December Gardening: The drumstick tree
Horseradish Tree Stimulates Additional Interest
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In times past, the British colonial digestive system was one of some uncertainty. Advocates were sought to assist it but alas, one of the most popular of these, horseradish, failed to flourish on warmer climes. Back in Britain it was a virtual weed. Indeed, garden guru Percy Thrower suggested growing it in specifically constructed concrete troughs to restrain its awesome growth. A suitable substitute had to be found. It did not take long to discover such.
Truly it is said wherever there are three Englishman they will form a gardening club. And so it was Moringa oleifera, the horseradish tree was soon discovered to similarly age digestion. And as with Armoracia rusticana, it is the roots that suffice to quell querulous intestines – and much more.
The tree, also known as malongay, drumstick tree, never dies and mother’s best friend, is native to a wide swathe running from northeast Africa through southern Asia. Thanks to its drought-resistance, rapid growth and numerous uses it has become widely planted elsewhere into the subtropics and even areas experiencing a Mediterranean climate such as southern California.
Besides the roots, the foliage, flowers, pods and seeds are not only edible but also highly nutritious. The Los Angeles Times notes that it “has more potassium than bananas, more protein that sardines, more beta carotene than carrots.” And of course of extreme importance over much of the third world Moringa provides wood fuel to cook with.
There are health benefits also, it is claimed. Traditionally used for skin and respiratory infections, modern research indicated extracts might help control hypertension, keep glucose levels in check, fight bacteria and parasites and reduce inflammation, enthuses the Los Angeles Times.
Then there’s the seed oil. Like many vegetable oils, it does not go rancid and so is valued for cooking in warmer climes. It is also utilized as a salad oil. Cosmetically the oil is an acclaimed moisturizer as well as used in the production of soap. Sometimes known as Ben Oil it was once used for oiling clocks and watches.
It is even believed in some quarters that the seeds have a potent aphrodisiacal affect. But then just as central European writings recommend almost all plants for their effect on clearing the lower bowel, so those of English herbals suggest more earthly pleasures. This may have something to do with the present day predominance of both the English and their language . . .