A conversation with Hans-Martin Hirt, founder of anamed
Visitor: When so much medical research has been conducted and there are such excellent modern medicines available, why do you still talk with people in the Tropics about the “weeds” in their back yards?
H-M H: What you say is true, but the hard fact of life is that these modern drugs are just not available in many regions of Africa and Asia. Where they are available, they are often far too expensive for people to afford. But more surprisingly, in spite of all the millions that have been spent on research, there are some herbal remedies that are actually more effective than any modern treatment.
Visitor: That is remarkable. Can you give me an example?
H-M H: Go into a pharmacy, and ask for one tablet that will reduce both high blood pressure and the blood sugar level, help one to sleep, give energy and appetite and whose constituents are patented for use with cancer and AIDS. Your pharmacist will throw up his hands in despair… but the solution is quite straight forward!
Visitor. Moringa! What is it about moringa that is so special?
H-M H: Moringa has quite justifiably become very popular. I say that whoever needs a food supplement should take moringa, simply as leaf powder, not as a capsule – capsules are only about making money! Every year 8 million children are born dead or die in the first months of their lives. The majority of these families are poor, and in such families the mothers and children are almost always undernourished, if not malnourished. With moringa one will never become rich, but one can become healthy.
Visitor: I have heard that in parts of Sudan people uproot it as a weed.
H-M H: In wanting to become modern even the Sudanese are losing their traditional knowledge. In the internet moringa leaf powder can be bought for 240 Euro per kilo – that corresponds to the yearly income of a rural Sudanese! In Sudan I met a refugee who for 2 long years had fled on foot from South Sudan to Ethiopia, from there to Kenya and then back to South Sudan – without money. In this time he and his family had fed themselves almost entirely from leaves, and particularly from moringa.
Visitor: Can one really eat moringa leaves?
H-M H: Moringa leaves are very unusual because they can be eaten directly. We could eat like giraffes! They contain vitamins, proteins and minerals – they are comparable even to eggs! The usual way to eat them is to collect the leaves, dry them and make them into a powder, and then this powder is added to porridge or stirred into any other meal. The flowers, seeds, pods and roots are also useful.
Visitor: There have been many other programmes to combat malnutrition, but the problem persists. Can moringa be any more successful than other programmes?
H-M H: Most other programmes have depended on imported foods such as milk powder and sugar. Then the funding dries up, or corruption plays too big a role as the local staff demand good payment, or the project computers are infected by viruses or maybe even a termite’s nest - and the supply of nutritional supplements dries up. Moringa on the other hand grows and grows, families can become quite independent of donors, moringa even survives drought. Thus each family that has a little bit of land can have a moringa tree right outside their door. In parts of southern Ethiopia, each family usually has a moringa tree in their garden, and cooks the leaves as a vegetable at least once a week. So you see, if people grow moringa, they do not depend on any import, or any agency, from outside. They are much more independent. I would like to see every family in the Tropics having 10 moringa trees in their garden!
Visitor: Mr Hirt, you are a pharmacist, what is the connection between moringa and disease?
H-M H: A lot, alone in the USA 45 patents involving moringa have been registered, for example as a fungal treatment, for water clarification, for natural AIDS therapy, for high blood pressure, as antibiotic, for diabetes, for protection of the liver, to increase the supply of breast milk, for inflammation, for wound healing, as a diuretic, for tumours. anamed patents nothing, but these patents show us the areas in which moringa treatments may be most effective.
Visitor: Did I hear you say that moringa is also important because of global warming? How can that be?
H-M H: Like any tree, moringa takes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Global warming affects poor countries much more than rich countries. Changes in rainfall patterns, in particular, can be catastrophic for millions of people. Further, with a growing population in many countries, the supply of fresh water is critical to existence. So we must give attention to how water can be collected, how it can be conserved, and how it can be protected against pollution. Where does moringa come in? First, moringa is a good source of nutrition that is very drought resistant. Secondly, where water is dirty, crushed moringa seeds act as a natural coagulant and water purifier.
Visitor: Who discovered that?
H-M H: In my opinion, it was Moses. In Exodus 17:3-4 the people suffered thirst so badly that Moses feared he would be stoned. The children of Israel wished they were back in Egypt, where at least there was fresh water! Then Moses found water, but it was bitter. What could he do? In chapter 15: 25, “Then Moses cried out to the LORD, and the LORD showed him a piece of wood. He threw it into the water, and the water became fit to drink” This could well have been the moringa tree! Today the Tropics are knee deep in PET bottles, towns suffer flooding because the drains are blocked with these bottles, piles of bottles and other rubbish destroy nature and people become dependent on private water suppliers, instead of becoming free and, with the help of the moringa tree, producing their own drinking water.
Visitor: Thank you. I think moringa is more than a “miracle tree” – it is a real life-saver.