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Gardening on the Garden Isle: How to eat a tree

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I was sitting in my yard, doing what I do best: loafing. My neighbor was out doing his daily exercise walk.

“Hey, Scott,” I called to him. “Come over and sit a spell.”

He sauntered over, a little damp around the edges, and flopped down in the chair.

“You look as if you could us a little pick-me-up.”

I stood and walked over to the Moringa tree and stripped off a handful of leaves. I quickly rinsed them in the bucket of water I keep for washing off any of the little nasties lurking to cause havoc with my health. I walked back over and handed them to him.

Artwok by Erry Pratama Hendrawan

“Scott, eat these and you will be scampering around faster than a skinny cat in a barn full of fat mice.”


I never thought I would be eating a tree or sharing my tree meal with a neighbor, who by the way, I haven’t seen in a while. Anyway, my neighbor may not appreciate all the nutrient-rich, tasty bits of the Moringa tree, but maybe you will.

Moringa is often called the Drumstick Tree. It is also referred to as the “tree of life” or the “miracle tree” because all parts of the tree are edible. It is not just to eat if you are starving. Moringa is tasty.

The Moringa tree is loaded with valuable nutrients that may replace some of the over-the-counter supplements. According to, “the leaves have about as much potassium as a banana, and about the same amount of vitamin C as an orange. It also has calcium, protein, iron and amino acids, which help your body heal and build muscle. It’s also packed with antioxidants, substances that can protect cells from damage and may boost your immune system. There’s some evidence that some of these antioxidants can also lower blood pressure and reduce fat in the blood and body.”

Interested in eating a tree now?

The great news is that Moringa is easy to grow in Hawaiʻi. The tree is fast growing. It may easily be 10-feet tall at the end of the first growing season. With appropriate pruning it doesn’t require much space. Keeping the tree pruned also keeps the leaves, flowers and fruits within easy reach. 


Moringa can be started from seed or cuttings. My recommendation is to propagate from cuttings. The success rate is higher, and you have several months head start on seed propagation. The simplest and cheapest way to get cuttings is from a local Master Gardener. They don’t always have cuttings available, but they probably can tell you where to find them. You can also check with the local garden shops. They may have Moringa trees for sale.

A Moringa tree is refereed to as the “tree of life” or the “miracle tree” because all parts of it are edible, and it is tasty. (Photo: Tom Timmons)

Whether starting from seed or cutting, it is important to prepare the grow site properly. Moringa likes sun, lots of sun. The Moringa root system grows both down and sideways. Prepare the planting site at least 12 inches deep and 3 feet across. This not only loosens the soil, but it also removes competing growth from grasses and weeds.

Moringa is not picky about the soil but will not do well in dense soils that hold excess water. If you want the tree to flourish, prepare the growing area with sandy, nutrient rich and well-drained soil. Adding compost into the soil and top dressing the soil with mulch around the tree is one way to add nutrients to the soil without using chemical fertilizers and lighten dense soils.

Starting from seeds is not difficult. However, the seed germination rate is related to the age of the seed. The time between seed harvesting and planting may be the determining factor of success. When you plant, prepare the soil the same as if you were planting a cutting. The seeds should be buried a half-inch deep. Plant about five seeds a couple inches apart. Keep the soil moist. After germination, keep the healthiest sprout. Because of Moringa’s long tap root, it doesn’t transplant easily. Otherwise, remove and discard the weaker seedlings. 

With so many microclimates in Hawaiʻi, making watering recommendations is difficult. Moringa is drought tolerant and doesn’t like to have its roots sloshing in water. Too much water is the main culprit that will damage the tree. This is why the sandy, well-drained soil is so critical for keeping the Moringa tree disease free.


During summer when we get less rain, water deeply, as needed, and allow the plant to absorb the moisture before watering again. During the winter, water as needed for your specific locale. Remember: Moringa does not like wet feet.

Moringa will need a snack now and then. It likes nutrient-rich mulch and compost. Loosen the topsoil carefully with a garden rake to avoid damaging the roots. Work the compost into the loose soil. Spread the mulch on top of the compost, around the stem of the tree but avoid mulch touching the tree trunk. This will keep your Moringa tree happy and healthy.

If all goes well, you should be able to begin harvesting leaves from the tree in about six to eight months. When the tree flowers, they are edible. You can leave them, and bean pods will form. The bean pods can be harvested when they are soft and immature or allowed to grow a fibrous pod shell before harvest.

A Moringa tree is loaded with valuable nutrients that may replace over-the-counter supplements. (Photo: Tom Timmons)

Each part of the tree has a distinctive taste. Now, how it tastes to me, and how it tastes to you may not be the same. The leaves are somewhat spicy, not unlike a mild radish. Since my cooking skills are abysmal, I eat them raw. Although, I have been told that they hold up well when cooked. I like to toss them into a green salad to add a bit of zip. If I am feeling adventurous, I toss in a few Moringa flowers.

The Moringa seed is inside a pod that resembles a bean pod. You won’t have any difficulty identifying them on the tree. When you crack open the mature pod, the seed is a dark tan with a frilly, white ring around it. This part can be removed or eaten, your choice. Caveat: Moringa seeds can have a laxative effect. Don’t eat too many directly from the pod until your body becomes accustomed to them. Yes, they are tasty, but guess what will happen next.

To my palate, the first crunch is sweet, but as I chew there is a secondary taste that I can’t quite describe. It isn’t bad, just very different from the initial taste.

 I have heard, but never tried, to pop the beans like popcorn. If anyone tries it, let me know if this is fact or urban legend.

The seeds can be dried for storage. Once dried, they can be powdered later for cooking use. I am told that they are delicious additions in teas, soups and sauces. They didn’t offer Home Economics classes where I attended school. Before I got married, I lived on fast food and chocolate chip cookies. I am allowed in the kitchen to do dishes, but never cook. I am not the person you want to ask for advice on preparing Moringa recipes.

I can’t speak directly to the taste of Moringa stem, or root. All parts of the tree are edible. I have looked at many web sites that offer suggestions about taste and use. I am counting on you to let me know. Recipes are welcome, too. I will pass them on to my wife.

I am not a medical professional. Yet, many ask about detailed health related attributes of Moringa. The best answer I can give is to refer you to reputable web sites for the information:

I think you have enough information to grow a Moringa tree. The Kauaʻi Master Gardener booth at the June 17 and 18 Agricultural Fair on Vidinha Stadium Soccer Field will have a limited number of Moringa cuttings available. Occasionally they also have seeds and cuttings at their booth at the Saturday Puhi Farmers Market. 

I can’t wait for the grandkids to arrive for supper. When they turn up their noses at the Moringa meal, I will say: “Listen to me, you pre-pubescent ankle biters. You are not leaving the table until you finish eating your tree.”


Editor’s Note: Every other week, Big Island Now will feature a guest gardening column by Tom Timmons. He is a certified Master Gardener respected for his gardening experience, but his views are not necessarily those of the University of Hawai‘i.

Other gardening columns by Tom Timmons:

Tom Timmons
Tom Timmons is a retired educator who has lived on Kaua‘i for 15 years. He is a certified Master Gardener. The goal for his column is to translate the best scientific horticultural information into easy-to-use tips for the home gardener.
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