IF UNITED States has apple to keep the doctors away, here in the Philippines, it’s the common malunggay.
Touted by scientists as “miracle vegetable,” malunggay has been promoted by the World Health Organization (WHO) for the past 20 years as a low-cost health enhancer in poor countries around the globe. In fact, during the Marcos administration, there was already a craze about malunggay, being a solution to the malnutrition problem in the countryside.
Perhaps not too many people know that the late President Ferdinand Marcos himself was a malunggay addict, consuming soup littered with green leaves in every meal in addition to the legendary ‘saluyot’ and ‘labong’ (bamboo shoots) as his main fare.
Malunggay trees are generally grown in the backyards. The small, oval, dark-green leaves are famous vegetable ingredient in soup, fish and chicken dishes. Scientifically, it is called ‘Moringa oelifera.’ Despite its legendary potentials, malunggay is still relatively unknown.
“The sale of all forms of vitamins, minerals, and health supplements is a big business,” points out Moringa Zinga, an American company that promotes and sells malunggay products in capsules. “If you are a company selling hundreds of nutritional products, why would you sell a product that will wipe out all your other products? This is true for the pharmaceutical industries as well. These industries would rather that the general public remains ignorant about the moringa leaves.”
According to the Biotechnology Program Office of the Department of Agriculture, the malunggay has been found by biochemists and molecular anthropologists to be rich in vitamins C and A, iron, and high-density lipoprotein or good cholesterol.
Due to its high calcium content (four times the calcium in milk), lactating mothers in the Philippines are often advised to consume malunggay leaves to produce more milk for their babies. The young malunggay leaves are being boiled and drink as tea.
Malunggay leaves are loaded with nutrients. Gram for gram, malunggay leaves also contain two times the protein in milk. Likewise, it contains three times the potassium in bananas and four times the vitamin A in carrots.
Health nutritionists claim that an ounce of malunggay has the same Vitamin C content as seven oranges. An important function of vitamin C not known to many is its being an antioxidant. In fact, it has been recognized and accepted by the US Food and Drug Administration as one of the four dietary antioxidants, the others being vitamin E, beta-carotene and selenium. (A dietary oxidant is a substance in food that significantly decreases the adverse effects of harmful chemicals.)
There are more health benefits. Vivencio Mamaril, of Bureau of Plant Industry, told a national daily that in India, malunggay is used in treating various ailments. A 2001 study in India has found that the fresh root of the young tree can be used to treat a fever. Asthmatics are advised to drink the infusion from the roots of the plant.
Tender malunggay leaves also reduce phlegm and are administered internally for scurvy and catarrhal conditions, while the flowers are used to heal inflammation of the tendons and abscesses. Unripe pods of malunggay can prevent intestinal worms, while the fruit also prevents eye disorders.
Other studies have shown that eating malunggay fruits can lead to higher semen count. This is good news for men who may not be able to sire children. They can now count on the malunggay to work its magic on them.
Because of its nutritional content, malunggay strengthens the immune system, restores skin condition, controls blood pressure, relieves headaches and migraines, manages the sugar level thereby preventing diabetes, reduces inflammations and arthritis pains, restricts the growth of tumors, and heals ulcers. This information comes from Dr. Kumar Pati, an Indian doctor who is an expert in natural medicine.
The “next big thing” in Philippine agriculture. That is how the agriculture department considers malunggay. “Malunggay can save lives, increase incomes, generate millions of jobs, utilize vast tracts of idle agricultural lands, make the Philippines globally competitive, impact local and international market, and help attain socio-economic equity,” explained Alice Ilaga, director of the DA’s Biotechnology Program.