Image of a malunggay or moringa tree

“Moringa Oleifera: The Giving Tree”

Image of a malunggay or moringa tree
Our malunggay tree in its bounteous glory.
Photo Credits: Jaisha

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.

Nutrition information (Malunggay leaves, raw)
Proximates Water 78.66g 16.52g
Energy 64kcal 13kcal
Protein 9.4g 1.97g
Total lipid (fat) 1.4g 0.29g
Carbohydrate, by difference 8.28g 1.74g
Fiber, total dietary 2g 0.4g
Minerals Calcium, Ca 185mg 39mg
Iron, Fe 4mg 0.84mg
Magnesium, Mg 42mg 9mg
Phosphorus, P 112mg 24mg
Potassium, K 337mg 71mg
Sodium, Na 9mg 2mg
Zinc, Zn 0.6mg 0.13mg
Vitamins Vitamin C, total ascorbic acid 51.7mg 10.9mg
Thiamin 0.257mg 0.054mg
Riboflavin 0.66mg 0.139mg
Niacin 2.22mg 0.466mg
Vitamin B-6 1.2mg 0.252mg
Folate, DFE 40µg 8µg
Vitamin B-12 0µg 0µg
Vitamin A, RAE 378µg 79µg
Vitamin A, IU 7564IU 1588IU
Vitamin D (D2 + D3) 0µg 0µg
Vitamin D 0IU 0IU
Lipids Fatty acids, total trans 0g 0g
Cholesterol 0mg 0mg
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.


Malunggay leaves fresh from our own tree in the garden.
Photo Credits: Jaisha

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).


Malunggay leaves as an additive to almost any Filipino dish.
Photo Credits: Jaisha

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.


Our newly deadheaded (beheaded, actually) malunggay tree.
Photo Credits: Jaisha

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!


Maxim with his malunggay chewtoy.
Photo Credits: Jaisha
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