INTRODUCTION TO JAMAICAN MORINGA
The Jamaican moringa, merengeh, merengue, drumstick tree, ben oil tree, or benzoil tree is a special plant. The rest of the world seems to carry the perception that moringa is medicine but that’s not entirely true. Yes, moringa is overflowing with a host of medicinal properties but it’s simply good, delectable food!
Graceful trees of tender branches laden with clusters of relatively small, green leaves sway in the Jamaican breeze. They’re peppered with gorgeous pearlesque fountains for blooms. These blooms are followed by long seed pods, reminiscent of drumsticks (hence the name drumstick tree, and the cycle continues. I, for one, can think of several tropical trees that can be admired and should be obtained solely for their ornamental value, so what makes the moringa plant so special that the whole world wants a taste of it?
MORINGA & JAMAICAN CULTURE
Jamaicans refer to the moringa plant as merengeh. I’ve also heard other West Indians use the name merengeh. Believe it or not, it isn’t something that was widely cultivated when I was a child. The thing just grew wild. This may seem strange to some of you but understand that Jamaica isn’t deemed the “land of wood and water” for no reason. Wild, uncultivated and flourishing fruit trees and other edibles rise up in abundance throughout the island and bear witness to several generations of people. In fact, the land is so rich, you could go out into the forest on any given day you felt idle with nothing but your machete and a crocus bag (fine bag) in hand. You’re guaranteed to return home with an abundance of exotic foods cared for by only God and mother nature. The merengeh was among often among them.
MORINGA: MY JOURNEY TO DISCOVERY
My uncle would go up into the mountain to his farm and pass by our house on his way home with a bag full of moringa seeds just for me! If they were tender they were like sweet peanuts without the aftertaste. If they were mature, the flavor was much the same but they were better enjoyed by chewing and discarding the fiber afterward.
The first time I tried moringa leaves I was walking by a tree I’d passed hundreds of times. It grew by the side of the road about a quarter of a mile from where our family went to fellowship. I’m not sure why my interest was piqued on this particular day. I picked a few leaves and gingerly bit down on them. I was expecting something bitter but was delighted to discover something reminiscent of tender, baby spinach and arugula leaves with a hint of almond. The leaves were delicious and so began my present addiction to fresh moringa leaves.
MERENGEH: THE REAL MIRACLE PLANT
I believe moringa was created close to the heart of The Garden of Eden as that would explain why this one plant embodies such perfection. By the end of this article you’ll share my perspective. It’s not only good for you but delicious! What part of the plant is good for consumption? All of it! Yes, you read that right – all of it is edible: roots, shoots, leaves, and flowers.
The flowers and leaves make excellent substitutes in salads that call for ingredients like leafy greens or cucumbers. Moringa leaves carry an unmatched flavor. It’s like having greens with a nutty twist in one package. The pearlesque flowers taste a lot like sweet cucumbers. Careful – m you may become addicted but even if you do, that’s not a problem. Moringa is not only wholesome but nutrient dense in ways that astound scientists and researchers worldwide.
HEALTH BENEFITS OF MORINGA
Merengeh is very rich in healthy antioxidants and bioactive plant compounds. Antioxidants are compounds that act against free radicals in our bodies. High levels of free radicals cause oxidative stress, which may contribute to chronic diseases like heart disease and type 2 diabetes. So far, scientists have only investigated a fraction of the many reputed health benefits but I’ve always had my grandparents to teach me what they are now discovering.
Moringa leaves are a great source of protein, vitamin B6, riboflavin, vitamin C, iron, vitamin A, magnesium. With moringa, you’ll see improved energy levels and vision, lower blood sugar, lower cholesterol, lower risk of heart disease and cancer. Moringa leaves, pods and seeds have also been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties and can even protect against arsenic toxicity. Moringa leaves are also highly nutritious, and should be particularly beneficial for people who are lacking in essential nutrients.
Moringa’s flavors are complimentary to a wide range of dishes. Don’t hesitate to incorporate different parts of the plant in your meals, especially the leaves. Add moringa to soups, sauces, salads, juices, dips, stir-fry, wraps, chips and so much more. You can utilize flowers, leaves and stem shoots for garnishing as well. Merengeh is also used in poultices and consumed in capsulated form for its’ many medicinal properties. Moringa leaf extract may also be used as a food preservative. It increases the shelf life of meat by reducing oxidation
Considering the plant is a tropical, you’ll be glad to have moringa in your landscape if you’re close to the equator. A mature merengeh plant is gloriously appealing to the eye which makes it a marvelous ornamental. If you’re training your moringa plant as a bonsai, you’ll be happy to learn that this works in your favor. When the roots of the merengeh plant are restricted, the plant produces an even greater profusion of flower showers.
Moringa loves warmth. 75° F is paradise for these tropical beauties. Ensure you select mature seeds, preferably from pods that have dried on the plant. Plant your moringa seeds in rich, loamy soil with good drainage. I like to mix some ash, sawdust and cow manure into my soil. Water liberally and plant your seeds an inch deep and at least fifteen feet apart. If you’re planting your moringa in a pot, ensure your pot is at least two feet deep and two feet across with proper drainage.
Germination usually occurs within 10 days and the plants grow very quickly. You’ll be able to harvest fresh moringa seeds for your dishes within two years. How cool is that? – Your own renewable source of the world’s richest plant at your fingertips!
If you’re working in a smaller space, you can consider having a moringa bonsai. Training these plants are really easy. You can see some of our instructional YouTube videos on training plants. If you’re one of those people who generally have difficulty getting seeds to germinate, we’ve thought of a solution to that too. You can find mature moringa plants here. You’ll be able to begin harvesting leaves in a matter of days. We’ve received reviews with incredible testimonials of improved health within days of meeting moringa. I’m sure your experience will be similar. Feel free to share your story with Jamaica’s merengeh with us! We enjoy your testimonials and ideas.