Importantly, in drying Moringa leaves, you don't have to put it in the sun.
You leave it shaded around your home or wherever you are using it because shade preserves the ingredients. Naturally, you would reason that exposing it to the sun would make it dry quickly, but the sun exerts destructive effect. Even the pigment, the greenery of the leaves would change. The sun also alters the vitamins and the other essential things in it. The extract or powder from Moringa should be as natural as you can have it. Add nothing to hasten processing of Moringa for anything you may want from it.