Drumstick – The Miracle Tree

Hindu metro plus , Moringa Olifera

The murungaikai (Moringa) tree is chockfull of nutrients but we don’t pay much attention to it

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One can’t quite be blamed for indulging in rich food during this festive season. But in the midst of feasting on pongals, payasams, kesaris and halwas, we need to maintain a balance between good health and indulgence.

The easiest way to do that would be to eat simple meals that are a part of our traditional diet. The South Indian diet comprising of poriyals, rasam and curd is light and easily digestible.

While choosing the vegetables for a simple home-cooked meal, the best way to get the maximum nutrients is to select at least one item that is in season and growing in plenty. If you look around you, the boughs of the drumstick trees (muringai maram) are full of fruit.

This is a tree many of us here , pay scant attention to. Yet this tree was referred to as “miracle tree” and recognised by the National Institutes of Health as the “Botanical of the Year” in 2007, 2011 and 2012. In the drought-prone areas of Africa, it is looked upon as the cure for starvation. A spoonful of dried and powdered leaves is administered to children to ward off malnutrition. The leaves, fruit and flowers can take care of most of the body’s nutritional needs. Various online stores sell drumstick products in capsule and powder form. Thankfully, we can go with the fresh alternative.

As you go around the city, you will notice that this is a tree that requires little nurturing. The seeds with their wing-like attachments are easily dispersed by the wind and take root in the smallest of spaces. It is drought-resistant and proliferates on the roadside .We hear complaints of extreme hunger and poverty but it does not occur to us to live off or care for these native species.At any slum dwelling in the city , you will find at least one drumstick tree lush and flowering. Yet , sadly that which comes free has little value !

The drumstick is one of my favourite vegetables. The most common dish is sambhar with fat batons of drumstick floating about. There are so many other ways in which to cook this unique murungakkai. There are several varieties of poriyals. When cooked, the tender pulp blends wonderfully with the flavours of turmeric, chilli, tomatoes, onions, garlic, pepper and even milk. A drumstick cutlet is a must during in this season in the children’s lunchbox. A generous handful of the delicious murungai keerai is also added to accentuate the flavour and up the nutrition quotient of the cutlet. Drumstick leaves are delicious when kneaded into flour to make rotis. They have no underlying bitterness and can even be added to kurmas or to make a spice blend.

The texture and cooking time make the murungai a very versatile food to experiment with. I’m thinking along the lines of drumstick chutney or even a spread. My tree at home yields a minimum of two drumsticks a day. The best way to store them is by wrapping them in a thin damp cloth. This will help keep them fresh for a couple of days. The very tender ones make a delicious pickle. They are so tender that they can be eaten whole — outer skin and all.

The pretty white flowers are also said to feature extensively in Thai cooking. Often we leave a few drumsticks to mature and dry on the tree. This is mostly for seed retrieval. These dried seeds are roasted and eaten as a snack. Said to be high in Vitamin C, these are a great alternative to roasted nuts.

I’m so going to try that out soon !

Quick facts

–> Dried moringa leaf powder is also used as an antiseptic for washing hands

–> Oil extracted from the dried seeds is referred to as Ben oil. It is used as cooking fuel, as well as in the cosmetic and watch industry. moringa creams , oils and bath products are made by many international brands.

–> It is rich in antioxidants and vitamins, especially iron, magnesium, Vitamins A, C and riboflavin

–> It is also anti-fungal and anti-bacterial and an important ingredient in herbal medicine.

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