Why spend millions of dollars on synthetic medicines with their terrible side effects when God has given us something better? Hippocrates of Cos, the father of Western medicine said: ‘Let your food be your medicine, and let your medicine be your food.’
Some synthetic drugs have done more harm than good over the years and some disease agents like bacteria, viruses, parasites etc., are becoming more resistant, kind of saying ‘no weapon formed against us shall prosper!’
So researchers are going back to their laboratories, working on locally available plants and animals in our environment to discover how they can be of help in keeping us healthy. Thus, Dr. Innocent Igwilo, a lecturer and researcher at the Department of Applied Biochemistry, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka went to study the Moringa oleifera plant also called the Tree of life because of its high nutritional and medicinal content.
In this chat with Vanguard Learning in his office in Awka, Dr. Igwilo speaks on his research so far, the various uses to which the various parts of the plant can be put and appeals to government at all levels, individuals and corporate organisations to support them in their bid to make this plant and all its benefits available to everyone while creating jobs and alleviating poverty at the same time. Excerpts:
Said Dr. Igwilo: “I have been working on moringa oleifera, what we call the tree of life, a miracle tree. Traditionally, it has many names in Igbo such as Okwe oyibo, Oku ghara ite, Odudu oyibo etc., Hausas call it Zogale, Yorubas call it Ewé ilé, Ewe igbálé, igi iyaanu, etc.
In Senegal, it is called Mother’s best friend while in English, it is called moringa, benzolive tree, and West Indian ben. It is also known as drumstick tree due to the shape of the pod. Other ethnic groups have different names for it.
That means the plant has been known in this part of the world. In as much as they said it originated from northern India, but sometimes we tend to believe it may have originated from here because it has so many names and people have been using it for a long time.
Unfortunately, at a point, the tree was becoming extinct but now, we are trying to revolutionise the use of the plant in Nigeria and thank God, there is an association formed in the university – Moringa Development Association – and it has been up and doing. We have gone round to sensitise people. As a result, it has become a national plant and the Raw Materials Research and Development Council (RMRDC) is now sponsoring its use.”
Enumerating the uses of the plant, Igwilo stated that every part of the tree is very important (leaves, seed, bark, flowers and root) as they have been used to boost immunity, fight malnutrition, cure headaches and arthritis, used as natural pesticide, water purifier, control of high blood pressure and blood sugar.
“We have discovered that the plant is very rich in micronutrients, particularly the amino acids. From the results obtained here, we found that it contains all the essential amino acids. Over 200 diseases can be cured by this plant and we have worked on almost all the parts of the plant – seed, leaves, flowers, stem, roots – to look at the medicinal profile and it gave us a resounding result.
To get the best out of the leaves, all you need to do is to dry them at room temperature, not directly under the sun because if you do, you will lose most of the vitamins and minerals. When they are dry, sieve to remove the debris. You can use it as tea or sprinkle it on your food. In fact, we have bagged it in tea bags but there is something we have to do before we can market it. There are no funds to do that yet.”
Continuing, Igwilo said: “The plant is medicinal, it contains most of the nutrients needed by the body and it is an immune booster. A report in some foreign journals said the leaves have an important part to play in the management of HIV/AIDS. That is understandable because it boosts immunity and HIV/AIDS is an immune problem so if you can boost immunity, it will go a long way. Not that it will cure it but it will manage it so that you can live with it for a very long time.
It contains about 40 per cent protein and the oil from the seed is very rich (almost same composition as olive oil). We also discovered that the seed is anti-arthritis, it cures arthritis, pains, migraine headaches and cleanses the gastrointestinal tract from the mouth to the rectum.
All you need to do is chew two seeds in the morning and two in the evening. The leaves are sometimes used to cure headaches. Rub on the temples for headache. You can sprinkle some of the powdered leaves on your food just as you sprinkle yeast in those days. It contains all the nutrients you need.
Moringa is gold, it will fetch us more revenue than the oil we are talking about because oil has its own negative impact on the environment but with moringa, there is no such thing.”
He said the leaves and seeds also cure malaria. “We did the phytochemical analysis of the plant and we got an outstanding result. It is rich in the phytochemicals – saponins and tannins – and there is a report that it reduces the incidence of cancer because of the phytochemicals which act by masking and removing carcinogenic agents so that they will not affect the cells and cause cancer.
Igwilo noted that the biggest challenge facing the project is lack of land on which to cultivate the plant. “We need a lot of land. All we are doing here is just with the little fund we have. We have problem with multiplication because of lack of land. The plant needs several hectares of land to produce so that when we start, we will not lack raw materials.
“There are so many things we can produce from it like capsules and bagged tea from the leaves. Ghanaians, Senegalese and Sudanese are far ahead of Nigeria in the cultivation and use of the moringa plant, although the Sudanese are more interested in the seeds for water purification and they have an outstanding success there. So Nigeria must move forward.”