It is said that the moringa tree could virtually eliminate worldwide malnutrition. Importantly, it is endemic to or can be grown in many of the most impoverished countries and those that are constantly being hit by food crises. It has been identified as the vegetable with the highest nutritional value; the abundant leaves are rich in proteins, all essential amino acids, and a high range of vitamins and minerals and disease-fighting anti-oxidants. They have been used for centuries in traditional medicine and Ayurvedic medicine associates it with the cure or prevention of about 300 diseases, including lowering blood sugar levels, as an anti-inflammatory and it naturally controls cholesterol levels. This miracle tree is certainly causing a stir – every part of the tree can be used - leaves, flowers, seeds, bark and roots. 100 g of fresh leaves contains the same protein as an egg, as much calcium as a glass of milk and as much vitamin C as an orange. The same amount of dried concentrated leaves contain 9 times the protein of a pot of yogurt, 10 times the vitamin A of a similar weight of carrots, 15 times the potassium of a banana, 17 times the calcium of a glass of milk, 12 times the vitamin C of an orange and 25 times the amount of a similar serving of spinach. It's hardly surprising that the moringa tree is seen as a very important aid for combating malnutrition and a useful protein source for vegetarians and vegans. It is also very good at protecting us from osteoporosis and other bone conditions. Many cosmetic companies are now adding moringa to their creams and lotions for rejuvenating skin. More important is its ability to mop up harmful matter. It is an excellent body detoxifier and can even provide some protection against arsenic poisoning. You may think that is hardly important to you but many of our staple grains, such as rice, and our water are showing signs of arsenic as well as heavy metal contamination. Moringa seeds are now recognised as good natural water purification tools. Moringa oleifera is commonly known as the miracle tree, drumstick tree (for its long seed pods), horseradish tree (the tasty roots resemble horseradish) or benzoil tree (from the oil derived from its seeds). It is a fast-growing and drought-resistant tree native to the southern foothills of the Himalayas in north-western India. It is widely cultivated in semi-arid, tropical, semi-tropical and warmer temperate areas. The radish-flavoured young foliage is eaten as greens, fresh in salads, in soups and boiled or fried. The young seed pods are also cooked. Older tougher leaves are dried and powdered. The mature seeds can be roasted and are eaten like peanuts and the roots are a horseradish substitute. Cold-pressed moringa oil is very beneficial, though expensive. India is the largest producer of moringa with an annual crop figure of around 1.5 million tonnes of fruit. So, can we grow this magical tree in our gardens? Well, yes. It tolerates a wide range of soil types (including impoverished ones), it is a sun and heat lover and drought resistant. It does not like water-logged soil and will not tolerate long periods of freezing conditions, though it is okay with a touch of frost, especially once established. Outside of tropical areas, it will become deciduous during the winter. It is an extremely fast grower; in ideal conditions 6m a year has been observed though, more normally, 4m. This means that, in cold areas, it can be grown as an annual crop. The tree will ultimately reach a height of 12m but it is more often pruned to 3m or 4m for easier cropping. The bark is grey-white and corky. The white flowers are fragrant and bi-sexual, held in drooping clusters. Flowering is normal six months after planting from seed; in temperate areas a yearly springtime flowering is normal but in tropical climes, flowering is, more or less, continuous. The seed pods are long, up to 45cm, and brown; inside nestle the globular brown seeds with papery wings for dispersal by wind or water. Within 3 years your tree will be producing around 500 pods annually and, once mature, can yield 1500 pods. For permanent plantings, use a 3m spacing. Prune annually to remove any dead wood and lower the canopy if cropping is important. Commercially, every five years the tree is cut down to about 1m tall to encourage vital new growth. If you want to try growing it as an annual, make sure to pinch your seedlings regularly to encourage bushing; space young plants about 1m apart, you will find them very prolific croppers when they are so young and vigorous. Moringas have a long taproot with lots of small feeder roots but no lateral spreading roots. This taproot is what makes it so drought-resistant. In very hot, dry conditions, water regularly for the first 2 months after planting; subsequently give it an occasional long soaking if the tree seems to be suffering. Bumper crops are produced in wet tropical conditions; in arid conditions, the yield will be less though flowering can be provoked by irrigation. They do not need much fertiliser though yield will be increased with some. Plant with some good quality compost; thereafter a yearly application of farmyard manure, or similar, will suffice. The trees are very pest and disease resistant. Yields are sometimes so heavy that propping of the branches will be necessary to support the extra weight. Young pods, up to about 1cm in diameter, are harvested for consumption whole. Older pods develop a rough exterior and the seeds only are extracted. If you want pods for oil production, allow them to turn brown and dry on the tree. Up until recently, we have only been able to get hold of young seedlings but we now have in stock some good-looking trees, at approx. 3m tall and priced at €35 – a great price for all the benefits that this tree can provide. And we're not the only ones to be excited about our new arrivals – our chickens squabble for the tasty leaves! As of 4th October, we revert to winter hours 10am until 4pm and always closed on Sundays and Mondays. Viveros Florena – Probably the best little garden centre in Andalucía! Keep checking our web page for latest news and exciting new stock arriving at the garden centre. Join our mailing list to keep in constant touch. Shop on-line with us for Mediterranean plants, unusual plants, plug plants, scented roses, bulbs, coloured iris, organic products and my books. Winter Hours October to May: 10 – 4, Closed Sundays & Mondays. Summer Hours June, July & September: 9 – 2, Closed Sundays & Mondays and August. Viveros Florena, Crtra. Algarrobo/Cómpeta, km 2, Cómpeta, 29754, Málaga Tel: 689928201 Web: Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. And see us on Facebook – Lorraine Cavanagh's Garden Centre

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