Moringa Miracle Herb or Case of Consumer Beware

Recently I came across a book on African Herbs which contained numerous herbal moringa treemonographs.  The monograph that caught my eye was  on Morniga oleifera.  I was intrigued by Morniga’s popularity among breastfeeding mothers.  Moringa has followed the superfood path of being the latest and greatest remedy for everything under the sun.  In reading through the monograph, I found some support for these health claims but not for others.  Below is an example of how health claims are perpetuated and the importance of looking beyond the headlines.
Los Angeles Times – “Scientifically speaking, Moringa sounds like magic. It can rebuild weak bones, enrich anemic blood and enable a malnourished mother to nurse her starving baby. Doctors use it to treat diabetes in West Africa and high blood pressure in India …. And it’s not only good for you, it’s delicious.”

Indigenous to sub-Himalayan regions of Northern India and Pakistan, Moringa now has world wide distribution. All parts of the plant have numerous medicinal actions including antibacterial, anthelmintic, anti inflammatory, antibiotic and anti-hypertensive, to name a few.  The Moringa tree is know by different names throughout the world including “drumstick tree” or it’s common name of “horseradish tree”. In Ayurvedic medicine it is known as Shigru and Jacinto in Spain.

 

Moringa is considered a food and medicinal herb. Moringa oleifera grows in many  health claimscountries where malnutrition is widespread and has been used to increase vitamin and protein levels, providing a valuable source of antioxidants and vitamins.  The leaves are the most common part of the plant used in commerce.  When one searches the web there are numerous links to the health benefits of Moringa. A blog post by Wellness Mama on the super food claims of Moringa covered a important point:

Perhaps you’ve seen some of the health claims that gram-for-gram, Moringa has more protein than yogurt, more potassium than bananas, more calcium than milk and more Vitamin C than oranges.  While this is technically true, it is important to note the distinction that this is “gram for gram,” and not by volume. Since Moringa leaves are relatively lightweight, 100 grams of Moringa leaves would be substantially more volume than 100 grams of an orange.

Consider this: a medium size orange is approximately 130 grams, or 4.5 ounces. Now consider a leafy substance like Moringa leaves. For simplicity, we’ll use a similar leaf, Spinach, for comparison. The FDA estimates that 1 cup of raw spinach is about 30 grams. This means that to get the same “gram for gram” comparison, a person would have to eat 4+ cups of fresh spinach leaves to consume the same number of grams as one orange.  This comparison becomes even more glaring with some of the other nutrients. For instance, it is claimed that “gram for gram” this plant contains two times the protein of yogurt, but 100 grams of yogurt is only about 1/2 cup, while a person would have to consume 3+ cups (or six times as much by volume) fresh leaves to get to 100 grams.  Additionally, while it is a good natural source of the nutrients listed above, 1 cup of fresh Moringa leaves provides only 10-20% of the RDA for these nutrients listed above, so a person would have to consume a lot to obtain “superfood” levels of these nutrients. Most Moringa supplements are dried, not fresh, which reduces the amount of certain nutrients and concentrates others.

This points to the faulty logic used as the basis of advertising.  So although Moringa is full of vitamins and protein, it is important to look at the detail, this isn’t a case of comparing apples to apples.

 

bookBack to the monograph.  The monograph reported on traditional uses of Moringa.  According to the monograph Moringa leaves and seeds were used as food:

  • Soup is made from the leaves and is used to treat hypertension
  • Fresh leaves are eaten like spinach, the leaves are used for making sauces
  • Moringa pods are eaten as a vegetables
  • The leaves are used as a protection against malnutrition
  • Moringa leaves are a rich source of Vit. E, A and fatty acids
  • The fruits or seed pods, known as drumsticks, are a culinary vegetable commonly used in soups and curries
  • The flowers are featured in some recipes as well, although they need to be cooked slightly to neutralize toxicity.

The bark, leaves, and root of Moringa have also been used in traditional healing:

  • Leaves used as poultice aiding in wound healing
  • Leaves are used against nervous ailments
  • Juice from crushed bark, flowers, roots and leaves, mixed with honey is used for nervous disorders
  • Bark or leaf used for its antispasmodic properties
  • Root chewed against mouth ulcers
  • Root chewed to aid in digestion
  • Root pulp is poulticed against pulmonary diseases
  • Root decoction if drunk against epilepsy, hysteria, fever.
  • Lightly boiled leaves, bark or root pulp or pulverized root is applied to painful joints
  • Extract of bark or root for scurvy
  • The root and pounded flower are used on wounds
  • Infusion of root is used as gargle
  • Root poultice is a stimulant, used for some forms of paralysis and fever.
  • Juice extracted from crushed roots ear drop for ear infections
  • The leaf infusion contains oxytocin
  • Leaf pulp used as dressing against inflammation
  • Whole plant decoction used against viral hepatitis
  • Used as gargle for throat related infections
  • Seed oil is rubbed on joints.
  • Used as a traditional supplement for infants. One rounded soup spoon contains about 8 g of powder with 2.2 G protein.
  • During the 19th c. Plantations in the West Indies were exporting the oil. It is pleasant tasting edible oil which does not become rancid.
  • In one study the seeds of Moringa were used to purify water. (Gilpin et al., 1994)

Moringa is promoted as a galactagogue or milk stimulating herb by many commercial moringa plantsources.  In a review of literature on Moringa some cultures used it primarily for increasing protein levels during breastfeeding. The Philippines have documented use of its ability to augment breast milk production.  There is a survey of studies that does show it has a demonstrated  significant increase in milk produced 4-7 days after treatment. The caution is that the internet is filled with much misinformation about whether Moringa leaf should or should not be taken during pregnancy, at this point I would air on the side of safety.  The other parts of the plant should not be taken and can cause miscarriage or bleeding.

Cautions:  The leaves of the Moringa oleifera tree are generally considered to be safe and edible, but there is some controversy regarding the roots and stems pointing to potentially harmful effects, especially in women. These parts of the plant may not only act as a contraceptive (both temporary or permanent) but may also lead to miscarriage and other problems.  There is research showing a potentially immunosuppressive and cytotoxic effect of the seeds of the plant, and extracts or supplements that contain the roots, seeds and stems should be avoided for this reason until more research is done. Additionally, the leaves of the plant have been shown to have a mildly laxative effect and may cause digestive disturbances in some people. Supplementation of the seeds or one extract of the leaves (methanolic) at doses around 3-4 fold higher than the recommended dosages appears to be associated with genotoxicity and should be avoided; water extracts of the leaves do not appear to confer this risk.  Moringa oleifera has anticoagulant properties of unknown potency and biological significance.

Important drug contraindications:  Some medications are changed and broken down by the liver. Moringa might decrease how quickly the liver breaks down some medications. Taking moringa along with some medications that are broken down by the liver can increase the effects and side effects of some medications.

  • Levothyroxine-Interaction Rating: Moderate.  Be cautious with this combination.  Levothyroxine is used for low thyroid function. Moringa might decrease how much levothyroxine your body absorbs. Taking moringa along with levothyroxine might decrease the effectiveness of levothyroxine.
  • Moringa might lower blood sugar. Diabetes medications are also used to lower blood sugar. Taking moringa along with diabetes medications might cause your blood sugar to go too low. Monitor your blood sugar closely. The dose of your diabetes medication might need to be changed.
  • Moringa might lower blood pressure. It has the potential to add to blood pressure lowering effects of antihypertensive drugs.
  • There is research showing a potentially immunosuppressive and cytotoxic effect of the seeds of the plant, and extracts or supplements that contain the roots, seeds and stems should be avoided for this reason until more research is done.

This points to my initial concern about the over marketing of an herb, where it becomes almost impossible to filter through the numerous web pages to find reality.  As the global use of herbal medicinal products continues to grow and many more new products are introduced into the market, public health issues, and concerns surrounding their safety are important.  I am not in the camp of over regulation at all, but I do feel that for the most part consumers are not doing the level of research needed, or looking to clinical herbalists, who for the most part are trained to dig deep for efficacy and contraindications.

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Shi Hu, Dendrobium Nobile- “Immortality Herb”

This last May I was fortunate to travel to China with my school, East West School for Planetary Herbology, to do clinical training in a Traditional Chinese Medicine Hospital.  On one of our field excursions, we toured a demonstration garden for the school.  In one greenhouse there were rows and rows of a low growing plant called Shi Hu. I found a piece of the plant on the ground put it into my pocket, hoping to root it when I got home.  At this point, I have a very small plant that made the long plane trip and is starting to put on growth.

Shi hu is an orchid plant that often grows adjacent to trees such as pear or peach.  The plant consists of a long, thin stem, which is golden yellow in color, with a flower at the end. Dendrobium Nobile, also known as the Noble Dendrobium or Shi Hu in Pinyin, has been used for the medicinal purpose for at least 2,000 years. Different varieties of dendrobium have different colors, but the most common colors are yellow and pink. The plant has a long thin stem that is used for various herbal and medicinal treatments. Shi Hu grows wild and is harvested from November to February although at this point, wild Shi Hu is overharvested and it is now being cultivated in greenhouses like the one we saw.  True Shi Hu refers to dendrobium orchid, but much of what is available on the market is a substitute rather than true dendrobium.  It is common to see products that are sold as “wild” Shi Hu, but this is a case where much of it is cultivated and not wild. Most frequently Shi Hu is available in bulk or granules. According to Eric Brand of Blue Poppy, the best way to test the quality of Shi Hu is to chew it. The more fibrous the less quality, the more sticky it is the better quality it is.

Shi Hu has been used for more than 2,000 years in traditional Chinese medicine.  In the Taoist Canon, a collection of Taoist literature from the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907), it refers to Shi Hu as the first of nine “celestial herbs” with great health benefits.  In the Compendium of Materia Medica, written during the Ming Dynasty, Shi hu is described as affecting three channels of energy – the stomach, the lungs, and the kidneys.  The Chinese believe that the Dendrobium plant is ‘yin’ in nature and can be used to replenish fluids. It is commonly used as an Yin tonic to moisten the stomach, lungs and to replace kidney yin jing. It is very effective for treating conditions such as dry mouth, stomach pain, mouth sores, sunstroke, and other conditions caused by dry weather, pollution or smoke.

Let’s face it as we age we tend towards dryness and ingesting herbs that help to replenish fluids can be helpful.  Another reason that I love Shi Hu is that I often incorporate herbs into my soups and broths.  Shi hu has been used this way in Chinese cooking along with ginseng and chicken, duck, or lamb, for general health. Shi hu is now being adapted to new and creative uses including being made into juices and even dishes available at health spas. In a news article, I recently read, the flower of Shi Hu is made into a tea drink and even brewed into a clear liquor with 38 percent alcohol.

Among its many uses, the Chinese use dendrobium as a tonic for longevity. It is believed that when mixed with licorice roots and made into a tea it transmits healing energy to all parts of the body. There is a whole host of uses that are promoted in the commercial literature including the following:

  • Dendrobium helps moisten and nourish the skin and prevents dryness and flaky skin.
  • When air pollution and smoke dry out the lungs and air passages and increase thirst, dendrobium can be consumed for quick relief and to moisten the passageways.
  • Dendrobium is used as an effective tonic for the treatment of tuberculosis, flatulence, night sweats, anorexia, fever, and dyspepsia.
  • Dendrobium tonic improves the functioning of the lungs, kidneys, and stomach. It can reduce stomach pain and cramping and reduce vomiting.
  • It is believed that regular consumption of dendrobium can also treat sexual impotency.
  • Pain in the feet and hands, lumbago, and arthralgia can be treated with dendrobium extract.
  • Dendrobium can boost the immune system and help the body fight infections.
  • Dendrobium has long since been used to replenish lost fluids from the body and reduce severe thirst.
  • Natives of the Eastern Himalayas use dendrobium to heal problems with the eyes.
  • Dendrobium blossoms and stems are edible. Countries like Thailand and Singapore, deep fry these delicacies and eat them as snacks.
  • In Europe, dendrobium blossoms are used as edible cake decorations and as garnishes.
  • The Aborigines consider dendrobiums as emergency bush food.
  • Pickle is made from dendrobium flowers in Nepal.

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine:

Energy: sweet, slightly cold

Actions: Generates body fluids for the stomach; nourishes stomach Yin, mildly nourishes kidney Yin; clears heat; brightens the vision; strengthens the lower back.

Uses:

Nourishes Yin, clears Heat and generates fluids Parched mouth, severe thirst or intractable fever associated with Yin Deficiency, most commonly when the Fluids are injured during a warm pathogen disease
Enriches Kidney Yin and reduces Heat from Deficiency Yin Deficiency Heat and depleted Fluids with a recalcitrant low-grade fever, dry and painful throat and a red tongue with no coat
Tonifies the Kidneys, augments Jing, brightens the eyes, strengthens the tendons and bones and strengthens the low back Dull vision, dizziness and low back weakness and pain associated with Kidney and Liver Deficiency
Nourishes Stomach and Lung Yin Stomach and Lung Yin Deficiency with Empty Fire Rising

http://www.americandragon.com/Individualherbsupdate/ShiHu.html

Additional Note:  According to Eric Brand it can trap an EPI (Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency) in the body and prolong the sickness. If there is a chance of EPI, Mai men dong or Yu zhu is a better choice.

  • Bensky D, Gamble A. Chinese Herbal Medicine. Seattle: Eastland Press, 1986.
  • Flaws B (translator). The Book of Jook. Chinese Medical Porridges: A Healthy Alternative to the Typical Western Breakfast. Boulder, CO: Blue Poppy Press, 1995.

Crack Leather: Fermented Fruit and Herb Leather

img_1635What do you get when you mix together a sprouted cracker recipe with a fruit leather recipe.  You get crack leather. Recently I was playing around with making fruit leather, based on another blog which I had written a while back, https://herbalgoddessmedicinals.wordpress.com/2015/04/18/making-medicinal-herbal-fruit-leather/.

I teach a class on cooking with medicinal herbs and am always trying to push the envelope with different creations.  In the class, we explore how one can incorporate medicinal herbs into cooking.  The use of tonic herbs (gentle food like herbs) into everyday cooking is prevalent in food from China and India.  One of the easiest techniques  is to combine astragalus in cooking broths and soups.

Now to get back to crack leather. For this experiment, I decided to incorporate sprouted seeds and nuts into the fruit leather along with some powdered medicinal herbs.  Sprouting of seeds and nuts replicates germination, which activates and multiplies nutrients (particularly Vitamins A, B, and C), neutralizes enzyme inhibitor’s, and promotes the growth of vital digestive enzymes. Taking it a step further,  I also opted to ferment the leather before I dried it.  After checking in my with local fermentation expert, Kristy Shapla the author of the Brew Your Medicine, on whether fermentation would destroy the healthy probiotic fermentation, she assured me that if I kept the temps below 110 degrees it would be fine.  I am a firm believer that the fermentation of herbs assists with the bioavailability of their chemical constituents, not to mention the added benefit of incorporating fermented food into your daily diet. The fermenting of herbs is increasingly finding its way into supplements and has been shown to increase the herbs bioavailability,

I am a firm believer that the fermentation of herbs assists with the bioavailability of their chemical constituents, not to mention the importance of incorporating fermented food into your daily diet. The fermenting of herbs is increasingly finding its way into supplements and has been shown to increase the herbs bioavailability, http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ptr.2758/abstract

The results were delicious.  This recipe is fairly loose and is open to lots of substitutes including the addition of other herbal powders, nuts, and dried fruits.  The secret is to make sure the mixture is not too liquid or too thick, rather the consistency of thick pancake batter.

Equipment:

  • Food dehydrator or lowest temperature in the oven
  • Fruit leather latex sheets or cookie sheet
  • Large mixing bowl
  • Wooden spoon

Ingredients:

  • 2 cup flax seeds
  • 1/3 cup tbsp chia seeds, sprouted
  • 1 to 1-1/2 cup herbal tea (I used nettle, ginger and rose hips)
  • 1 Tablespoon maca and Shatavari (you can use any combination of herbal powders)
  • 1/3 cup sunflower seeds, sprouted
  • 1/3 cup pumpkin seeds, sprouted
  • 1 1/2 cup of chunky applesauce
  • 1/4 cup of yogurt
  • 1½ tsp salt (or to taste)
  • 3 tbsp za’ atar

Instructions:

Combine all ingredients together in large bowl, adding more herbal tea or water to the mixture so it is the consistency of pancake batter.  Cover the bowl with a tea towel and let sit in dark warm place for 24-48 hours. When ready heap a couple of large spoonfuls of mixture onto food dryer sheets or  cookie sheet.  Spread evenly to about 1/4 of an inch thick. The secret of spreading the thick mixture is to use a wooden spatula that you keep dipping in water.  Dry thoroughly, 110 degrees or less, to preserve the lactobacillus. When done it will still be flexible, so it is easy to bend and break into crackers.  Enjoy.

 

 

Making Medicinal Herbal Fruit Leather

IMG_3815

Herbal Fruit Leather

A few years ago I bought a food dehydrator and started to play around with making a whole host of raw foods, including fruit leather, crackers, granola, taco shells, etc.  At one point I started to add powdered medicinal herbs to some of my fruit leathers.  These included elderberry, astragalus, ashwagandha, shatavari, chlorella and many others.

IMG_3812

Around the same time I started experimenting with making concentrated herbal decoctions for clients.  During this time I remembered a lecture I attended when Christopher Hobbs was describing how to make dried decoctions, so I began to experiment with drying my concentrated decoctions.  At that point I stated adding fruit, vegetables and whatever else I could think of. In terms of client compliance, it has been exceptional, people like eating their medicine.  I would encourage you to use your imagination and start experimentation.

IMG_3813The following is the process I use to get five full sheets of herbal fruit leather:

I start with 2 pounds of whole herbs (roots) and add 8 quarts of water. I cook the mixture with the lid off for 2 hours and then remove the lid cooking for an addition 2 hours.  I then strain the herbs out of the liquid and continue to reduce it down until reduced to 10 cups of decoction. At this point I add  aerial herbs, cover and let infuse until cool. I strain it again to remove herbs and add any additional powers that I have on hand, for example maca, acai, beet powder, green foods, etc. If I am adding any additional fresh food, for example blueberries, I will dump the whole thing in a blender. When I have finished adding additional items I add 1 tablespoon of marshmallow root powder and 1 tablespoon chia seeds per cup of liquid. I let it sit for an hour to thicken up, if it isn’t thick enough I add more marshmallow or chia seeds or if too thick, I add liquid.   You want it to be thick enough that it flows like thick pancakeIMG_3814 batter, but not too thick that it doesn’t flow. You can even add tinctures to enhance the action of the decoction. Dry in your dehydrator between 95-100F, for as long as it takes to have it be completely dry.

I am a big proponent of incorporating medicinal herbs into our daily food and think this method is just another option.  Use your imagination but remember not all herbs taste great, so this method isn’t great for all herbs.  Taste the herb and this will tell you whether or not if might lend itself to this methodology.  The sky is the limit so feel free to experiment.

Beet Kvass-A Russian Beverage Probiotic Tonic

beetsBeet kvass is extremely easy make and is a great “first” for those who have never fermented anything before.  Not only is it  delicious, but beets provide a unique source of phytonutrients called betalains. Betanin and vulgaxanthin are the two best-studied betalains from beets, and both have been shown to provide antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and detoxification support.

We have all heard that fermented foods are important for our digestion. The reason why is that the fermentation process fosters the growth of beneficial  microorganisms. These microorganisms create compounds such as lactic acid bacteria that “predigest” the food, making them easier for our gut to absorb nutrients. beet probiotics-chart

Because the gut is the largest component of your immune system, introducing friendly bacteria into your digestive system, may also help keep illness away. Evidence suggests that the status of our gut health can affect inflammation, allergies and autoimmune disorders in the body.  The healthy bacteria that is produced through the fermentation process are currently being researched and point to a whole host of benefits, including a direct link to reduced bouts of digestive complaints. One of the organisms, lactobacillus plantarum has been linked to reduced inflammatory bowel, small bowel bacterial overgrowth in children, and reduced problems for sufferers of irritable bowel syndrome. Another product of fermentation is the friendly bacteria, Lactobacillus acidophilus, which has shown, in animal studies, to prevent polyps, adenomas, and colon cancer.  Needless to say – all of us could benefit from a daily intake of probiotics.

That is where beet kvass comes in.  I recently made my first batch of beets 2beet kvass and was instantly hooked.  It is delicious and so simple to make that anyone, anywhere can make this beverage, without the intimidation that often accompanies making sauerkraut,  and other fermented foods.  Some sites suggested the addition of a starter culture, but mine was fine, just using salt.  My motto is keep it simple.

So here it goes:  Take a few organic beets (3 large beets), cubing them into small pieces, placing them in a mason jar, adding 1 tablespoon salt, filling the jar (I used a half-gallon mason jar) with filtered water and screwing on a lid. Presto it is done.  You then just put it somewhere warm to ferment for 2-7 days.  Even better, you can make a second batch using the same beets.  Just drain off the juice from the first batch beet kvassleaving just a bit of the liquid in the jar along with the same beets and fill it back up with filtered water.  Set it aside to ferment again.  The first batch I let ferment for 1 week and the second batch I let ferment for 2 weeks.  Note:  I checked the jars every other day and would  unscrew the top and put it back on to release the gas.  I follow the same procedure with my other fermented foods.  If there isn’t any gas build up, then either move into a warmer place or let it sit longer.

You can get creative with your beet kvass by adding other items to your  including spices like ginger, caraway seeds, and other items like dried fruits, berries, let your imagination run wild.  As an herbalist I am going to start including medicinal herbs into the process starting with Hawthorne berries and other digestive enhancing herbs.  The sky is the limit.