By Dr. Lydia M. Marero
Food and Nutrition Research Institute
Malunggay, known scientifically as Moringa oleifera Lamk, is one of the world's most useful plants. It is used as food, effective flocculant or water treatment, antibiotic, source of oil, and coagulant for turbid waters.
It is also called “mother's best friend”, and “miracle vegetable” by many who know malunggay's beneficial uses. It is cultivated in all countries of the tropics. It is easy to plant and is available year-round.
Malunggay's image was even used as the official logo of the Food and Nutrition Research Institute, an agency of the Department of Science and Technology.
One hundred grams or 1 cup of cooked malunggay leaves contain 3.1 g. protein, 0.6 g. fiber, 96 mg calcium, 29 mg phosphorus, 1.7 mg iron, 2,820 mg ß-carotene, 0.07 mg thiamin, 0.14 mg riboflavin, 1.1 mg niacin, and 53 mg ascorbic acid or vitamin C. The antioxidant activity of malunggay is about 71%, with µ-tocopherol (vitamin E) equivalent of 45.
Malunggay leaves are an excellent source of vitamin A and B, and minerals such as calcium and iron. It is even an excellent source of protein, being higher than the amino acid pattern of Food and Agriculture Organization-reference protein, yet contains very low fat and carbohydrates. The leaves are incomparable as a source of the sulfur-containing amino acids methionine and cystine, often the natural minerals humans lack.
Due to its high vitamins A, C, and E, which are very potent antioxidants, malunggay is a very good quencher of unstable free radicals that can react with and damage molecules that cause aging. Antioxidants reduce the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines. They also prevent the onset of various chronic diseases like arthritis, cancer, and heart and kidney diseases.
Malunggay contains the phytochemical niaziminin, which is found to have molecular components that can prevent the development of cancer cells (Faizi et al., 1992) and correlated with inhibitory ability against superoxide generation. The first naturally-occuring thiocarbamates, novel hypotensive agents niazinin A, niazinin B, niazimicin and niaziminin A and B were isolated from malunggay.
Malunggay is called “miracle vegetable” because it is not just a food, it is also a medicine. It may therefore be a “functional food”. Malunggay promotes good eyesight, digestion, facilitates bowel movement, and is a cure for stomach ache.
It is also used to cleanse wounds and ulcers. It helps alleviate scurvy, asthma, earache, and headaches. For its high calcium content, lactating mothers are advised to eat malunggay leaves to produce more milk.
Malunggay is usually cooked with chicken as tinola, or with fish and other vegetables, mongo soup dishes, and blanched as salads.