Basil, crushed garlic and pine nuts may seem like ordinary ingredients, but they combine to form a well-loved Italian sauce — pesto. Derived from the Genoese word “pesta,” meaning “to pound or to crush,” pesto is often used as a pasta sauce, although it can be utilized as a spread, dip or salad dressing as well. Sometimes, pesto can also accompany steak, poultry or fish.1
While the classic Italian recipe is still delicious after all these years, you can surely add variety to boost flavor and nutrition. For example, this homemade pesto recipe adds moringa leaves to the tandem of basil and parsley, making the sauce more vibrant, flavorful and nutritious.
Marvelous Moringa Pesto Recipe
Total time: Overnight
- 1/2 cup moringa leaves, removed from the stems
- 1/2 cup basil leaves
- Handful of fresh parsley
- 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- Add all ingredients, except olive oil, to the bowl of a food processor.
- Process until everything is well-minced and blended.
- Leave processor in the “on” position and slowly drizzle in the olive oil until well-blended.
- Taste for seasoning.
- Cover tightly and refrigerate overnight.
Make the Most Out of Moringa
Moringa’s status as a superfood is continuously growing because of various research that highlights its effectiveness in delivering important benefits to your body.
Moringa leaves come from the fast-growing Moringa oleifera tree that’s native to South Asia and is also found in tropical areas. These leaves, which have a flavor similar to a radish, are powerful sources of nutrition and have been extensively used in traditional medicine.
In fact, the Ayurvedic system highlights moringa’s ability in curing or preventing at least 300 diseases.2 Researchers have been investigating the full extent of moringa’s benefits to the body, with results yielding a lot of positives, as shown in the video below.
As you can see, you will truly benefit from adding moringa leaves to your diet, since they are very nutritious, courtesy of the high amounts of vitamins, minerals, essential amino acids and more. In fact, 100 grams of dry moringa leaves are said to contain:3
|9 times the protein of yogurt
||10 times the vitamin A of carrots
||15 times the potassium of bananas
|17 times the calcium of milk
||12 times the vitamin C of oranges
||25 times the iron of spinach
Another vital component in moringa is fiber, which is full of nutrients that are not digested in your gut, but which serve to help your colon function. It has been shown to work like a mop to your intestines that assists with cleaning up “extra grunge” from an unhealthy diet.4 Antioxidants like vitamin C, beta-carotene, quercetin and chlorogenic acid are also abundant in moringa, because of its high polyphenol content. According to a study in Asia Pacific Journal of Cancer Prevention, these are found to:5
" … [E]xhibit strong antioxidant activity against free radicals, prevent oxidative damage to major biomolecules and give significant protection against oxidative damage."
Another study discovered that women who took 1 1/2 teaspoons of moringa leaf powder daily for three months had significantly increased blood levels of antioxidants.6 An article published in Fox News Health discussed the other beneficial components of moringa:7
“Moringa is rich in a variety of health-enhancing compounds, including moringine, moringinine, the potent antioxidants quercetin, kaempferol, rhamnetin and various polyphenols. The leaves seem to be getting the most market attention, notably for their use in reducing high blood pressure, eliminating water weight and lowering cholesterol.
Studies show that moringa leaves possess antitumor and anticancer activities, due in part to a compound called niaziminin. Preliminary experimentation also shows activity against the Epstein-Barr virus. Compounds in the leaf appear to help regulate thyroid function, especially in cases of overactive thyroid. Further research points to antiviral activity in cases of Herpes simplex 1."
Apart from these nutrients, studies have shown that moringa can potentially lead to these major health benefits:
- Helping decrease blood sugar levels: Beneficial plant compounds in the leaves, like isothiocyanates, may be responsible for moringa’s potential anti-diabetic effects.8
One study discovered that women who took 7 grams of moringa leaf powder daily for three months were able to decrease their fasting blood sugar levels by 13.5 percent.9 Another study showed that adding 50 grams of moringa leaves to a meal lowered the increase in blood sugar levels among diabetic patients by 21 percent.10
- Reducing inflammation: Isothiocyanates, flavonoids and phenolic acids in moringa leaves, pods and seeds were proven to have anti-inflammatory properties. The Epoch Times emphasizes:11
"The tree's strong anti-inflammatory action is traditionally used to treat stomach ulcers. Moringa oil (sometimes called Ben oil) has been shown to protect the liver from chronic inflammation. The oil is unique in that, unlike most vegetable oils, moringa resists rancidity … It is also used topically to treat antifungal problems [and] arthritis, and is an excellent skin moisturizer."
- Maintaining healthy cholesterol levels: Moringa can help with lowering your body’s cholesterol levels. An animal study proved that moringa’s effects were comparable to those of simvastatin, a cholesterol-lowering drug. Research published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology also highlighted that:12
" … Recent studies demonstrated its hypocholesterolemic effect. ... In hypercholesterol-fed rabbits, at 12 weeks of treatment, it significantly (P<0.05) lowered the cholesterol levels and reduced the atherosclerotic plaque formation to about 50 and 86 [percent], respectively. These effects were at degrees comparable to those of simvastatin.
... The results indicate that this plant possesses antioxidant, hypolipidaemic, and antiatherosclerotic activities, and has therapeutic potential for the prevention of cardiovascular diseases."
- Helping protect against arsenic toxicity: Moringa leaves and seeds may help the body in combating the effects of arsenic toxicity, especially in commonly contaminated staple foods like rice.13 A study published in Cell Biology noted that:14
"Co-administration of M. oleifera [moringa] seed powder (250 and 500 mg/kg, orally) with arsenic significantly increased the activities of SOD [superoxide dismutase], catalase and GPx with elevation in reduced GSH level in tissues (liver, kidney and brain).
These changes were accompanied by approximately 57 [percent], 64 [percent], and 17 [percent] decrease in blood ROS [reactive oxygen species], liver metallothionein (MT), and lipid peroxidation respectively in animal co-administered with M. oleifera and arsenic.
Another interesting observation has been the reduced uptake of arsenic in soft tissues (55 [percent] in blood, 65 [percent] in liver, 54 [percent] in kidneys, and 34 [percent] in brain) following administration of M. oleifera seed powder (particularly at the dose of 500 mg/kg).
It can thus be concluded from the present study that concomitant administration of M. oleifera seed powder with arsenic could significantly protect animals from oxidative stress and in reducing tissue arsenic concentration. Administration of M. oleifera seed powder thus could also be beneficial during chelation therapy …"
- Possessing antibacterial and detoxification properties: Isothiocyanates in moringa are responsible for the herb’s antibacterial properties that can help eliminate the H. pylori bacteria. Plus, moringa can also be utilized as a detoxification tool because of its ability to attach itself to harmful materials in the body.
On the other hand, initial research showed that moringa seeds can work better in purifying water, compared to the conventional synthetic materials being utilized today. According to researchers from Uppsala University:15
"A protein in the seeds binds to impurities causing them to aggregate so that the clusters can be separated from the water. The study … published in the journal Colloids and Surfaces A takes a step toward optimization of the water purification process.16
Researchers in Uppsala together with colleagues from Lund as well as Namibia, Botswana, France, and the USA have studied the microscopic structure of aggregates formed with the protein.
The results show that the clusters of material (flocs) that are produced with the protein are much more tightly packed than those formed with conventional flocculating agents. This is better for water purification as such flocs are more easily separated."
Moringa is highly versatile — Add fresh moringa leaves to salads or sauces (like in today’s recipe), blend into smoothies or steam them like spinach. You can also use moringa powder either as a supplement, or added to smoothies, soups or other foods. However, since it has a distinct “green” flavor, try adding it slowly to your meals first. Cold-pressed moringa oil or ben oil is another good option, although it’s expensive (it’s said to cost around 15 times more than olive oil).17
While you can grow a moringa tree if you have the space, you’re better off buying leaves or powder at a local health food market. Although I cultivated a moringa tree for two years, I found that it grew like a weed. Take note that harvesting moringa and removing the tiny leaves from the stem can be tedious and time-consuming, so you’ll need a lot of patience while doing it.
Basil and Extra Virgin Olive Oil: Pesto’s Powerful Duo
Traditional pesto sauce uses basil and olive oil as a base. These ingredients not only provide heaps of flavor to a simple sauce, but can deliver positive impacts to your body as well.
Basil contains vitamin K that may be able to assist with bone strengthening and mineralization, and in producing clotting factors in your blood.18 It also has vitamin A that can provide beta-carotenes, powerful antioxidants that play a role in protecting the cells in your body from free radical damage and help in preventing atherosclerosis, heart attacks and stroke.
However, flavonoids and volatile oils in basil are known to provide the most benefits. The former works on the cellular level, while volatile oils like estragole, linalool, cineole, eugenol, sabinene, myrcene and limonene were proven to possess antibacterial properties that can help resist growth of various harmful bacteria strains.
On the other hand, high-quality extra virgin olive oil contains healthy monounsaturated fats that can assist with lowering your risk for heart disease, and benefit insulin levels and blood sugar control, possibly reducing your risk for type 2 diabetes.
High-quality olive oil is a good source of important vitamins, nutrients and antioxidants like vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol), carotenoids and phenolic compounds.19 Just refrain from heating this oil to keep it from oxidizing.
Unfortunately, the boom in the olive oil industry has resulted in the production of unhealthy and low-quality oils. To ensure you get your money’s worth, take note of these important characteristics to look for when buying olive oil:20
|Oils should be from the current year’s harvest and must have labels like “early harvest” or “fall harvest”
||Olive oil must be stored in clean and temperature-controlled stainless steel containers that are topped with an inert gas like nitrogen to keep oxygen at bay
|Olive oil should smell and taste fresh and fruity. Avoid oils that taste moldy, cooked, greasy, meaty, metallic or cardboard-like
||Olive oil must be stored in bottles or containers that protect against light, such as darkened glass, stainless steel or clear glass encased in cardboard
|The label has quality seals from the California Olive Oil Council and the Australian Olive Association. Another good option is “USDA certified organic”
||The label “extra virgin” is a must in good-quality olive oil. Oils with labels like “pure” or “light” oil, “olive oil” or “olive pomace oil” are likely to have undergone chemical processing
Avoid common but meaningless terms used on olive oil labels today like “first pressed” and “cold pressed”
Sources and References