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Life from the exotic malunggay


This is the story of Lilibeth Medallo, a 54-year-old Visayan who works for an Ilocano couple a few years her senior in an upper middle income subdivision in the eastern outskirts of the metropolis.

It is her story on the malunggay -- which she calls balungai and which the Ilocanos call marunggay -- the moringa oleifera which belongs to the family Moringasea, an exotic species that grows well nationwide.

Every near sundown, in drizzle or in reluctant sunset, she plucks malunggay leaves, or fruits depending on the season, for the couple's dinner salad dish and which everybody in the household share, from a nearby vacant lot where the trees are unmistakably plenty.

And the neighbors just stare at her in silent amazement at the harvest frequency.

The malunggay tree can grow as high as 3-5 meters in one year and can reach a height of about 15-30 meters without cutting.

It seemed no one in the spanky neighborhood was paying attention to the trees, abundantly rising near their two-story house at Burbank.

A three-year-old tree can bear 300-400 fruits in a year, while a mature tree can have up to 1,000 fruits. Experts say it is advisable to cut the upper portion of the tree 90 centimeters from the ground every three years to make it always reachable.

Far from the awareness of some in their neighborhood, malunggay is an ideal tree with many uses.

For instance, the fresh leaves make a good salad or juice while the dried leaves are used in making green tea.

Based on studies, one gram of malunggay leaves is seven times the vitamin C of oranges, four times the calcium of milk, four times the vitamin A of carrots, three times the potassium of a banana and up to four times more iron than a Chinese cabbage.

They are also excellent fodder or feeds for livestock.

The seeds of malunggay plants are also a good source of oil for cooking, lubricant or biodiesel and ingredients for making cosmetics. According to experts, about 40 percent of oil can be extracted from the seeds of malunggay.

At the same time, oil known as ben oil, which is extracted from malunggay flowers, can be used as illuminant. Experts claim that if this is applied locally, the oil is helpful for arthritic pains, rheumatic and gouty joints.

Malunggay has also other uses.

For instance, decoction of leaves used for hiccups, asthma, gout, back pain, rheumatism, wounds and sores while pods may be used for intestinal parasitism.

Leaves and fruits are also effective cure for constipation, while leaves and pods are helpful in increasing breast milk in the breastfeeding months.

Decoction of boiled roots is used to wash sores and ulcers and gargle for hoarseness and sore throat while pounded roots are used as poultice for inflammatory swelling.

And this one is good news for both gender: the fruit could increase the sperm count. It is said the root bark has sex-hormone related properties as well.

The stems can be used for fencing and support to black pepper vines while the old and dried stems can be used as firewood.

For those who want to have malunggay trees nearby but don't know where the tree can best be grown, the seedling can grow best in porous or well-drained soils.

It can also grow in clayey and sandy soil and can survive severe drought although it does not grow well in stiff clay soils, which can get waterlogged.

And one tip to aspiring owners of malunggay trees: malunggay can be propagated through seeds and cuttings.

And before the sun has set today, after nearly four years eating malunggay with the Ilocano couple, Lilibeth has added robust color to her skin -- thanks, she says, to the malunggay leaves.

And she claims, without no one in the household rebutting her testimonial, arthritic attacks are now few and far between.


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