WONDERFUL BUT NEGLECTED TREE SPECIES IN
How many of us are aware of the fact that a
very important tree species, Moringa stenopetala (Baker f.) Cufodontii
(1957), is in the process of disappearing from its natural environment in
Taxonomy and Distribution
M. stenopetala belongs to family Moringaceae that is
represented only by a single genus Moringa.
The genus is represented by 14 species to which M. stenopetala
belongs. Northeast tropical
M. stenopetala is a tree 6-10m tall; trunk: more or less 60cm in diameter at breast height; crown: strongly branched sometimes with several branches; thick at base; bark: white to pale gray or silvery, smooth; wood: soft; Leaves: up to 55cm long; Inflorescence: pubescent, dense many flowered panicles ca. 60cm long. For full description refer to Edwards et al., (2000).
The species is known by different vernacular names such as Shiferaw (Am), Aleko, Aluko, Halako (GG), Kallanki (Ben), Telahu (Tse), Haleko, Shelchada (Kon), Haleko (Bur), Haleko (Dh) and Cabbage Tree (Eng).
The Genus follows the distribution pathway
from Rajasthan to south
The National herbarium has few collections
of Moringaceae. The overall collections were
represented by 5 species of which the larger part is M. stenopetala.
Many of the collections were from Gamo
Gofa. There are small seed collections of Moringa species in the
Origin and Uses
M. stenopetala is often referred to as the African Moringa
Tree because it is native only to southern
It is reported that the edible parts are exceptionally nutritious (Rams, 1994). The leaves are one of the best vegetable foods that can be found in the locality. All parts of the tree except the wood are edible, providing a highly nutritious food for both humans and animals. The flowers are a good nectar source for honey; can be eaten or used to make a tea and the seeds are rich oil sources for cooking and lubricant uses. Many parts of the plant have been used in medicinal preparations. The wood is very soft; useful for paper but makes low-grade firewood and poor charcoal. Attracting attention in recent decades is the use of the dried, crushed seeds as a coagulant (Jahn, 1984). Even very muddy water can be cleared when crushed seeds are added. Solid matter and some bacteria will coagulate and then sink to the bottom of a container. The cleaned water can then be poured off and boiled. Use 100 milligrams (about 1 to 1 ½ seeds) of crushed seed to clean 1 liter of muddy water (Gupta and Chaudhuri, 1992).
Cultivation and Harvesting
It has been reported that M. stenopetala grows wild in elevations between 1,000 and 1,800 m (Mark, 1998) but it will grow as high as 2200m (Pers. obs.) and as low as 300m (herbarium source) in Ethiopia. However, communication with the local people showed that currently this species is known in wild in localized areas in Debub Omo around Turmi. Otherwise it is known as cultivated plant in most places. Studies show that light frosts will do it no harm and freezes, though, may cause it to die back to ground level, where new sprouts may be produced. Full sun is normal, though partial shade is tolerated. It is resistant to dry weather. Optimum light for germination of all Moringa species is half shade.
Seeds should be planted about 2 cm deep in soil that is moist but not too wet. Sprouting occurs normally in 1-2 weeks. It can be allowed to grow for shade (6-15 m), or kept low (about 1-1.5 m) for easier harvesting. M. stenopetala quickly produces a large gray trunk and leaves covered with glistening nectars. It quickly sends out new growth from the trunk when cut, or from the ground when frozen. Living fences can be continually cut back to a few feet. It is an extremely fast-growing tree and continued to grow during the exceptionally long dry season.
Very young whole plants, young leaves and even older leaflets and flowers can be harvested for food. The slender young pods are picked for use like green beans. Seeds of older pods may be shelled from the pods and cooked like green peas. The older flowering branches can be pruned repeatedly to stimulate production of new branch shoots as additional sources of leaves. Moringa is resistant to most pests, though root rot can occur if the soil is too wet.
Cooking and Nutrition
It was reported that Moringa foliage and fruit pods are rich sources of calcium and iron, and good sources of vitamins A, B, and C (when raw) and of protein (including goodly amounts of the sulfur-containing amino acids, methionine and cystine) (Rams, 1994). Both young and older leaves are edible, though older ones are milder and tender. They can be cooked in soups or boiled. Young pods may be also cooked. Immature seeds are often cooked and eaten as a fresh vegetable, while mature seeds can be dried and roasted. The flowers can be cooked or oven-dried and steeped as tea. Dried leaves can be stored as future soup or sauce supplements. Blossoms are edible; they taste like radish. Browning seeds from mature pods that are mashed and placed in boiling water causes an excellent cooking or lubricating oil to float to the surface. The oil preserves well although become rancid with age. Its roots are used as a flavoring and in poultices; and edible oil can be extracted from its seeds. The green pods and surrounding white material can be removed from larger pods and cooked in various ways.
It is reported that M. stenopetala had larger and more appealing in appearance and more palatable leaves, more drought resistance, and larger seeds as compared to the widely known Indian Moringa.
It is reported that in some parts of
M. stenopetala is planted together with fruit trees in the cropped fields in Konso. Sometimes the trees are also used to provide partial
shade for crops like sorghum in the southern
It is believed by many scholars that the
species was introduced to northern
M. stenopetala leaves, pods, and roots are edible; bees love the flowers; and
seeds are powdered and used to purify water from muddy rivers. Its parts are
actually and potentially useful to extract ingredients of medicinal value. It
is truly the mother's best friend in rural parts of southern
I had planted M. stenopetala in My Parent's garden when I was 15 and now I am 33. Imagine how old my M. stenopetala trees are? My Moringa stenopetala trees are now about 13m tall and my parents still harvest leaves for consumption and also sell leaves in local markets as a source of income to some extent. In fact, I commonly eat the cooked leaves; very tasty and nutritious. I hope I will invite this delicious dish of the M. stenopetala leaves to some of the readers in the near future and then will kindly request to share your enthusiasm for this wonderful tree. I feel that it is one of the best tree species we have to consider for conservation.
If M. stenopetala
does not already grow in your locality, you may arrange short trip to southern
1. Edwards. S., Mesfin Tadesse, Sebsebe Demissew and
2. Gupta, A. and Chaudhuri, M., (1992). Domestic water purification for developing countries. J.Water SRT-Aqua, 41 (5) pp 290-298.
3. Jahn,S.A.A.,(1984). Effectiveness of traditional flocculants as primary coagulants and coagulant aids for the treatment of tropical raw water with more than a thousand-fold fluctuation in turbidity. Water Supply, 2(3/4) Special Subject pp 8-10.
4. Mark, E., O., (1998). Research on Applied Uses of Moringa stenopetala
5. Rams, J., (1994). Moringa a highly nutritious vegetable Tree, Tropical Rural and Island/atoll Development Experimental station (TRIADES), Technical Bulletin No. 2. (Source: Internet).