Fruits & Vegetables

African Moringa

Botanical Name: Moringa stenopetala
Kingdom: Plantae
Order: Brassicales
Family: Moringaceae
Genus: Moringa
Species: M. stenopeta

*Donaldsonia stenopetala Baker f. (basionym)
*Moringa streptocarpa Chiov.

Common Names:African Moringa or Cabbage tree

African Moringa is native to Kenya and Ethiopia.
Sparsely distributed across the Horn of Africa, Moringa stenopetala is endemic to southern Ethiopia, northern Kenya, and possibly Somalia. Extant populations are poorly documented, but have been identified in the wild in at least five localities across the Kenyan Rift Valley —one on Ol Kokwe Island in Lake Baringo and four around the shores of Lake Turkana. Records of wild specimens from other east African countries, including Djibouti, Sudan, and Uganda, have been deemed unreliable. M. stenopetala trees are widely cultivated in southern Ethiopia, where they were likely sourced from a now-extinct population near Lake Chew Bahir. Since modern times, the species has steadily been introduced across tropical Africa: it is found as far west as Senegal and as far south as Malawi.

African Moringa is a perennial tree with a shrubby, rounded habit, growing to a height of 6–12 m (20–39 ft) in all but the most exceptional cases where it may reach 15 m (49 ft) high. Caudiciform or “bottle shaped”, the trunk is bloated at the base and habitually forked, with a diameter up to 1 m (3 ft 3 in). The bark is smooth and whitish to light gray or silver, harboring soft wood underneath. The crown is sprawling and heavily branched; younger shoots are characterized by a dense, velvety pubescence.

The leaves are light green when mature, up to 55 cm (22 in) long, and attached alternately to the stem by short petioles. They are bi- or tripinnate in composition, with about five pairs of pinnae and three to nine leaflets on each pinna. Each leaflet is 3.5–6.5 cm (1.4–2.6 in) × 2–3.5 cm (0.8–1.4 in) in size and elliptical to ovate in shape, with an acute tip and a round-to-cuneate base. Stipule-like extrafloral nectaries are typically present at the base of the leaves.

African Moringa features a busy, aromatic inflorescence, organized as dense panicles up to 60 cm (24 in) long. The individual flowers are bisexual, radially symmetrical, and pentamerous. The calyx is polysepalous and cream colored, sometimes flushed pink, with 4–7 mm (0.2–0.3 in) long sepals. The corolla is polypetalous and variably white, pale-yellow or yellow-green; its petals are roughly oblong in shape and 8–10 mm (0.3–0.4 in) in length. Each flower features five stamens with white 4–6.5 mm (0.2–0.3 in) long filaments and yellow 2 mm (0.1 in) long anthers, as well as an indeterminate number of shorter staminodes. The ovary is densely haired and superior, 2 mm (0.1 in) long and ovoid in shape, transitioning to a smooth cylindrical style sans stigmatic lobes.


The fruits comprise 19.7–50 cm (7.8–19.7 in) × 1.8–4 cm (0.7–1.6 in) elongate pods which are initially twisted but gradually straight, sometimes torose (bulbous) around the encapsulated seeds. Young pods are bright green, maturing to a reddish coloration with a grayish bloom. The fruits are dehiscent, splitting open along three prominent valves when mature and releasing up to 20 seeds each. Covered by a cream to brownish husk with three papery wings, the seeds are oblong to triangular, 2.5–3.5 cm (1.0–1.4 in) long and 1.5–2 cm (0.6–0.8 in) wide, containing a smooth, whitish grey kernel.


African Moringa was planted by agriculturalists on the complex system of terraces built high up in the Ethiopian Highlands, where they became domesticated and were bred to improve productivity, the taste of their leaves, and the size of their seeds. Since then, the improved trees have been introduced into other areas such as the Kenyan Rift Valley.

In present-day Ethiopia, M. stenopetala is mostly known for its importance as a nutritious vegetable food crop in the terraced fields of Konso, where it is cultivated for its leaves and pods. Propagation is easiest from seeds, although plants grown from cuttings may flower and fruit sooner (within several months). Kept moist and in full sun, seeds placed 1–2 cm deep in well-draining soil typically germinate about a week after sowing. Temperatures for optimal growth and production in the Ethiopian Rift Valley range from 15 °C (59 °F) to 33 °C (91 °F), corresponding with elevations of 1,150–1,800 m (3,775–5,900 ft). Collection of the leaves and fruits may start after two years, although traditional farmers usually wait 5 to 6 years before harvesting.

Edible Uses:
Young leaves – raw or cooked and eaten as a vegetable. A larger leaf with a milder flavour than the leaves of M. Oleifera. Traditionally, the leaflets are separated from the rachis and plunged into boiling water. Salt or sodium carbonate is added to the water. While the leaves are cooking, a mixture of flours is prepared, then kneaded and made into balls 2 – 5cm in diameter. These are tossed into the water as well and after about 10 minutes the balls and the leaves are ready to serve. The addition of fat (grease or butter), small-sized cereal balls and a large amount of leaves are considered to make this dish a good-quality meal. The young, soft fruits can also be added, but the slightly bitter taste restricts the use to periods when food is in short supply. Flowers – cooked and eaten as a vegetable. Seedpods – cooked. This probably refers to the young seedpods, as mentioned above, which have a bitter flavour.

Medicinal Uses:
An infusion of the leaves is used as a remedy against leprosy. They are also used to treat hypertension, retained placenta, asthma, colds, as an anthelmintic, to induce vomiting and to promote wound healing. The leaves of certain trees of this species are renowned for their effectiveness against diarrhoea. The smoke of burning roots is used as a treatment for epilepsy. The smoke is said to be inhaled by women in Sudan during a difficult labour, but as the species has not been collected so far in Somalia, this record is probably incorrect. The leaves and roots are used as a cure for malaria, stomach problems and diabetes. The bark is chewed as a treatment against coughs, and is also used to make fortifying soups. Ethanol extracts of the leaves and roots have shown promise in control of Trypanosoma brucei and Leishmania donovani in in-vitro experiments. The leaf extract causes increased uterine smooth muscle contractions. The medicinal use of leaves to expel a retained placenta may be related to these increased contractions. A crude seed extract strongly inhibited growth of Staphylococcus aureus, Salmonella typhi, Shigella sp. And Candida albicans. An aqueous extract of the leaves has been found to lower blood glucose concentration although it was less potent than glibenclamide. The effect was observed to increase with time and with increasing dose of the extract.

Like its sister species M. oleifera, Moringa stenopetala is under basic research to determine whether it has bioactive properties; its potential effects in humans remain unconfirmed.

Other Uses:
Agroforestry Uses: The tree is used as a living fence. Although in cultivation the primary goal is vegetable production, the tree can also play a role in erosion control, as a live fence, as a windbreak, for shade and as a bee plant. Traditionally, the trees are mainly grown in home gardens of up to 0.1 ha with 5 – 15 trees per garden. Other crops usually grown in these gardens are papaya, coffee, banana, cassava, maize, sugar cane, cotton and Capsicum peppers. Other Uses The seeds of this species are very effective for water purification. The seed contains a protein (cationic polyelectrolyte) that acts as a flocculent in water purification. It can be extracted from the ground seed with salt water. Even very muddy water can be cleared when the crushed seeds are added. Solid matter and some bacteria will coagulate and then sink to the bottom of the container of water. The cleaned water can then be poured off and boiled. The seed oil is used as a lubricant, in perfumery and in soap production. The wood is very soft and is useful for making paper. The wood makes low-grade firewood and poor-quality charcoaL.

Disclaimer : The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplement, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.


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