Doomsday survivalists have over the years have earned a reputation for stockpiling medical supplies, guns and ammo—essentially gathering whatever resources and expertise necessary for self-sufficiency in the event of the apocalypse. That ethos has now drawn a group of survivalists that call themselves preppers to an unlikely superfood that's just beginning to take hold in North America: moringa.
Moringa Oleifera is an unassuming shrub that grows in hot, dry tropical climates around the globe, and is prized for its high level of nutrients—especially protein. "The biggest reason is because it is a great food source," David Wentworth, who publishes expertprepper.com, explained. "It is very easy to grow, grows quickly, is highly nutritious and every part of the plant can be used as food. Its also great for water purification. Also can be turned into oils, fertilizers and a healing aid."
The preppers also like moringa because it can do the job of several plants, saving both space, and the necessary resources to grow the plant. "Its the swiss army knife of the prepper garden," Wentworth said. They're also fond of other exotic plants such as Chia, because of its similarly useful nutritional content, and more common vegetables such as broccoli. The point is that the veggies provide the most nourishment while using the fewest resources to grow.
I found out about the prepper interest in moringa when I was chatting with Lisa Curtis, founder of Kuli Kuli Foods, at the inaugural Food Bytes Summit in San Francisco. Kuli Kuli makes energy bars, amongst other products that contain moringa, and Curtis explained that the preppers got interested because of the plant's nutritional properties.
"It's so nutritious that you could live off of it," she said. "They were interested in purchasing bulk quantities of moringa powder." A powdered version of moringa is a common way to ingest the plant—think sports drinks, and shakes.
In the US, moringa has been gaining popularity for years. It's a long way from being the next Açaí palm berry, massively popular around 2009. But, it's not exotic either. Kuli Kuli's bars are available in 200 grocery stores, including Whole Foods, Curtis said. There are also a handful of other vendors selling the powdered form of the plant online—although it's important to be conscious of the origins and process.
Touting a new dietary supplement is all well and good, but I wanted to get to the bottom of moringa's superfood status. So, I talked things over with Mark Olson, a biologist who conducts research at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, and has been working with morgina for more than 20 years.
"If you're in the right place [a dry tropical climate], moringa is a great plant to have for your doomsday apocalypse, survivalist toolkit," he said. "It provides many nutrients, among them large quantities of protein and high quality oil. Moringa also contains a family of compounds that boosts mammalian immune systems—which potentially could help more [species]."
"There are more than 300 different kinds of medical claims about the plant, and they can't all be true."
Olson oversees what is perhaps the only complete collection of the plant's 13 species in the world. "We wanted to find the best one," he said. They succeeded, and are now trying, through breeding, to maximize the plants' nutritional properties—that's large quantities protein, vitamin A, potassium, calcium, and vitamin C.
Naturally the plant is found all over the equatorial region of the world, anywhere where there's dry land and a tropical climate. "I think its greatest value is in the dryland tropics, where they don't have green leafy vegetables," said Jed Fahey, a nutritional biochemist at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. "Moringa will likely survive most of the droughts, seasonality and food availability,"
Fahey's research of moringa focuses on the potential medical uses—especially disease prevention. "There are more than 300 different kinds of medical claims about the plant, and they can't all be true. What does look promising are anti-diabetic claims, and there is potential for antibacterial applications as well."
While the preppers' idea to use the plant in their doomsday preparations is an interesting one, Olson believes that the plant's true benefit to humanity will be its ability to help feed poor areas of the world. Because of the plant's drought resilience, and its nutritional properties, it could feed, or help feed many of the world's poorest residents. "Really the exciting thing about it is that it offers the benefits to the poorest people in the world at a low cost, the tropics, and this is where so much of humanity lives, and that's why they call it the miracle tree."
And that's just what the preppers want it for. After civilization's collapse, when what's left of humanity is poor, and hungry, anyone growing moringa will probably have a better chance of staying alive. At least until the zombies show up.