The phrase “miracle food” smacks of low-budget internet ads that promise easy solutions to diabetes and belly fat. Recently, though, it’s been used to describe moringa oleifera, a tropical plant that native to the Himalayas.
While individual definitions of “miracle” may vary, one thing is for certain: Moringa is now available at the Fort Greene farmers market thanks to farmer Hector Tejada of Conuco Farm in New Paltz, N.Y. The reason Tejada and many other hold moringa in such high esteem is because it is nutrient-dense and easy to grow.
Moringa is high in vitamin A, C, and B, says Christopher Wayne, the beginning farmer coordinator for GrowNYC’s FARMroots program. It has a sharp earthy flavor reminiscent of radishes or arugula. He added that doctors throughout the world are recommending the iron-rich plant for patients suffering from anemia and investigating its benefits for nursing mothers.
“It has a higher nutrient value in certain cases than things like spinach and carrots, and has incredible usage as a potential poverty aversion nutrient piece,” Wayne said. “It grows in marginal soils, in very arid, dry, sandy soils. So in places like Africa and other developing countries, it’s really valuable and important to… anti-poverty and nutrition-based exercises going on there.”
The moringa growing in upstate New York is notably different than the stuff that grows wild in places like the Dominican Republic. Since the growing season for the plant is much shorter here, it must be replanted every year and only produces small leaves. Tejada says he’s going to try and move some plants indoors this year during the colder months, but isn’t sure whether they will survive.
“[In New York,] it’ll never produce the kind of large seed pod that it’s most famous for,” Wayne explained. “[It’s] a long spindly kind of horror movie finger-looking seed pod that’s really popular in soups.” Instead, he said that Tejada decided to adapt and just grow the leaves. It’s been well-received among Fort Greene residents, and Tejada often sells out fairly early in the day.
The leaves can be used fresh or dried. The dried leaves are used in tea or ground up and put in capsules. “The fresh leaf itself, which you guys still have a chance to go out and get right now... is really nice,” Wayne said. “It’s confetti-sized, so it can kind of be sprinkled on top of a salad. It can be added to a fresh soup as a garnish. We mix it up in a raw fava bean recipe and mixed in some… cilantro with it.”
Tejada says he adds some of the leaves to his morning smoothies.