During these lean months when everything’s just icky wet and typhoons are always a threat, there’s this one generous tree that keeps me and my family alive. Nay, it isn’t a tree of gold, a money tree, nor one that offers luxurious beauty like those classic stunners that fill up the yards of rich landowners like mahogany, narra, and ficus. It isn’t even the tropical ensemble that normally populates travel brochures and similar tourist advertisements like the beauteous mango tree that grows that delicious fruit, revered and sought-after the whole world over. No, our tree is the humble malunggay (Moringa oleifera or drumstick tree).
Known for its nutrient-packed goodness, the leaves of this wonder plant are used for varied purposes here in the Philippines. Usually included in local viands like tinola (Filipino chicken stew), ginisang tahong or kuhol (sauteed shellfish or snails), and ginisang munggo (sauteed mung beans), it can also be utilized as a delicious additive to scrambled eggs, pan de sal, and okoy (flat cakes typically accompanied with a vinegar dip). Its elongated fruit is used as another ingredient in popular Ilocano dishes such as pinakbet and dinengdeng–both viands using lowland vegetables and either fish or shrimp paste. Malunggay wood is usually chopped off to supplement firewood and, of course, traditional kalan-cooking (Filipino clay stove; check “A Writer Cooks With Paper“).
This phenomenal tree can even be harvested of its leaves (and, perhaps, even of its bark and twigs) in order to make healthy tea. It has its own medicinal uses, as well. It’s proven to alleviate headache, bleeding from shallow wounds, skin disorders, and the like (see Senator Loren Legarda’s interview). It’s readily available here in the Philippines, specifically in the lowlying areas of the country, that it’s also promoted to prevent malnutrition, particularly because, as mentioned, it can be added to varied concoctions.
|Total lipid (fat)||1.4g||0.29g|
|Carbohydrate, by difference||8.28g||1.74g|
|Fiber, total dietary||2g||0.4g|
|Vitamins||Vitamin C, total ascorbic acid||51.7mg||10.9mg|
|Vitamin A, RAE||378µg||79µg|
|Vitamin A, IU||7564IU||1588IU|
|Vitamin D (D2 + D3)||0µg||0µg|
|Lipids||Fatty acids, total trans||0g||0g|
|Source: United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service. (n.d.). Food Composition Databases Show Foods List. Retrieved from https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/search/list|
Indeed, malunggay is one of the most common trees found here in the lowlands of the Philippines. In fact, you find its ubiquitous presence all over the country except in the cold locales of the Cordillera Administrative Region because the tree loves the warm climate and it can withstand less water provision. A bunch of its leaves (twigs?) may be bought in the wet market for around Thirty Philippine Pesos (30 PhP) or less than a dollar (0.59 USD). Here in the neighborhood, though, you can simply harvest from your own malunggay tree or ask some from a neighbor.
In truth, I wasn’t a fan of malunggay, previously. Given to my family as a sort of gift during our early days here in the countryside, Mama made it one of the original plant cuttings that eventually peppered our tiny garden. Paying it no mind at all, it swiftly grew into a bountiful tree. Worried that its branches would fall onto the electric lines that criss-cross the area near to it (electric and phone lines here in the Philippines aren’t hidden underground; they’re typically situated high above ground using tall cement poles to hold them in place), my mom makes sure that the tree’s prolific branches are cut down especially before the onslaught of the rainy season (June to October, approximately).
Our malunggay tree proved to be so unstinting that it supplies us with nonstop leaves and fruits that even passersby and neighbors would come to knock at the gate for some branches of it. A couple of weeks ago, the tree has been deadheaded (beheaded, actually) in lieu of the approaching typhoon period. A few days ago, however, several new shoots of branches began sprouting all over its bald trunk. Hence, we have another bounty of fresh, crisp leaves to add to our diet.
Really, it gives and it gives and it gives. Our malunggay tree doesn’t stop offering its all just to keep our mealtimes nutritious enough sans that actual need to spend too much money on food, every time. It’s our own giving tree right in the heart of our own tiny garden. You see, even Maxim, our huge, playful mutt, enjoys having a branch of malunggay as his very own chewtoy. Chomp-chomp-chomp, he goes!