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People’s awareness and concern for their health have allowed beneficial plants to gain more exposure. Over the past five years, awareness of moringa (Moringa oleifera) leaves as a healthy green vegetable has begun to emerge. Not just as packaged and jarred leaf powders in Nairobi supermarkets and farmers markets, but also in US and European “superfood markets,” according to Carrie Waterman, Assistant Researcher, University of California.

In an article in The Conversation, she says Moringa’s safety and efficacy have been reviewed, and have shown promise for the management of diabetes and risk of cardiovascular diseases.

Waterman writes: “Many phytochemicals, especially plant defence compounds used to ward off insects, are stored as inactive compounds. When the leaves are crushed, or chewed by an insect, an enzymatic reaction occurs, releasing the activated compound. While these can act as a deterrent to bug, tasting bitter or spicy, these compounds act as a potent anti-inflammatory agents in our body.

“The way it works is that when we’re sick, or have an underlying health condition like cancer, diabetes, or obesity, our bodies overreact and cause chronic inflammation. This constant inflammation throws the body off balance as it’s always in fight mode. While acute inflammation can help the body heal, like when you cut your finger, chronic inflammation can be detrimental to health because the immune system is over working. Inflammation can also cause improper processing of sugars and toxins that we are exposed to. The phytochemicals from moringa can help reduce this inflammation.”

In South Africa, Mavis Mathabatha of Sedikong Organic Farming Cooperative started the Moringa Oleifera Project after she realised that many children in Limpopo face hunger and starvation.

According to an article in Transform SA, the Moringa leaves are added to the daily meals of the orphans. Mathabatha said the immediate social impact of people consuming Moringa leaves is naturally the improvement of their health, and ability to ward off illnesses, diseases and infections.

Information by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries that the plant is used for medicinal purposes to cure various ailments such as headache, wounds or insects bites, bacterial or fungal skin complaints, gastric ulcers, diarrhoea and treat liver and spleen problems, pains of the joints and malnutrition.