Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Ay, ay, malunggay!

Malunggay flowers. (Photo by the author.)

We've tried the marunggay/malunggay ice cream, a culinary venture in the Ilocos (where else could it be?). Some weekends would see us buy from the organic veggie market stalls a dozen malunggay pandesal and malunggay bihon noodles for breakfast pancit.

Our NGO,Timpuyog Zambales, once looked at the feasibility of a malunggay powder project but a kilo of dry product would require considerable tonnage of green inputs (and therefore a big plantation) to make a profitable venture. 

Malunggay powder has been used in the supplemental feeding program for children in famine stricken African countries.  In our Pinoy households, this could also be added to kiddie meals, may be mixed with the cereals, porridge, and the lugaw or congee, especially for those who absolutely hate to see vegetables on their plates. 

These days, we drink a cup of malunggay 'tea' with a dash of lime juice before bedtime. We produce the healthy 'tea' using bunches of green fronds from our backyard trees hanged inside the house for air-drying. 

The marunggay (Moringa oleifera, formally) of childhood memory has grown from being the popular trees in our yard where neighbors and relatives go for the green leaves and the seasonal fruits for the dinengdeng (an Ylocano ratatouille like pinakbet) of lunch or dinner.  A relative's Igorot househelp named Berta came very often for this lowly vegetable, and thinking about it now, our moringa trees provided very rich nourishment for our growing brood of cousins. Those days, backyard vegetables were free for the asking. Today, a bundle of five malunggay fruits would cost Php20! 

From those same trees did our grandmother pick the dark green leaves for the chicken tinola she dutifully cooked for our lactating mother as my four sisters came into the world one after the other in the 1950's, and our youngest in ’60.  Pinoy baby boomers like us did not know it then when we were suckling our natural food; it was the marunggay broth that helped sustain the milk supply from our breastfeeding mothers. 

Studies dating back to the American occupation of the Philippine islands discoursed on the medical and nutritional value of the Moringa oleifera. Today, breastfeeding is being greatly encouraged by various child-care advocates, hence moringa is also getting back into the baby food picture.   

In folk medicine, tradition has it that the roots be chewed and applied to the bite of a snake to prevent the poison from spreading. A decoction of the roots is also considered a cure for scurvy; it is likewise used to calm down delirious patients.  Everyone is familiar with the leaves being chewed and applied to wounds to hasten blood clotting.   Asian-American high school students from California won a prize at the Intel Science and Engineering Fair a few years ago for their study using moringa extracts as blood coagulant.  

Some literature in the 1920's called the malunggay seed oil ben oil, reported to be good for salads and for other culinary uses.  At that time when oil lamps were still used for lighting, the ben oil was considered comparable to the best of Florence oils in the market.  Because it’s tasteless, colorless and odorless, it was considered a good material for use in the process of extracting perfumes.  Ben oil however did not grow to be as popular and commercial as the ylang-ylang oil.

It’s the green movement, the search for alternatives to OPEC oil (a matter of economics actually), that’s resurrecting the ben oil in other usable energy forms.

There’s a reason why we put the moringa flowers in the illustration. For the past several years, our scientist friend has been involved in hush-hush project, which he could not help tell - producing a high end product, an organic Viagra, as he put it, from some compound in the plant that’s most abundant in the flowers and the still limp and thin young fruits. It seems they have already successfully tested the product on experimental mice.

Our friend says the moringa’s ‘viagratic’ element affects both male and female but that could only be felt probably if there is a big intake of malunggay leaves and flowers, although in our hometown we don’t really eat the flowers.  We can gather the flowers at blooming time and convert these into some envigorating flower power potion, a salad with tomatoes and onions. Eventually, we we may yet see malunggay fruits disappear in the market when this organic viagra becomes a menfolk remedy, straight from the tree, for some embarrassing dysfunction. 

Source:  Brown, W.H. (1920).
Because we see it almost everywhere, we think that the malunggay is native to the Philippines. Linguists would tell us though that the name gives away its Sanskrit origin - marungi.  Experts say that, with a few exceptions, plants with Sanskrit origin were introduced from India or Malaysia, or probably from Java and Sumatra during the Sri-Vishaya and Madjapahit periods.  The Philippines belonged to those empires; what was left included floral souvenirs like malunggay, lasona, patola, champaka and lagundi, which were already native Philippine and thriving all over the archipelago when Magellan set foot on Sebu soil.

The Sanskrit veggie name morphed into different forms wherever the plant was grown. Thus, Moringa oleifera Lam. (horse radish tree to the English) is known as arunggai in Pangasinan; balunggai, Cuyo Islands; kalamunggai in Misamis and kalunggai in Camarines; kamalunggai, Mindoro and kamalunggi, Pampanga; malugai in Culion Island; malunggai in Tarlac, Bulacan, Zambales, Bataan, Rizal, Laguna, Manila, Batangas, Tayabas, Mindoro, Capiz, and Zamboanga; marunggai in Ilocos Norte and Sur, Abra; and maronggai in Zambales.

Thus, your name for moringa gives away your promdi-ness! [Promdi, from the, province.] 


Brown, W.H. (1920).  Wild Food Plants of the Philippines. Bulletin No. 21. Bureau of Forestry, Dept. of Agriculture and Natural
     Resources.  Manila: Bureau of Printing.

__________. (1921).  Wild Food Plants of the Philippines. 2(22):104-105 and 3(22):188-189.  Bureau of Forestry, Dept. of 
     Agriculture and Natural Resources.  Manila: Bureay of Printing.  

Census Office of the Philippine Islands. (1921). Census of the Philippine Islands.  Agriculture, Medicinal Plants, Forest Lands
     and Proper Diet.  Manila:  Bureau of Printing.

Merrill, E. D. (1926).  An Enumeration of Flowering Plants. Vol. 4.  Bureau of Science.  Manila: Bureau of Printing.

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