Where Did You Put Your Drumsticks?

moringa vegetable with fresh leaves

Moringa, known as drumsticks in the kitchen and shigru in the pharmacy, is one of the superfoods of today's planet. In fact, national armies stock moringa powder in the emergency kits of their soldiers so that in lack of food provisions, they can eat moringa powder and survive for days

Moringa is packed with good stuff that has been used by almost every culture and civilization from ancient India to present day. Because it is a fast-growing, drought-resistant deciduous tree in the Brassica plant order that grows on a wide range of soil conditions, it is often available and widely cultivated in dry or tropical regions, either for its long slender seed-pods that look like drumsticks with their triangular ends, or for the tasty roots.

Traditionally, moringa is known as shigru in Sanskrit, drumstick in English, sajne-data in Bengali, saijan in Hindi. Its modern name moringa comes from the ancient Tamil language, with murungai meaning twisted pod of the young growing fruit. Most Indian regional languages have a term for the 10-12 meter (32-40 foot) tree, as it is native to India and is found in most every state and geoclimate. India produces 1.2 million tonnes of fruits annually. It is generally available throughout the year in the tropical farmers vegetable markets, either as flower, leaf, stalk, or fruit and is taken home by millions of families daily. Its value is so great that the National Medicinal Plant Board of the Government of India and each state office will promote farming of the plant wherever it can grow.

In modern botanical language, shigru is known as Moringa oleifera because of its immensely valuable seed oil. Traditionally, many of the parts of the moringa plant are used: the mature five-petaled yellow-white flower, the tripinnate leaves, the stalk, a woody corky whitish-grey bark of the trunk, fruit, the immature seed pods called drumsticks, the mature seeds from which oil is pressed, and endocarp or stone/pit of the fruit.

In the kitchen the drumstick is used to prepare dals and the ever-popular south Indian staple food, sambar, in which each bowl has 2-3" long stalks called drumsticks. These are gleefully chewed until only the long, thin, hard fiber remains to be discarded.

moringa leaves drumstick
Moringa powder is stocked by soldiers in Armies so they can eat the powder and survive for days, in case of an emergency

Ancient medical texts are replete with references to shigru. From the Rig Veda and the Puranas to the Artha-shastra, to ayurvedic recent texts such as the Bhavaprakasha 1000 years ago, that discuss the forest pharmacy, references to shigru and its use in medicinal formulations are found.

In medical conditions, such as hemorrhoids or piles, known as arshas in Sanskrit, the leaf of shigru is used as oral treatment. For visarpa, a type of skin disorder, the bark of the trunk and the oil of the moringa seed is used. For a variety of vision problems, the pounded, expressed juice from the fresh leaf is mixed with honey and applied on the eyes. For headache, the bark of the trunk is combined with old jaggery and taken. For children's worm infestations (krimi roga), especially pinworms in the rectum, the bark of the trunk is combined with vidanga powder and eaten. Due to its strong antimicrobial action, it is also used for natural water purification.

In the spring, when the basanta rogas arise, escalating when the cold weather changes to warm in the spring, diseases such as chickenpox increase, and a stir-fry of shigru flowers are prescribed for consumption. For dental gum ailments, especially gum bleeding, gum swelling or recession, use of shigru leaves boiled in water to make shigru decoction is used as a kevala-gandoosha/mouthwash. The wood bark of shigru is used for toothaches and gingival infection.

The oil of the moringa/shigru seed is commonly effective when used as a massage for arthritic joints. One common medicinal formulation in shigru guggulu, touted for its ability to reduce inflammation and alleviate pain quickly. It is prepared from the stem bark of shigru, along with the resin of guggulu. Shigru targets key enzymes that facilitate the release of pro-inflammatory chemicals in the joints to help suppress inflammation and pain. The antioxidant phytoconstituents present in shigru alleviate gouty inflammation of the joint by inhibiting the key enzyme that is involved in excessive uric acid production.

If a person wants to strengthen their circulatory system, daily intake of the juice expressed from young shigru leaves is to be drunk. High blood pressure is also normalized gradually over time. For tinea infections, the bark of the trunk is used, but daily use is prohibited.

For injuries on the limbs or fingers, emergency use of shigru is available by mixing fresh ginger paste with the paste of the bark of the shigru trunk and applied to the injured area.

In trying to understand the modern scientific basis of shigru's amazing variety of medicinal applications, chemical analysis shows that shigru has abundant amounts of vitamins and minerals such as calcium, potassium, zinc, magnesium, iron, copper, beta-carotene, folic acid, pyridoxine, and  vitamins B, C, D, E. Shigru also contains many tannins, flavonoids, saponins, alkaloids as well as phytochemicals such as glucosinolates and isothiocyanates that are highly effective in preventing or reducing the risk of cancer induced by carcinogens.

While shigru is celebrated for its role as a vegetable in food kitchens as the famous drumstick expounded for its aromatic taste, it also holds abundant respect in the medicinal plant world for its many properties and already-documented uses for thousands of years.

Ayurveda often uses such powerful herbs as both medicines and kitchen foods side by side.  It emphasizes the gunas in each of our earth's products, whichever part of the plant it may be, and declares that every combination of guna in a part of nature must have a counterpart imbalance for which it is a key to unlock healing and restore balance.