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From the Backyard to the World

By Office of Communication Services    Published on 12/28/2015 More stories >>

Dr. Ted Radovich tends a row of moringa trees in a test plot in Kunia.

Dr. Ted Radovich tends a row of moringa trees in a test plot in Kunia.

It’s the tree with numerous names and even more uses: Moringa oleifera, also known as kalamungay, malunggai, drumstick tree, ben oil tree, or horseradish tree. Most recently, however, it’s been dubbed “miracle tree” in the popular press, and that’s not surprising. Now CTAHR is working to help bring its many benefits to a larger group of growers and consumers.

Almost all parts of the moringa are useful: the leaves, young pods, flowers, and seeds are high in protein, calcium, and many other nutrients, making it ideal for combatting malnutrition. It also has medicinal uses: the root, besides being eaten as a horseradish-like condiment, has long been used to combat inflammation and kidney disease. More recently, scientists have discovered that the leaves can be used to lower blood sugar, giving hope to people with diabetes or pre-diabetic conditions. It is just as versatile agriculturally, being able to grow under near-drought conditions and in poor soil; the fast growth of this nitrogen-fixer also makes it ideal as a windbreak.

The long pods of the moringa can be harvested and cooked
like green beans.

The long pods of the moringa can be harvested and cooked like green beans.

Moringa is common in Hawai‘i, but only as a backyard tree. It’s grown commercially elsewhere, though, and increased understanding of the tree’s many benefits has expanded its market potential. CTAHR is researching multiple aspects of the tree’s selection, propagation, cultivation, and processing, sharing this knowledge with local growers eager to enter the miracle tree market.

Specialist Ted Radovich organized a moringa field day for growers featuring research and marketing updates and demonstrating new tree types being screened at CTAHR. Plant and Environmental Protection Sciences faculty Christine Lynch and Helen Spafford have taken important steps towards easing shipping restrictions for kalamungay by proving that the pods are not hosts for fruit flies. The process is now underway to classify them as non-hosts, allowing them to be exported to the Mainland without irradiation treatment.

Hawai‘i’s place in the global moringa community was cemented when Tropical Plant and Soil Sciences faculty and Extension agents were invited to join 300 scientists at the first international symposium on moringa held in Manila, Philippines. Ted Radovich presented a talk with CTAHR coauthors Russell Nagata, Glenn Teves, Amjad Ahmad, and Robert Paull, and DuPonte Pioneer’s John McHugh, on germplasm evaluation and selection, important for matching the right cultivars for the right growing conditions.