While most plant foods offer nutritional and health benefits, some stand out more prominently and are called super foods. The humble drumstick, also known as Moringa Oleifera and commonly used in sambhar — a lentil preparation — has been referred to as ‘miracle tree’, ‘tree of life’, ‘mother’s best friend’, ‘god’s gift to man’ and ‘savior of the poor’, in various publications.
Drumsticks have an impressive range of medicinal values. Different parts of this plant contain important minerals. It is also a good source of proteins, vitamins, amino acids, antioxidants such as beta carotene and phenolic compounds. Some of these antioxidants are present in the plant in exceptional amounts and rare combinations.
Various parts of this plant such as roots, bark, leaves, flowers, fruits, and seeds also possess cardio-protective, liver protective, anti-tumour, anti-inflammatory, anti-pyretic, anti-spasmodic, anti-diabetic and anti-fungal properties, and hence, is also used for the treatment of different ailments in traditional system of medicine in South Asia.
Moringa Oleifera, native to the sub-Himalayan northern parts of India, is cultivated in the tropical and sub-tropical regions of the world. It is commonly known as drumstick, horseradish, and malunggay. Its seeds and pods are eaten as a vegetable. States in the south of Indian are more familiar with its use and benefits, which dates back to antiquity.
Moringa is an important food source in some parts of the world. Being cheap, easily available and highly nutritious — it is used in feeding programmes in India and Africa to fight malnutrition. The immature green pods (drumsticks) are prepared in ways similar to green beans, while the seeds are removed from mature pods and cooked like peas or roasted like nuts. The leaves are cooked and used like spinach, and they are also dried, powdered and used as a condiment. Dried powder of Moringa is sold as an exotic supplement in the western world.
Moringa Oleifera is also rich in potassium, calcium, phosphorus, iron, magnesium, vitamins A, C and D, essential amino acids, fibre and antioxidants such as ß-carotene, and flavonoids. It has been used in folk medicine for the treatment of diabetes. A recent research conducted in 2010 studied the hypoglycemic effect of Moringa Oleifera leaf over a 40-day period in type-2 diabetic patients between 30 – 60 years of age. It was reported that fasting and post-parandial blood sugar levels were reduced significantly.
Researchers also studied the effect of Moringa Oleifera on lipid levels and it was reported that there was significant reduction in levels of bad cholesterol (LDL and VLDL) and significant increase in good cholesterol (HDL).
Another study published in the Journal of Herbal Medicine and Toxicology in 2010 reported that Moringa Oleifera leaves played an important role in reducing total blood cholesterol levels and LDL and increasing HDL. Various scientific studies have also shown that the phyto-chemicals and fibre present in Moringa Oleifera leaves also play an important role reducing blood cholesterol levels and blood sugar levels.
Until more scientific evidence emerges on Moringa’s use as a therapeutic agent or supplement, incorporating drumsticks and its leaves imaginatively in your favourite foods is surely worth it.
Ishi Khosla is a former senior nutritionist at Escorts. She heads the Centre of Dietary Counselling and also runs a health food store. She feels that for complete well-being, one should integrate physical, mental and spiritual health.
According to her: “To be healthy should be the ultimate goal for all.”