Q. I came to know about Moringa tree from a friend studying at Harvard University and was amazed to learn of its health benefits. Can I grow Moringa in Lahore and the surrounding areas? I have contacted various people for seed but have not yet found any. Please suggest somewhere that I can buy seeds for Moringa oleifera or Moringa stenopetala seeds.
A. Moringa oleifera , commonly known as ‘Drumstick tree’ or ‘Horseradish tree’ in English and ‘Sohanjna, Sahajna or Munaga’ in Urdu, is indigenous to Pakistan and is fairly widespread throughout the plains of the Punjab and in the foothills of the Himalayas and other mountain ranges in the west and north of our climatically diverse country. Moringa stenopetala on the other hand is African Moringa, a member of the same family although with larger leaves. Like all members of the Moringa genus, the indigenous variety, Moringa oleifera is a very fast growing tree which reaches an average height of 10 to 12 metres and, again as with all of this genus, every single part of what is now hailed as a ‘Miracle tree’, has either edible or medicinal uses or both.
Propagated from either seed or from cuttings, the ‘drumsticks’ are, in season, sold in quite a number of vegetable bazaars. If fully ripe, you could collect seeds from these or, after checking out detailed, online, photographs, you could harvest seed or take cuttings from trees growing in the wild. The most palatable leaves and ‘drumsticks’ are harvested from young trees as those from mature specimens tend to be bitter.
Medicinal plants are good to have but until and unless they are properly identified no part of them should be consumed, warns Zahrah Nasir
Now widely grown in many climatically suitable parts of the world, Moringa oleifera is often commercially cultivated as its nutritional benefits help stave off famines and can thus prevent malnutrition. Incredibly drought tolerant, this species deserves to be more widely grown in Pakistan and where, if given the respect it deserves, it could be extremely beneficial to the population as a whole.
Q. I recently read a back article of yours about pink flamingo flowers and would very much like to have one. Is it imported, what is the cost and where can I get one please?
A. Flamingo flowers, botanically called Anthurium, are members of the very large Arum genus of plants. As they thrive in damp, partial shade, they are an indispensable garden or pot plant for many. Not so easy to find as they should be — and on the expensive side too — you should be able to track them down in nurseries stocking the more unusual species of plants.
Q. What is the Urdu name of Wonderberry? Can it be grown in Islamabad and, if so, where can I find it?
A. Wonderberry is more commonly known as ‘Goji berry’ in English, ‘Rasout’ in Urdu, ‘Kwarai’ in Pashto and as either Lycium barbarum or Lycium chinensis in botanical references, all depending on which source the information originates. Indigenous to Pakistan, it grows in abundance throughout the Northern Areas, in some parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan, Punjab and on down through the Indus Delta in Sindh. It may, with care, be cultivated in and around Islamabad and does, from personal experience, grow reasonably well in the Murree Hills.
I have not seen plants for sale in any nurseries, although this is not to say that plants cannot be found. A sizeable business based on Goji berries does exist in Hunza and amongst their products are dried berries. These dried Goji berries are primarily exported but some do make their way in to ‘specialised’ local markets so, if you can find them, it would be an idea to extract the seeds and propagate from these.
Q. About three years ago we planted a mango seed in our front garden in Clifton, Karachi. Surprisingly, this year it started bearing fruit but most of them fell off when raw and small. What should we do? The tree does not yet look mature enough to fruit.
A. You have answered your own question here! The tree is too young to carry its fruit all the way through to the ripe stage. It just do not have the strength to divert to fruit production yet. Be patient and you will be rewarded in another year or two.
Q. We find a cheap, dark blue/black berry in dry fruit shops. It is commonly named Amlok/Amlog/Hamlog and has four or more seeds inside. It tastes slightly sweet. What are its botanical and English names and does it have any health benefits or other uses?
A. Diospyros lotus is the botanical name of this useful, indigenous, fruit which is known as date-plum in English. A member of the Ebenaceae family of plants — this also includes the better known Persimmon or Japani-phul — Amlok has a number of beneficial uses including antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and analgesic applications.
Q. I have a passion for gardening and would like some quick tips for living a healthy, natural kind of life please.
A. To put it in a nut-shell: Avoid chemicals in any shape or form and keep on reading this column!
Please note: Do not, under any circumstances, eat or make any other medicinal use of plant parts unless you are 100pc positive as to the plant identity and, if in doubt, please consult an expert.
Please continue sending your gardening queries to firstname.lastname@example.org. Remember to include your location. The writer will not respond directly by email. Emails with attachments will not be opened.
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, August 10th, 2014