Moringa oleifera (PROSEA)

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Plant Resources of South-East Asia
List of species

Moringa oleifera Lamk

Protologue: Encycl. 1: 398 (1785).
Family: Moringaceae
Chromosome number: 2n= 28


  • Guilandina moringa L. (1753),
  • Moringa pterygosperma Gaertner (1791),
  • M. polygona DC. (1825).

Vernacular names

  • Horseradish tree, drumstick tree, West Indian Ben (En)
  • Ben ailé (Fr)
  • Indonesia: kelor, marunga (Timor)
  • Malaysia: meringgai, gemunggai
  • Philippines: malunggay (Tagalog)
  • Burma: dandalonbin
  • Cambodia: mrum"
  • Laos: 'ii h'um
  • Thailand: marum (general), phakihum (north-eastern), makhonkom (northern)
  • Vietnam: chùm ngấy.

Origin and geographic distribution

Moringa oleifera is indigenous and found growing wild in northern India and Pakistan. It was introduced into South-East Asia at an early date, and is now cultivated throughout the tropics. In many places it also occurs more or less naturalized.


The horseradish tree has multiple uses, but in South-East Asia it is primarily used as a vegetable. The young fruits are a good substitute for yardlong bean (Vigna unguiculata (L.) Walp. cv. group Sesquipedalis), often used in curries. Stewed fruits cannot be eaten whole, but one sucks their contents and throws away the tough valves. The leaves and flowers are eaten as a cooked vegetable or put in soups. Fried seeds taste like groundnuts. The leaves and twigs are sometimes used as fodder. An edible oil (ben oil) can be extracted from the seeds; it is also useful for illumination, cosmetics and lubrication. The remaining seed cake is not very suitable as cattle feed because it contains a toxic alkaloid. The bark yields a coarse fibre suitable for making mats, paper and cordage. The stem yields a gum used in calico printing. Stems are also used as raw material for the production ofα-cellulose pulps for the cellophane and textile industries. The root bark has the pungent taste of the true horseradish (Armoracia rusticana Gaertner, Mey. & Scherb.) and is used similarly as a condiment or garnish. Almost all parts of the tree, in particular the leaves and root bark, have medicinal applications (e.g. as diureticum, rubefacient, disinfectant). The horseradish tree is extensively cultivated as a living fence, as a shade tree in home gardens, and as a support for pepper vines. In Sudan, the protein-rich seeds are used as a low-cost water purifier (flocculant), highly valuable for sanitary improvements in remote villages of the Third World.

Production and international trade

No commercial plantings of the horseradish tree have ever been established in South-East Asia. Trees are usually planted in home gardens or to mark boundaries. The fruits are a common product in local markets, especially in Thailand, but production figures have never been recorded.


The edible portion of marketable fruits is about 83%. Per 100 g edible portion they contain: water 87 g, protein 2.5 g, fat 0.1 g, carbohydrates 3.7 g, ash 2.0 g, fibre 4.8 g, vitamin A 184 IU, vitamin B1 0.05 mg, vitamin B2 0.07 mg, niacin 0.2 mg, vitamin C 120 mg, Ca 30 mg, P 110 mg and Fe 5.3 mg. The energy value is 109 kJ/100 g.

The leaves are very rich in vitamin A and calcium. The edible portion amounts to 75% of marketable shoots. Per 100 g edible portion the leaves contain: water 75 g, protein 6.7 g, fat 1.7 g, carbohydrates 13.4 g, ash 2.3 g, fibre 0.9 g, vitamin A 11 300 IU, vitamin B1 0.06 mg, vitamin B2 0.05 mg, niacin 0.8 mg, vitamin C 220 mg, Ca 440 mg, P 70 mg, Fe 7 mg. The energy value is 385 kJ/100 g.

Ben oil or Moringa oil, extractable from the seed (content ca. 25%), mainly consists of triglicerids of the fatty acid behen (C22H44O2). Formerly it was considered a high quality oil, highly valued as lubricant for fine instruments and highly esteemed by perfumers for its great power of absorbing and retaining even the most volatile odours. At present the qualities of the oil are questioned. The antibiotic properties of the seed are due to the presence of the active principle 4α-L-rhamnosyloxy-benzyl-isothiocyanate. Exudation of gum is promoted by insects damaging the stem. The wood of the horseradish tree is soft and of no value.


  • Fast-growing, much-branched, often crooked tree or shrub, 3-10 m tall, stem 10-30 cm in diameter; bark corky, whitish, grey or pale buff, containing coarse fibre and exuding white gum when wounded; roots tuberous with pungent bark; young shoots purplish or greenish-white, usually puberulous.
  • Leaves 2-3-pinnate, up to 60 cm long with 4-6 pairs of pinnae, articulated and soon falling, somewhat crowded towards the twig-ends; petiole 4-15 cm long, petiolule 1-6 mm; leaflets 6-11, elliptical or obovate, 0.5-3 cm × 0.3-2 cm, glabrous or puberulous.
  • Inflorescence an erect to spreading panicle, 8-30 cm long with numerous white to creamy, fragrant flowers.
  • Pedicel 1-2 cm long, articulated near the top; calyx tubular, 5-lobed, green; petals 5, oblong-spathulate, 1-2 cm long, unequal, the largest erect, the others reflexed; stamens 5, staminodes 3-5, both hairy at base; ovary on a 2-3 mm long gynophore, densely hairy; style tubular with open canal, truncate at apex.
  • Fruit a 3-angled, dagger-shaped, pendant capsule, 10-50 cm × 1.5-2.5 cm, green at first, later brown, glabrous, each valve 3-ribbed.
  • Seed subglobose, trigonous, the body 1-1.4 cm in diameter, the 3 thin wings 0.5-2.5 cm long.

Growth and development

Flowering occurs throughout the year with a maximum from May to July in Indonesia, and from January to February in Indo-China. The flowers are visited by "honeysuckers", small birds hunting for insects or spiders. Unripe fruits are harvestable as vegetable 55-70 days after flowering, ripe fruits with mature seeds are harvestable 100-115 days after flowering. M. oleifera is a deciduous tree, but is seldom completely leafless. It is an excellent shade tree if not too heavy shade is required.

Other botanical information

A number of forms are distinguished in Thailand, based on the size and the shape of the fruits. In the Philippines, two forms are distinguished, based on tree size: the native or giant type, and the Japanese or dwarf type. In Indonesia, forms occur which rarely flower and which are principally cultivated for their foliage.


The horseradish tree is strictly a tropical plant and grows well at lower elevations, both under wet and seasonal conditions, but can be found up to 1300 m altitude. It can be grown in various soils but thrives best in fertile, well-drained sandy loams.


The horseradish tree can be propagated by seed but is usually propagated by cuttings. Seeds germinate within a week, and seedling trees flower after about 2 years. Cuttings, even if large, root readily and grow to sizeable trees within a few months and start bearing within one year of planting. Shield budding has been found to be successful in India. The horseradish tree is planted at a spacing of 3-5 m either way. It usually receives little care apart from watering during initial growth. In order to get good growth and high fruit yield, it is recommended to apply organic fertilizer during the first year, and inorganic nitrogen fertilizer once or twice a year. Horseradish tree tolerates drought very well, but supplementary irrigation during a long dry season is beneficial. Old and weak branches are pruned out to promote regrowth and regulate the tree shape.

The main insect pests are aphids, mites and insects that eat the fruit wall, but the extent of damage has never been evaluated.

Yields are low during the first two years, but from the third year onwards, individual tree yields of 600 or more fruits can be obtained for a period of 10-15 years. A production of 2150 fruits with a total fresh weight of 190 kg in one main harvest on a 2½-year-old tree has been reported from Thailand.

Genetic resources and breeding

Considerable genetic variability is available in north-western India. No breeding programmes are currently in progress.


M. oleifera is certainly underexploited at the moment. Its numerous uses (vegetable, seed oil, fibre, shade, hedge, ornamental, medicine), its easy propagation and its pantropical cultivation justify more intensive research into its biological and economic possibilities.


  • Mahajan, S. & Sharma, Y.K., 1984. Production of rayon grade pulp from Moringa oleifera Lam. Indian Forester, March 1984: 303-306.
  • Polprasid, P., 1991. Marum [Horseradish tree]. Kasikorn 64(2): 163-167.
  • Ramachandran, C., Peter, K.V. & Gopalakrishnan, P.K., 1980. Drumstick (Moringa oleifera): a multipurpose Indian vegetable. Economic Botany 34(3): 276-283.
  • van Steenis, C.G.G.J., 1949. Moringacease. In: van Steenis. C.G.G.J. et al. (Editors), 1950- . Flora Malesiana. Series 1. Vol. 4. Noordhoff-Kolff, Djakarta, Indonesia. pp. 45-46.
  • Vidal, J., 1962. Moringacées. In: Flore du Cambodge, du Laos et du Vietnam [Flora of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam]. Vol. 2. Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle, Laboratoire de Phanérogamie, Paris, France. pp. 3-7.


  • P. Polprasid