Thursday, January 9, 2014

Tree Thursday - Horseradish Tree

Article taken from  Edited by Gene Dempsey

Horseradish Tree
Moringa oleifera (synonym: Moringa pterygosperma)

Native to India and commonly known as the Horse Radish Tree because of its pungent edible root, Moringa Oleifera is a soft-wooded tree that grows to about 25 feet tall, with corky bark and feathery leaves. Leaves are about two feet in length and composed of very numerous, small leaflets.  The flowers are white, fragrant, nearly an inch wide and grow in loose clusters.  The fruit is a nine-ribbed cylindrical pod, about 15 inches long.  Seeds are three-angled, winged, and yield a product called “oil of Ben” which is used to lubricate watches.

The Moringa tree, Moringa Oleifera, is very useful.  Virtually every part of it is edible.  The leaflets can be stripped from the feathery, fern like leaves and used in any spinach recipe. Small trees can be pulled up after a few months and the taproot ground, mixed with vinegar and salt and used in place of horseradish.  Very young plants can be used as a tender vegetable.  After about 8 months the tree begins to flower and continues year round. 
The flowers can be eaten or used to make a tea and provide good amounts of both calcium and potassium. They are also good for beekeepers.  The young pods can be cooked and reportedly have a taste reminiscent of asparagus.  The green peas and surrounding white material can be removed from larger pods and cooked in various ways. 
Seeds from mature pods (which can be 2 feet long) can be browned in a skillet, mashed and placed in boiling water that causes an excellent cooking or lubricating oil to float to the surface.  The oil reportedly does not become rancid and was once sold as Ben Oil.  The wood is very, very soft.  It makes acceptable firewood but poor charcoal. 

 It is an extremely fast growing tree and it is advisable to prune frequently beginning when they are young or they will become lanky and difficult to harvest. The breaking off tender tips (used in cooking) when the trees are about 4 or 5 feet tall results in the trees become much bushier. 

There is more good news. The edible parts are many. 

The leaves are outstanding as a source of vitamins A and, when raw, vitamin C. They are also a good source of B vitamins and among the best plant sources of minerals.  The calcium content is very high for a plant and phosphorous is low, as it should be.  The content of iron is very good (it is reportedly prescribed for anemia in the Philippines) and the leaves are an excellent source of protein and a very low source of fat and carbohydrates.  Thus, the leaves are one of the best plant foods that can be found.  In his book, "Edible Leaves of the Tropics", the authors, Franklin W. Martin and Ruth M. Ruberté, add that the leaves are incomparable as a source of the sulfur-containing amino acids methionine and cystine which are often in short supply.  A compound found in the flowers and roots of the Moringa Tree, pterygospermin, has powerful antibiotic and fungicidal effects. 

Dr. Samia Al Azharia Jahn with the Deutsche Gsellschaft fur Technische Zusammenarbeit in Germany found another unexpected use for the seeds.  Suspensions of the ground seed of the benzolive tree are used as primary coagulants. They can “clarify Nile water of any degree of visible turbidity.”  At high turbidities, their action  was almost as fast as that of alum, but at medium and low turbidities, it was slower.  The doses required did not exceed 250 mg/i. coagulating the solid matter in water so that it can be easily removed can remove a good portion of the suspended bacteria.  “River water is always fecally polluted.  At our sampling site, the total coliforms amounted during the flood season to 1600-18,000 per 100 ml.  Turbidity reductions to 10 FTU were achieved after one hour, reducing the coliforms to 1-200 per 100 ml.  Good clarification is obtained if a small cloth bag filled with the powdered seeds of the benzolive is swirled around in the turbid water.”

It seems to thrive in impossible places — even near the sea - in bad soil and dry areas.  Seeds sprout readily in one or two weeks.  Alternatively, one can plant a branch and within a week or two it will have established itself. It is often cut back year after year in fence rows and continues to thrive.  Because of this, in order to keep an abundant supply of leaves, flowers and pods within easy reach, topping out is useful.  At least once a year, one can cut the tree to three or four feet above the ground.  It will readily sprout again and all the valuable products will remain within safe, easy reach. The tree responds well to mulch, water, and fertilizer, but the branches are brittle.
Of all parts of the tree, the leaves are most extensively used.  The growing tips and young leaves are best.  The leaves can be used any way you would use spinach.  In India, leaves are used in vegetable curries, seasonings and in pickles.
When young, horseradish tree pods are edible whole, with a delicate flavor like asparagus. They can be used from the time they emerge from the flower cluster until they become too woody to snap easily (the largest ones usable in this way will probably be 12 to 15 inches long and 1/4 inch in diameter).  At this stage, they can be prepared in many ways. 

The seeds (peas) can be used from the time they begin to form until they begin to turn yellow and their shells begin to harden.  Only experience can tell you at what stage to harvest the pods for their peas.  To open the pod, take it in both hands and twist with your thumbnail; slit open the pod along the line that appears.  Remove the peas with their soft winged shells intact and as much soft white flesh as you can by scraping the inside of the pod with the side of a spoon.  Place the peas and flesh in a strainer and wash well to remove the sticky, bitter film that coats them. (Or better still; blanch them for a few minutes, then pour off the water before boiling again in fresh water).   Now they are ready to use in any recipe you would use for green peas.

For more information and recipes on the Horseradish Tree go to the Moringa Garden Circle’s website.  A very special thanks to the Moringa Garden Circle for the article and all they do for Fort Lauderdale.  The Horseradish tree pictured below was donated by the Circle for Riverwalk Park. 

Origin – India
Growth Rate – Fast
Drought Tolerance - High
Salt Tolerance - Low
Flowers year-round

The photos below were taken by me on January 6, 2014.  The tree is location on the east side of Andrews Avenue Bridge near the Huizenga Plaza’s Band shell. 

Figure 1 Horseradish Tree in bloom on Riverwalk
Figure 2 Flowers of Horseradish tree
Figure 3 Seed pod of Horseradish tree