MANILA, NOVEMBER 26, 2007 (STAR) By Domingo Diaz Tapiador - The leaves of malunggay, dubbed “miracle tree,” have been discovered as the most nutritious bio-food on earth. However, the seeds of malunggay are still hardly known as a highly promising source of bio-fuel (bio-diesel).

The “miracle leaves” of malunggay contain four times the calcium and twice the protein of milk, seven times the vitamin C of oranges, four times the vitamin A (beta-carotene) of carrots, thrice the potassium in bananas, three times the iron content in spinach, with a full complement of minerals and all the amino acids of meat. Three spoonfuls of malunggay leaf powder contain 272 percent of a typical toddler’s daily vitamin A requirement, along with 42 percent of the protein, 125 percent of the calcium, 71 percent of the iron and 22 percent of the vitamin C.

Studies in the Philippines and many other countries have shown that malunggay is nature’s “medicine” cabinet, with all the parts of the tree, besides the leaves, having medicinal or therapeutic value. Dr. Alice Ilaga, director of the Biotechnology Program of the Department of Agriculture (DA), has been calling malunggay a “backyard pharmacy.”

The leaves and flowers of malunggay are ideal for breastfeeding mothers and for malnourished children and the elderly. Using the leaves can also help in the treatment of headaches, bleeding from a shallow cut or wound, insect bites, bacterial or fungal skin complaints, gastric ulcers and diarrhea. The pods are useful in the treatment for worm, liver and spleen problems, and joint pains.

Malunggay has 90 phytonutrient compounds and is an excellent source of natural alternative (versus synthetic) vitamins and minerals. The powdered malunggay leaves are cheaper, safer and better than powdered wholemilk, can rebuild weak bones, enrich anemic blood and enable a malnourished mother to nurse her starving baby. Doctors are known to treat diabetes in West Africa, high blood pressure in India and malnutrition in Senegal, with malunggay.

In the Philippines, it is also known to fight cancer, and scientists have recently reported that it can hike male potency, with more sperm production.

The seeds of malunggay, when mixed with coconut oil or with its own seed oil, can be used to treat arthritis, rheumatism, gout, cramps, sexually transmitted disease (STD), urinary problems, epilepsy and boils. The seeds are also effective for water purification or making contaminated water fit for drinking.

An innovative company called Secura International, Inc. is now producing a pure malunggay all-purpose oil, which they claim to be comparable to or even better than olive oil. The malunggay seed oil is edible like olive oil and can also be used for cosmetics, perfume, massage, and as lubricant oil and industrial oil. But probably its important impact is its highly promising potential for use as “bio-fuel” or bio-diesel.

Many countries, including the Philippines, are now investing huge sums of money for bio-fuel development, but their main concern is that bio-fuel plants should not compete with food production, or making less food available to the people, like using corn and sugarcane for bio-ethanol production. In the case of malunggay, it is like hitting two birds with one stone. The leaves of malunggay are quick and easy to grow in abundance, giving the most nutritious phytonutrients, while the seeds produce oil of the same volume as the popular jatropha curcas, of 38 percent to 40 percent oil, and even better quality.

Both malunggay and jatropha are perennial plants (trees) and can grow on marginal land, with minimal soil fertility and moisture. Both can also have an economic life span of 30 to 50 years

(The author is an 82-year old UN retiree, with 27 years of service with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations and three years with the World Bank, as project coordinator in Africa.)

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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