It is near one of my university’s biological field research stations. This is very convenient because when we need a lab or other facilities they are close by. The collection is not at the station, though, because the station preserves a large amount of native tropical dry forest. While no moringa species have ever been known to be weedy, especially not in Mexico, there is always a risk that a botanical garden can introduce new weeds to native habitat. Also, there is not much point in clearing native forest inside a biosphere reserve to plant exotic plants. Even more importantly is what the location of the collection says about our societal commitments. The International Moringa Germplasm Collection is designed to produce scientific results that have direct relevance for community development. Hence, the collection is located in a little village not far from the biosphere reserve. The neighbors all know me, and with moringa being the “medicinal” plant of the moment around here, almost everyone has heard of moringa. But there has been so much work to do that I haven’ really taken the time to explain to the local community what we are doing.
There was a lot of interest. Every group that came by the stand included someone who had heard of moringa. Interestingly, all of them used it or heard of it as used “medicinally,” never just as a vegetable. Everyone said it was for cancer and for diabetes. No one reported actually just eating it, and almost everyone said they hated eating vegetables. The most common uses were all ones in which the consumption was easy and minimal. For example, a lot of people reported boiling the leaves and drinking the water in place of regular drinking water all day long. Others dry the leaves and crumble them on food “like oregano.” Some make a blended “green drink,” with fruit juices and moringa. Other people take the seeds “one seed in the morning and one at night, on an empty stomach.” Most of these practices seem the result of the creative imaginations of people who don’t want to eat healthy diets that include lots of vegetables (or any vegetables) plus a general lack of solid scientific information. Tea made from fresh boiled leaves tastes terrible by the way. Tea from dried leaves tastes great. Who knows if it’s good for you, but it certainly can’t hurt. And there would seem to be no good reason at all to eat the raw seeds. The nutrition and the antioxidants are in the leaves. People want a magic pill, though, and so some are attracted to the seed. I told them what I tell everyone: given the scientific information available, the best bet is to eat moringa as a vegetable.
Some of the visitors even said that they would try it. At the next event, maybe we’ll have moringa dishes. But, at least we have officially presented ourselves to the community.