Science has proven food can be potent medicine. Broccoli, for example, has a solid scientific foundation showing it's one of the most valuable health-promoting foods around. While it contains several health-promoting compounds, one of the most widely studied is the isothiocyanate sulforaphane.1
The cancer-fighting properties of sulforaphane are perhaps the most well-known,2 but it has also been shown to benefit your heart3 and brain, boosting detoxification4 and helping prevent and/or treat high blood pressure,5 Alzheimer's6 and even autism7,8,9 and schizophrenia.10,11,12
Moringa — another brassica superfood
Another plant with many similar benefits is Moringa (Moringa oleifera), also known as horseradish tree or drumstick tree. While it looks nothing like broccoli, it is part of the brassica family and is considered a vegetable,13 despite growing like a tree.
I recently planted hundreds of organic Moringa seeds in my garden. You can see a few of them in the photo above. I don't plan on letting them grow to trees but rather have them densely planted and will harvest them as microgreens for my salad (see image above). Organic Moringa seeds are easy to obtain on Amazon but they only grow in subtropical climates.
Virtually every part of the plant is edible and has medicinal qualities, and most parts can be consumed either raw or cooked. Globally, the leaves, roots, pods and flowers are most typically consumed.14 You can also harvest the plant as a microgreen, which is what I plan on doing.
As noted in the mini-review "Health Benefits of Moringa Oleifera," published in the Asian Pacific Journal of Cancer Prevention (APJCP) in 2014:15
"Moringa oleifera is a multi-purpose herbal plant used as human food and an alternative for medicinal purposes worldwide. It has been identified by researchers as a plant with numerous health benefits including nutritional and medicinal advantages.
Moringa oleifera contains essential amino acids, carotenoids in leaves, and components with nutraceutical properties … An important factor that accounts for the medicinal uses of Moringa oleifera is its very wide range of vital antioxidants, antibiotics and nutrients including vitamins and minerals. Almost all parts from Moringa can be used as a source for nutrition with other useful values."
Moringa is an excellent source of protein (dried leaves containing 30.3% crude protein and 19 amino acids16), fatty acids (44.57% being a-linolenic acid17), beta-carotene, phenolics, zeatin, quercetin, beta-sitosterol, kaempferol,18 flavonoids and isothiocyanates.19
As noted in a 2011 paper20 on the nutritional composition of Moringa leaves, "The values of amino acids, fatty acids, minerals and vitamin profiles reflect a desirable nutritional balance." A 2007 paper in Phytotherapy Research describes Moringa's benefits, noting that:21
"… [T]he leaves, roots, seed, bark, fruit, flowers and immature pods act as cardiac and circulatory stimulants, possess antitumor, antipyretic, antiepileptic, antiinflammatory, antiulcer, antispasmodic, diuretic, antihypertensive, cholesterol lowering, antioxidant, antidiabetic, hepatoprotective, antibacterial and antifungal activities, and are being employed for the treatment of different ailments in the indigenous system of medicine …"
Other studies22 report Moringa can help protect liver, kidney, heart, testes and lung health, has analgesic and antiulcer activity, offers protection against radiation, and helps modulate your immune system. Research has also confirmed Moringa has a very high degree of safety,23 although high doses of seed extracts, specifically, may have toxic effects.24
Like broccoli, Moringa contains potent anticancer compounds
Studies have shown sulforaphane found in broccoli supports normal cell function and division while causing apoptosis (programmed cell death) in colon,25 liver,26,27prostate,28 breast29 and tobacco-induced lung cancer.30
Similarly, many of the health benefits of Moringa — which include the prevention and treatment of inflammatory diseases, neurodysfunctional diseases, diabetes and cancer — are also attributed to its glucosinolate31 and isothiocyanate32 content. The isothiocyanate in Moringa is called moringin.33 A 2018 paper34 in Scientific Reports reviewed the chemoprotective glucosinolates found in 12 species of Moringa, pointing out that:
"Glucosinolates (GS) are metabolized to isothiocyanates that may enhance human healthspan by protecting against a variety of chronic diseases …
We assess leaf, seed, stem, and leaf gland exudate GS content of 12 of the 13 known Moringa species … We document potent chemoprotective potential in 11 of 12 species, and measure the cytoprotective activity of 6 purified GS in several cell lines. Some of the unique GS rank with the most powerful known inducers of the phase 2 cytoprotective response.
Although extracts of most species induced a robust phase 2 cytoprotective response in cultured cells, one was very low (M. longituba), and by far the highest was M. arborea, a very rare and poorly known species …
Overall, cytoprotective enzyme inducer potency for 11 of 12 Moringa leaf extracts was comparable to that observed for broccoli seeds, which are the most potent plant source of this activity."
As explained in the Scientific Reports paper,35 glucosinolates are metabolized into active isothiocyanates by an enzyme called myrosinase. Myrosinate also produces the isothiocyanate moringin,36 a compound in Moringa also known as 4RBITC (after its chemical name, 4-(alpha-L-rhamnopyranosyloxy)benzyl isothiocyanate). Like sulforaphane in broccoli, moringin has potent anti-inflammatory and cytoprotective effects.37
The isothiocyanate-related health benefits from cruciferous veggies such as broccoli and Moringa can thus be effectively augmented by pairing it with a myrosinase-containing food38 such as mustard seed39 (the most potent), daikon radishes, wasabi, arugula or coleslaw.