Moringa – an Icon for Most Filipinos

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Ilocano Audio Translations

I grew up on a farm.  My grandparents were farmers in the Philippines before they moved to the United States.  My father continued to cultivate the farms left by my grandparents.  I remember my parents taking me and my siblings to the farms frequently to pick vegetables then my mother would sell them in the market We grew up eating a lot of vegetables, most especially the MoringaMoringa oleifera is a very well known herb tree (considered to be very nutritious and a free vegetable in some parts of the Philippines, most especially the northern part).  I remember picking them a lot from the back of our house.  I liked eating them, but I disliked the fact that they were always available, so our family had to always eat them.  There is nothing special about a dish like Moringa, other than the fact that they are nutritious, which our parents would always reiterate.  Instead, I would be thinking about that it was free and they were always available all year round, so it was one way of saving us money for food.  Well, that thought was a while back but not now.

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Moringa or Malunggay grows best in a tropical climate. Some parts of US like Hawaii, Florida and California grow them. – Photo by Ging de Lara, Hawaii

Moringa Oleifera (known as Malunggay in the Philippines) which is also called the Drumstick tree or horseradish tree grows best in a tropical climate.  When I was a kid, I was not aware of its nutritious value.  I just knew that it was always a free dish for most of the people in our place.  When I moved to Canada, I missed eating them, so I was asking my relatives if there was a place to buy them.  I have an aunt who travels often to Hawaii so she brings them back to Canada. So I was lucky because I always had my share.  I found out that since there are many Filipinos that live in the Islands of Hawaii and the weather is great for growing it, then pretty much every household grows them in their yard.  Maribelle, a friend from Hawaii told me, Filipinos call it their national flag.  I looked up online if it was possible to take the seeds and grow them in Colorado.  I desired it more once I knew the details of its nutritional value and they call it a miracle tree.  It reminds me of my mother telling me to eat them a lot so I won’t get sick.  She would always tell me that it is very nutritious and we could not afford to get sick.  That is why I got used to eating them because of my mother’s encouraging words, but most of the time persuasive.

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A girl from the Philippines holding a leaflet of Moringa or “Malunggay”. – Photo by Imelin Cruz Cristobal, Philippines

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Photo by Imelin Cruz Cristobal, Philippines

In the Philippines, almost all of Moringa’s parts have important applications in the industrial, pharmaceutical and food industries.  The plant roots are used for natural medicines for many people.  Its bark and seed pods are a good source for dyes and tannins.  Its leaves, stems, and twigs are used as feed for animals.  In so many countries like India and Africa, it is used in feeding programs to fight malnutrition.  Facts about its nutritious value are found at the USDA.

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The first harvest of my 1-year Moringa or Malunggay in Colorado.

     I live in Colorado and tried to grow them here.  I kept them in our house with a grow bulb for the whole winter time.  I had them for a year now and get to eat some of its leaves already.  Since it is a big tree, I cut them to a height that is easy to maintain and it looks like they are surviving.  I hope to keep them for as long as I want.  My mother brought me some dried leaves from the Philippines and I use them for my coffee brewing, baking, and smoothies.  These are my ways of tasting it even when I am far from the Philippines.  I always have a feeling of being at home in the Philippines when I am eating them. It reminds me of everything when I was growing up, like the times of my early childhood and always being sick but then overcoming it.  I don’t know if the Malunggay had helped me to stay healthy after I was born with so much health issues.  We were always fed with a lot of vegetables which were free because my father was a farmer.

Eating Malunggay reminds me of the moments when my parents were having a hard time to put meals on the table, but they were always there to provide our meals.  It reminds me of a great-aunt from the neighborhood picking them for me whenever I visited home from my college years in Manila.  It reminds me of my father bringing them to Manila (10 hours drive from home) because my siblings and I were fond of eating them.  It reminds me of my mother always cooking them for a dish and when     I got home I could smell it a lot.  It also reminds me of the household I moved in after my college years because it was one of the favorite foods there.  That household I moved in had people that did not have the means to make money for a time, but we were able to help each other survive because we just loved free stuff including the Malunggay.  It reminds me of Auntie Mameng (sadly I won’t be able to see her again the next time I would visit the Philippines because she recently passed away due to an accident), and our great neighbor who was fond of sharing her own trees if our trees ran out of leaves.  It reminds me of relatives from far away countries requesting a Malunggay dish and it was always a dish that everyone would get excited about when we have our get together.  It reminds me of folks from Hawaii who always share their Malunggay trees and meals on facebook.

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All parts of Moringa are edible. They are great for tea, coffee, smoothies, ice cream, add-on to soup, spices for pasta and, bread most especially the famous Pandesal bread from the Philippines.

While most love the city life, and I have my own share of living in big cities but, I am always reminded of how simple life is from where I grew up.  This food brought great memories to my family, neighbors, and relatives.  Though I am far from old neighbors, relatives, and my parents, my brother’s family and his kids, I always find a connection to them by remembering Malunggay and how we have great memories of sharing this simple food together.  It always gives me the excitement of visiting the farms and being reminded of the memories of growing up.  This part of my life helps me to stay grateful for whatever I have now in my life, even in my moments of challenges and hardships.  It helps me to always remember great people in my life even from a distance.  It reminds me never to forget and always be proud of where I came from because they make a big part of who I am now.

Below are statements shared by friends and relatives of their knowledge and love for Moringa or Malunggay.

It is widely known as a power food (and food for the poor) in the Philippines.  The “malunggay” leaves and flowers had always been part of the meal served at our dining table since childhood. We didn’t have to worry about what we need to eat next to our steamed rice because these trees, just by stem-planting, can naturally grow anywhere – in the backyard, in our garden, near our garage, or even in front of our house, where we can just go and break some stems holding these leaflets, take these from its stem and right away, they are ready for cooking.  These smooth-edged almost round in shape leaves with a size of 1cm x .75cm can be prepared in various ways like “inabraw”, “tinola” or salad.  What I love most is the “inabraw” or “dinengdeng” wherein the clumps of leaves are put in a boiling water after the ginger and fish sauce commonly called as “bagoong” have been simmered.  We may add 2 spoonfuls or three of sun dried prawns which we call “aramang” and mushroom or charbroiled mudfish or any kind of fish whatever suits our taste or simply pieces of boiled root crops as seen in the photo to make a sumptuous “inabraw”.  Over the years, this exotic dish is never missing in every Ilocano dining table not only because of its power packed nutrients we rarely find in other veggies but also because these leaves are cheap (i.e. a quarter per bundle).  Or your neighbor who has some can take them from his tree and give it to you for free! – Imelin Cristobal, Manager, Ilocos Norte, Philippines


“Marunggay” (Ilocano term) is one of my favorites because of the versatility to go with anything.  The leaves, fruits and flowers are all edible.  I know it is nutritious but not really sure of the nutritional value.  I would research that if I were you.  Greens are very high in iron and fiber. We grew up eating marunggay and it has always been a part of our lives. –  Maricel Fontenot, Head Nurse, Texas, USA


“Marunggay” (Ilocano term) is my favorite and it depicts a true blood Ilocano in me.  I have a few Marunggay trees in our front and backyard here in the Metropolis.  So it’s always available.  We don’t need to buy the leaves, flowers and  fruits.  They are always available for my favorite foods like “dinengdeng”, “pinakbet” and add-ons to “tinola”, “lauya”, “mongo”, and so on.  Don’t you know that we have Marunggay pandesal, bread, Marrungay-flavored corn chips, pizza and  ice cream?  “Naimas” and being a physician, Marunggay is healthy, nutritious, and can fight many diseases, among them are cancer, heart disease and infections.  So let’s eat marunggay often. – Roy Julian, Medical Doctor, Manila, Philippines.

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Coffee with “malunggay” is a daily treat for me.

Credits:Thanks to all friends and relatives who took time to share their photos of Moringa trees and their love to eat them. LearnFilipino wishes to use your photos for the next articles. The team wishes to receive more stories on this topic. Photos on Moringa dishes will be appreciated. Please give us a shout at our Volunteers page!

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11 thoughts on “Moringa – an Icon for Most Filipinos

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