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Moringa stenopetala (Baker f.) Cufod.

Vernacular names
Cabbage tree, African moringa tree (En). Moringa éthiopien (Fr).
Origin and geographic distribution
Moringa stenopetala is endemic to East Africa, where it occurs in northern Kenya and in Ethiopia. In Ethiopia it is widely cultivated. The cultivated trees may have been derived from a wild population at Chew Bahir (Lake Stephanie), which is now extinct. Moringa stenopetala is presently only known in the wild from five localities, all in northern Kenya. Records for Djibouti and Somalia are probably based on misidentifications or on recent introductions, and records from Sudan and Uganda probably refer to cultivated specimens. In recent years Moringa stenopetala has been dispersed and promoted in many tropical countries, e.g. Senegal and Malawi.
In Konso (Ethiopia) the leaflets of Moringa stenopetala are separated from the rachis and plunged into boiling water. Salt or sodium carbonate is added to the water. While the leaves are cooking, a mixture of flours is prepared, then kneaded and made into balls 2–5 cm in diameter. These are tossed into the water as well and after about 10 minutes the balls and the leaves are ready to serve. The addition of fat (grease or butter), small-sized cereal balls and a large amount of leaves are considered to make this dish a good-quality meal. Young, soft fruits can also be added, but the slightly bitter taste restricts the use to periods when food is in short supply. During the dry season the average consumption of leaves by adults in southern Ethiopia is 150 g/day, corresponding with 19% of the energy and 30% of the protein requirement. Over 5 million people consume Moringa stenopetala as a vegetable.
Moringa stenopetala has many other uses. The Turkana people of northern Kenya make an infusion of the leaves, which is used as a remedy against leprosy. The Njemp people in Kenya chew the bark as a treatment against coughs, and use it to make fortifying soups. In the Konso area of Ethiopia the smoke of burning roots is used as a treatment for epilepsy and the leaves of certain Moringa stenopetala trees are renowned for their effectiveness against diarrhoea. In the Negelle and Wolayeta Sodo areas (Ethiopia) the leaves and roots are used as a cure for malaria, stomach problems and diabetes. The leaves are also used to treat hypertension, retained placenta, asthma, colds, as an anthelmintic, to induce vomiting and to promote wound healing. In Somalia the smoke of burning roots is said to be inhaled by women during difficult labour, but as the species has not been collected so far in Somalia, this record is probably incorrect.
The wood is very soft and useful for making paper, but it makes low-grade firewood and poor-quality charcoal. In the Negelle and Wolayeta Sodo areas the seeds are used to purify water. Although in cultivation the primary goal is vegetable production, the tree can also play a role in erosion control, as a live fence, as a windbreak, for shade and as a bee plant. In Ethiopia the leaves, especially of trees with bitter leaves considered unsuitable for human consumption, and young fruits are fed to livestock. The Turkana people also feed the leaves to their livestock. In some areas of southern Ethiopia the seed oil is used as a lubricant, in perfumery and in soap production.
Production and international trade
In local markets in Ethiopia leaves are sold for vegetable use. There seems to be a modest trade in leaves from south-western Ethiopia to Addis Ababa for use as medicine.
The raw leaves of Moringa stenopetala contain per 100 g dry matter: energy 1235 kJ (295 kcal), protein 9.0 g, fat 5.8 g, carbohydrate 51.8 g, crude fibre 20.8 g, Ca 793 mg, P 65.6 mg, Zn 0.53 mg, vitamin A 31 IU and ascorbic acid 28 mg (Abuye et al., 2003).
The composition of the seed oil is not well known but likely to be similar to that of Moringa oleifera. Analysis of a sample from Uganda indicated fatty acid composition as: palmitic acid 6%, stearic acid 4%, oleic acid 75%, arachidic acid 3%, behenic acid 6%. The unsaturated fatty acids account for 78% of the total. The oil further contained sterols 0.5% (mainly β-sitosterol and Δ5avenasterol) and tocopherols 200 mg/kg (mainly α-tocopherol, γ-tocopherol, and δ-tocopherol).
Defatted and shell-free seeds of Moringa stenopetala contain the glucosinolates 4-(α-L-rhamnopyranosyloxy)-benzyl glucosinolate and glucoconringiin (2-hydroxy-2-methylpropyl glucosinolate). On hydrolysis the former yields 4-(α-L-rhamnosyloxy)-benzyl isothiocyanate, an active bactericide and fungicide. The seeds of Moringa stenopetala yield a higher amount (8–10% of dry weight) of the glucosinolate than those of Moringa oleifera Lam. and can therefore be used at a lower dosage. The isothiocyanate gives the crushed seeds their pungent horseradish smell. The glucosinolates in the leaves were found to cause goitre but to a lesser extent than expected on the basis of their concentration. However, in a diet poor in iodine it may be a contributing factor. The seed contains a protein (cationic polyelectrolyte) that acts as a flocculant in water purification. It can be extracted from the ground seed with salt water.
Ethanol extracts of leaves and roots have shown promise in control of Trypanosoma brucei and Leishmania donovani in in-vitro experiments. The leaf extract causes increased uterine smooth muscle contractions in mice and guinea pigs. The medicinal use of leaves to expel a retained placenta may be related to these increased contractions. A crude seed extract strongly inhibited growth of Staphylococcus aureus, Salmonella typhi,Shigella sp. and Candida albicans.
The hypoglycaemic effect of an aqueous extract of Moringa stenopetala leaves was confirmed in non-diabetic rabbits. In in-vivo experiments the extract and glibenclamide were compared. The plant extract was found to lower blood glucose concentration although it was less potent than glibenclamide. The effect was observed to increase with time and with increasing dose of the extract.
Adulterations and substitutes
Moringa oleifera and Moringa stenopetala have many characteristics in common. Use as a vegetable and water purifier are similar. They share several medicinal uses and both have high contents of oil in the seeds. Moringa oleifera has a faster development and yields fruits and seeds quickly. Moringa stenopetala is better suited to a drier climate; yields of seeds are higher and they have a higher coagulant content.
Small tree up to 10 m tall; trunk up to 100 cm in diameter, swollen, bottle-shaped; bark whitish, pale grey, silvery or blackish, smooth; crown strongly branched; young shoots densely pubescent. Leaves alternate, up to 55 cm long, 2–3-pinnate, with c. 5 pairs of pinnae; stipules absent, but petiole with stipitate glands at base; leaflets elliptical to ovate, 3.5–6.5 cm × 2–3.5 cm, with stipel-like glands at base of stalk, rounded to cuneate at base, apex acute, with thickened apiculum. Inflorescence a dense, many-flowered panicle up to 60 cm long. Flowers bisexual, regular, 5-merous; sepals free, 4–7 mm long, equal, cream flushed pink; petals free, oblong to linear-oblong, 8–10 mm long, equal, with long hairs inside, white, pale yellow or yellow-green; stamens 5, filaments 4–6.5 mm long, anthers yellow, alternating with staminodes; ovary superior, stalked, ovoid, c. 2 mm long, densely hairy, 1-celled, style narrowly cylindrical, glabrous, without stigmatic lobes. Fruit an elongate 3-valved capsule 20–50 cm long, grooved, twisted when young, later straight, reddish with greyish bloom, many-seeded. Seeds elliptical -trigonous, 2.5–3.5 cm × 1.5–2 cm, with 3 thin wings 6–9 cm long.
Other botanical information
Moringa comprises 13 species, of which 8 are endemic to the Horn of Africa. Moringa stenopetala shares its bottle-shaped trunk with Moringa ovalifolia Dinter & A.Berger, found in Namibia and Angola, and with two endemics of Madagascar, Moringa drouhardii Jum. and Moringa hildebrandtii Engl. These four species also have the small, regular flowers in common. Cladistic evidence, however, suggests that they are not closely related.
Growth and development
In experimental plantings of Moringa stenopetala in Sudan, plants reached a height of 3 m in 14 months. First flowers appeared 2.5 years after sowing. In Konso the first leaves are harvested after about 3 years.
The wild populations of Moringa stenopetala are found at 400–1000 m altitude in areas with mean annual temperatures of 24–30°C. In cultivation Moringa stenopetala is found at 500–1800 m altitude, but the upper growth limit extends to 2100 m if trees are sheltered from wind and heavy rain. Annual rainfall in the area where it is found in Ethiopia is 500–2400 mm. Light frost is tolerated, but severe frost may cause trees to die back to ground level. In the wild Moringa stenopetala usually occurs on rocky ground near permanent water. It prefers well-drained soils with a high groundwater table, yet it also withstands dry conditions well, and consequently it is found in both wetlands and dry areas.
Trees are pruned every 5 years during the rainy season (March–April). Ownership of individual trees is well regulated. Even trees in public places are owned by individuals and the right to harvest leaves of a tree for life can be bought and sold.
Propagation and planting
The recommended way of propagation is by sowing in polythene bags. Seeds of up to 1 year old have a germination rate of close to 100%; germination of older seeds is variable and declines as a function of age and storage method. Seeds are placed 1 cm deep in a mixture of sand and loam, enriched with compost. The bags have to be in half shade and watered daily. Germination rate and speed of germination are highest at 25–30°C. Transplanting can be done when the plants are 20 cm tall or 6 months old, and with proper water supply (about 25 l of water every 3–4 days) all plants should survive. The most common practice in traditional cultivation is to transplant seedlings that have become established under old trees. Before transplanting, branches and roots are cut and the seedlings are left to dry for a week, roots are covered with ash and upper parts with dung. In arable fields in Konso, where food crops such as sorghum, maize and finger millet are grown, 30–50 trees/ha are maintained. In drier areas the trees are planted in micro-catchments. In Arba Minch, trees are mainly grown in home gardens of up to 0.1 ha with 5–15 trees per garden. Other crops usually grown in these gardens are papaya, coffee, banana, cassava, maize, sugar cane, cotton and Capsicum peppers.
Cuttings can be used, but in the traditional practice of the Konso people they are seldom used. Trees established from cuttings were found to have a poor root system.
Diseases and pests
The main problem of Moringa stenopetala in Konso is an unidentified caterpillar, which, in just a week can devour the leaves of the trees of an entire village. No effective treatment has been found yet. In excessively wet soils root rot occurs.
The leaves of Moringa stenopetala are preferably left on the trees during the rainy season when other vegetables are in ample supply. Leaves have a better taste in the dry season than during the rains. Harvesting is mainly done by children using a long pole with a sickle-like blade attached. Fruits are harvested young to avoid competition with leaf production.
Yield estimates are scarce. Annual production can reach 2000 fruits or 6 kg of seed per tree under ideal conditions. Medium to high fruit and leaf yields are reported for the plains of the Rift Valley at about 1200 m altitude. At altitudes of over 1650 m no fruits at all are harvested and leaf production is poor.
Genetic resources
A single wild population is known from Lake Baringo and 4 populations from around Lake Turkana. Most material used in past research probably came from the Lake Baringo population. In the cultivated trees in south-western Ethiopia there is considerable variation in characteristics. The taste of the leaves differs between trees and ranges from sweet to bitter. Some trees are known to produce leaves that are outstanding for treating diarrhoea. Easy disintegration of the leaves during cooking is also an important characteristic. Selection of seed from trees with good characteristics has been practised in Konso over a long period. Increased seed size of cultivated trees in comparison with wild trees is one of the results of this selection.
The Biodiversity Conservation and Research Institute, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia holds a few germplasm accessions of Moringa stenopetala.
Apart from selection by farmers in Ethiopia, no attempts have been made to improve Moringa stenopetala.
Although the potential of Moringa stenopetala has long gone unnoticed, it has recently attracted a lot of attention. In the future, the use of Ethiopian germplasm in research will improve understanding of the variation in taste and chemical composition. For semi-arid climates Moringa stenopetala may eventually become an even more important multi -purpose crop than Moringa oleifera.
Major references
• Abuye, C., Urga, K., Knapp, H., Selmar, K., Omwega, A.M., Imungi, J.K. & Winterhalter, P., 2003. A compositional study of Moringa stenopetala leaves. East African Medical Journal 80(5): 247–250.
• Bennett, R.N., Mellon, F.A., Foidl, N., Pratt, J.H., Dupont, M.S., Perkins, L. & Kroon, P.A., 2003. Profiling glucosinolates and phenolics in vegetative and reproductive tissues of the multi-purpose trees Moringa oleifera L. (Horseradish tree) and Moringa stenopetala L. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 51(12): 3546–3553.
• Demeulenaere, E., 2001. Moringa stenopetala, a subsistence resource in the Konso district. [Internet] Development potential of Moringa products. Proceedings of a workshop held 29 October–2 November 2001 in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. http://www.moringanews.org/actes/demeulenaere_en.doc. Accessed January 2004.
• Engels, J.M.M. & Goettsch, E., 1991. Konso agriculture and its plant genetic resources. In: Engels, J.M.M., Hawkes, J.G. & Melaku Worede (Editors). Plant genetic resources of Ethiopia. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom. pp. 169–186.
• Jahn, S.A.A., 1991. The traditional domestication of a multipurpose tree Moringa stenopetala (Bak.f.) Cuf. in the Ethiopian rift valley. Ambio 20(6): 244–247.
• Jahn, S.A.A., Musnad, H.A. & Burgstaller, H., 1986. The tree that purifies water: cultivating multipurpose Moringaceae in the Sudan. Unasylva 152: 23–28.
• Makonnen, E., Hunde, A. & Damecha, G., 1997. Hypoglycaemic effect of Moringa stenopetala aqueous extract in rabbits. Phytotherapy Research 11(2): 147–148.
• Steinmüller, N., Sonder, K. & Kroschel, J., 2002. Fodder tree research with Moringa stenopetala: a daily leafy vegetable of Konso People, Ethiopia. [Internet] http://mars.wiz.uni-kassel.de/tropentag/proceedings/2002/html/node62.html. Accessed January 2004.
• Verdcourt, B., 2000. Moringaceae. In: Edwards, S., Mesfin Tadesse, Demissew Sebsebe & Hedberg, I. (Editors). Flora of Ethiopia and Eritrea. Volume 2, part 1. Magnoliaceae to Flacourtiaceae. The National Herbarium, Addis Ababa University, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and Department of Systematic Botany, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden. pp. 155–162.
• Yalemtsehay Mekonnen & Dräger, B., 2003. Glucosinolates in Moringa stenopetala. Planta Medica 69(4): 380–382.
Other references
• de Saint-Sauveur, A., 1993. Le moringa, un arbre a multiples usages pour le Sahel. In: Riedacker, A., Dreyer, E., Pafadnam, C., Joly, H. & Bory, G. (Editors). Physiologie des arbres et arbustes en zones arides et semi-arides: séminaire Paris-Nancy, 20 mars–6 avril 1990. Libbey, Paris, France. pp. 441–446.
• Eilert, U., Wolters, B. & Nahrstedt, A., 1981. The antibiotic principle of seeds of Moringa oleifera and Moringa stenopetala. Planta Medica 42: 55–61.
• Gassenschmidt, U., Jany, K.D., Tauscher, B. & Niebergall, H., 1995. Isolation and characterization of a flocculating protein from Moringa oleifera Lam. Biochimica et Biophysica Acta. G, General subjects 1243(3): 477–481.
• Jahn, S.A.A., 1988. Chemotaxonomy of flocculating plant materials and their application for rural water purification in developing countries. Symbolae Botanicae Upsaliensis 28(3): 171–185.
• Lalas, S., Tsaknis, J. & Sflomos, K., 2003. Characterisation of Moringa stenopetala seed oil variety ‘Marigat’ from island Kokwa. European Journal of Lipid Science and Technology 105: 23–31.
• Maundu, P.M., Ngugi, G.W. & Kabuye, C.H.S., 1999. Traditional food plants of Kenya. Kenya Resource Centre for Indigenous Knowledge (KENRIK), Nairobi, Kenya. 270 pp.
• Mayer, F.A. & Stelz, A., 1993. Moringa stenopetala provides food and low-cost water purification. Agroforestry Today 5(1): 16–18.
• Olson, M.E. & Carlquist, S., 2001. Stem and root anatomical correlations with life form diversity, ecology, and systematics in Moringa (Moringaceae). Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 135(4): 315–348.
• Olson, M.E., 2002. Combining data from DNA sequences and morphology for a phylogeny of Moringaceae (Brassicales). Systematic Botany 27(1): 55–73.
• Teketay, D., 1995. The effect of temperature on the germination of Moringa stenopetala, a multipurpose tree. Tropical Ecology 36(1): 49–57.
• Verdcourt, B., 1986. Moringaceae. In: Polhill, R.M. (Editor). Flora of Tropical East Africa. A.A. Balkema, Rotterdam, Netherlands. 11 pp.
• Yalemtsehay Mekonnen & Amare Gessese, 1998. Documentation on the use of Moringa stenopetala and the possible antileishmanial and antifertility effect. SINET: Ethiopian Journal of Science 21(2): 287–295.
Sources of illustration
• Verdcourt, B., 1986. Moringaceae. In: Polhill, R.M. (Editor). Flora of Tropical East Africa. A.A. Balkema, Rotterdam, Netherlands. 11 pp.
• Verdcourt, B., 2000. Moringaceae. In: Edwards, S., Mesfin Tadesse, Demissew Sebsebe & Hedberg, I. (Editors). Flora of Ethiopia and Eritrea. Volume 2, part 1. Magnoliaceae to Flacourtiaceae. The National Herbarium, Addis Ababa University, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and Department of Systematic Botany, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden. pp. 155–162.
C.H. Bosch
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands

G.J.H. Grubben
Prins Hendriklaan 24, 1401 AT Bussum, Netherlands
O.A. Denton
National Horticultural Research Institute, P.M.B. 5432, Idi-Ishin, Ibadan, Nigeria
Associate Editors
C.-M. Messiaen
Bat. B 3, Résidence La Guirlande, 75, rue de Fontcarrade, 34070 Montpellier, France
R.R. Schippers
De Boeier 7, 3742 GD Baarn, Netherlands
General editors
R.H.M.J. Lemmens
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
L.P.A. Oyen
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
Iskak Syamsudin
PROSEA Network Office, P.O. Box 332, Bogor 16122, Indonesia

Correct citation of this article:
Bosch, C.H., 2004. Moringa stenopetala (Baker f.) Cufod. In: Grubben, G.J.H. & Denton, O.A. (Editors). PROTA 2: Vegetables/Légumes. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.
Distribution Map wild

1, part of leaf; 2, part of inflorescence; 3, flower; 4, fruit; 5, seed.
Redrawn and adapted by Iskak Syamsudin