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Moringa oleifera is a hardy tree that originated in the Himalayas, but now grows in several other areas, including Mexico, Africa, and the Philippines. The tree's components, including its leaves, seed pods, and wood, have many different uses and can be used to produce oil, cellophane, and various textiles. Moringa oleifera leaves, seeds, and pods are also used as a foodstuff and for medicinal purposes. The pods and leaves are very nutritious and keep well, making them an important source of nutrition for people in developing countries. Moringa oleifera is also used as a traditional medicine in treating colds, sexual dysfunction, and increasing milk production in nursing mothers.
The use of Moringa oleifera as a medicinal plant varies by the culture in which it is used. Virtually all parts of the tree are said to have some sort of medicinal use. In ayurvedic medicine, it is used as an antibiotic, liver remedy, and to assist women in childbirth. It is also used in some parts of India as a contraceptive. In Malawi, dried leaves are used to treat diarrhea, while Haitians use the flowers to make a cold remedy. The pods are also used to rid the body of intestinal parasites. Other uses involve infusing the leaves or bark into a topical antiseptic ointment or wash that can be used to treat wounds, cuts, and other skin conditions. While some studies have been performed to assess these medicinal claims, few have been well structured or conclusive.
Humanitarian agencies, such as Trees for Life International, facilitate the planting of Moringa oleifera trees in developing countries. Because the leaves, flowers, and pods are not only edible and tasty, but highly nutritious, the Moringa oleifera tree can help save lives in countries where food is scarce and nutrition is poor. The leaves can be dried and made into a powder or eaten fresh, and they do not require refrigeration. Storage does not seem to affect the nutritional value of the leaves.
Moringa oleifera seeds are also used as a water treatment. The dried and crushed seeds can remove bacteria and solids from water and can also soften hard water. Because the trees grow well in dry, sandy soil, even in dry seasons they can help communities maintain their food and water supplies. Cultivated trees, which can grow quite tall in the wild, are often pruned while in cultivation so as to keep the pods and leaves within easy reach.
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