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Moringa is a tree grown for food and seed at ECHO. It is one of the most requested seeds in ECHO’s seed bank. This is due to its many edible parts and its ability to survive in arid parts of the world. It is an exceptionally nutritious leafy vegetable. The large frilly leaves can be broken off easily at the stem and carried inside. The tiny leaflets can then be quickly pulled off between the fingers. Tender growing tips can be cooked stem and all. At ECHO, leaves are boiled as any green or added to soups or rice. In the southern portions of the United States the tree will probably survive a hard freeze but may be killed to the ground. Even where no freeze damage occurs, some people cut it back to about 4 feet each year. This causes the leaves to be closer to the ground for ease of harvesting. If not forced to branch by pruning, the tree becomes tall, spindly and in most cases not very attractive. We do not recommend it as a prominent shade tree or landscape specimen.
Moringa might have potential as an annual vegetable farther north. We are told that as far north as Gainesville, Florida it is grown as a “cut and come again” perennial. We were sent a photo of a tree that was started in a greenhouse, transplanted out, and grew to the height of eight feet in Wisconsin before winter killed it. Aside from eating the leaves, very young pods can be cooked and eaten like asparagus or green beans. Pod production is variable and seems to be increased by stress. Some trees bloom at less than a year old and others take longer.
Along with the moringa leaves and pods, the blossoms are also edible. All parts have a taste similar to mild horseradish. When trees are about 3 to 4 feet tall, they can be pulled out of the ground and the roots grated and used like horseradish. The root bark is toxic and should be peeled off before grating. Eat the roots in moderation only. Personally I just buy horseradish if that is the flavor I want and don’t risk the potentially harmful chemicals in the roots. Crushed raw leaves may irritate the skin and, if eaten in quantity, can be purgative. Under good conditions the tree can easily reach 15 feet the first year. The wood is very soft and does not make good fuel wood. Moringa may be propagated either by seed or cuttings. Trees from cuttings tend to be more susceptible to blowing over in the wind because the roots tend to be more shallow.