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  • Writer's pictureAmy Christmas

A Hawaii Artist discovers beauty and more in Island Sourced Materials!

"Marungay" Moringa-Moringa oleifera

-4 things you may not know about this Kauai plant

Forest & Kim Starr, Starr Environmental

1. What is it? Marungay is a fast growing, deciduous tree and sole member of the family Moringa also known as the Horseradish Tree family with several different Moringa in the family. It can grow up to 32-40' with a 1-1/2 foot diameter trunk but here in Hawaii is generally a medium sized tree. It is a soft wooded tree with a whitish gray bark and has a thick layer of cork. This fragile tree has an open crown with droopy branches. The leaves are divided 3 ways making them tripinnate. The flowers are about 1/2"x3/4" white with yellow to light pink veining, containing both male and female parts growing in clusters. The fruit or pod produced is long, up to 1', slender, and 3-sided containing round seeds, each with 3 papery white wings. The flowers and seed pods can be produced within the first 6 months of planting and in constant seasonal temperatures can be produced all year round. It is grown in mostly semiarid, tropical and subtropical areas. It can prefers well-drained, sandy or loamy soils. It is a true sun and heat lover. Moringa will not tolerate freezing for frost, or waterlogged soils. It can produce seed pods twice a year.

2. Where did it come from? ? Moringa is native to the Indian subcontinent. Moringa has quite a few nick-names. One being Drum Stick Tree because of the long slender pods, Horseradish Tree because of the utilization of the roots as a Horseradish substitute, but it’s most relevant name is Tree of Life or Miracle Tree because of its many uses. India is by far the largest commercial producer of this plant. In Southern Asia, Philippines and Indonesia, this plant is often grown in home gardens where its leaves are used as food. It is also prevalent in Central America, the Caribbean, Africa, northern parts of South American and Oceania. Here in Hawaii, it is seen in many home gardens and the green immature pods sold at farmer’s markets as vegetables. I also have been told by a local that they would use the seeds as aspirin when she was growing up in the Philippines. This plant is very high in many nutrients, making it one aiding in the research for ending malnutrition with its value both fresh and dried. The dried seeds have been added to sauces, fried, added to wheat flour to increase the protein, iron and calcium content. All parts of the plant have been used in traditional medicine, the leaf powder used as a soap, the oil from the pressed seeds is used in cooking and the remains of the seeds made into a seed cake which helps to purify water for both animal and human consumption. Moringa was introduced to Hawaii by Dr. William Hillebrand-father of Foster Garden-sometime between 1851-1871 and later in 1909 seeds were smuggled in by a man from the Philippines inside the body of his guitar.

3. When is the best time for collecting? We pick the pods once they have turned light brown and typically pick them from the tree to avoid any insect damage once they lay on the ground for too long. They are air-dried and stored in open containers. They retain color and rigidity.

4. How are the collected plant parts used?

The pods are used are a beautiful addition to both baskets and pouches. Their rich creamy white color and interesting shape and texture really add a great contrast to other more earthy colors.

*Amy is a University of Hawaii Certified Master Gardener Emeritus, has a Bachelor of Science-Landscape Horticulture degree from Ohio State, has been a volunteer tour guide at NTBG, and is a self-proclaimed "plant nut"! She and her husband Ron have been making and selling their baskets for more than 20 years.



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