It all began about ten years ago when a small African laboratory published research on the properties of a rather scraggly-looking shrub dubbed the “Never Die” tree by the locals. This indigenous African bush called a Moringa can survive long-term harsh conditions and bad maintenance and even when it’s shriveled and has lost 98 percent of its water it somehow pops back to life after being hydrated flowering and thriving within 24 hours.
That obscure article caught the sharp eye of a Western researcher working in Nigeria and it wasn’t long before the world’s largest pharmaceutical and cosmetic companies had pounced on this miracle plant working feverishly to harness the properties the natives have known about for centuries. Leaves of this tree are renowned among the local population for their anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive effect and they use the leaves and the oil from the seeds for treatment of stomach ailments fever respiratory conditions and even cancer. The roots also have a wide range of pharmaceutical uses and the oil which doesn’t get rancid or sticky is in demand by the perfume industry for its ability to retain volatile substances. In cosmetology Moringa oil is said to rejuvenate repair soften and hydrate all types of skin and its antioxidants supposedly have incredible anti-aging properties.
With its ability to recover from long-term dehydration researchers hope the plant will lead them to discover the proverbial fountain of youth — or at least some wonder drug against aging. Meanwhile companies are giving priority to cosmetic opportunities as opposed to medicinal prospects as the approval process is shorter and the profit margin higher.
Unsung Miracle Plants
The Moringa is just one example of what the huge underutilized plant world has to offer the consumer especially when it comes to regionally endemic species according to Dr. Ameenah Gurib-Fakim a world-renowned chemist from the island state of Mauritius off the southeastern tip of Africa — who has recently become president the small country.
Remember hearing about the herbal medicines your great-grandmother used in Hungary or Morocco? According to President Gurib-Fakim nothing has really changed since. Plants still contain some of the most potent medicinal properties around but some of that vegetation she warns is actually in danger of being wiped out.
President Gurib-Fakim’s own meticulous chemistry research showed that the elders of Mauritius were right: The healing plants really did have the chemical properties attributed to them. “Take for example the Terminalia bentzoe a plant endemic to Mauritius with leaves that come in various shapes and sizes” she told Mishpacha in a phone interview from her office prior to her becoming president. “Mauritius natives use the essence of these leaves to heal infectious diseases. Scientifically we’ve shown that the essence of these leaves fights a wide range of bacteria. Today we think these leaves may be a solution to the problem of antibiotic resistance. We are not yet sure about it but there is one thing we are sure about: This plant which may be so important is in danger of becoming extinct because of climate change and human behavior.”