Many people never heard of Moringa oleifera until Dr. Oz promoted it on his TV show last year as an iron-rich, caffeine-free “energy blaster.” Not surprisingly, sales soared, even though there is no such thing as an energy blaster.
Moringa oleifera is a tree native to India and now cultivated elsewhere. Supplements and teas are typically made from the dried leaves of the tree, which are the most nutritious parts, though its roots, flowers and young pods are also edible.
The leaves have long been used in folk medicine to treat diabetes, anxiety, diarrhea, headaches, bronchitis and more. In Thailand and Kenya, people eat moringa (marum in Thai) as vegetables. Different parts of the plant have different phytochemicals and different pharmacologic properties.
Despite the hype, there have been few studies in people. As discussed in a 2012 review in Frontiers in Pharmacology, preliminary research has found improvements in blood sugar control and cholesterol levels. And a small study showed possible benefits for asthma. On the other hand, some animal studies suggest that high doses may be potentially harmful— to the kidneys and liver, for example— and may interact with some drugs.