Moringa plants are indigenous to parts of northeast Africa and India. There are 13 species in the genus Moringa, ranging from flowers to shrubs, but by far the most well-known is the tree Moringa oleifera. All parts of this tree can be used, whether for food, fiber or medications.
Moringa trees are small- to medium-sized, slender trees with thin, arching branches. They grow to a maximum height of about 30 feet and bloom with clusters of creamy white flowers. The green leaves comprise small, ovate leaflets. The long, brown seed pods contain about 20 seeds.
Moringa oleifera trees are very hardy. They will grow on just about any type of soil and will bloom on average about eight months after being planted. Although these are tropical trees, they can survive brief periods of frost. Moringa trees are drought-tolerant and do not do well if planted in very wet soil or where standing water develops. The deep roots that help them survive periods of drought are also adept at pulling nutrients from the soil. For that reason, they do not need to be fertilized.
Root rot may occur if the soil is waterlogged. In severe cases, the tree could die due to damaged roots. Mites and other insect pests may infest the tree, but this is usually not life-threatening. These bugs can damage the leaves, however, which greatly reduces the health benefits of the tree.
The leaves of the moringa tree are packed with beneficial essential oils and vitamins. They contain more vitamin C than oranges, more calcium than milk and more vitamin A than carrots. The root is often ground for a horseradish sauce. In addition, the ground root of the tree is traditionally used as a diuretic. The seeds contain an oil that never gets rancid and is often used as a topical ointment by local populations.