Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Meeting our Nutrition Shortage

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My morning paper of 22 December 2015 carried this front page headline: ‘One in three Pakistanis lacks access to adequately nutritious food’. The item carried all sorts of obtuse pontification by a ‘renowned’ economist and some equally obfuscating rubbish by the babus of the National Economic Council.

Morniga tree planted at Alba in August 2014 is now about 10 feet high, See the video here

The trouble with us Pakistanis, ordinary man-on-the-street kind and these so-called experts is that we are stupid. We, all two hundred million of us, are just plain unthinking morons who have never read anything. Perish the notion that some of these ‘experts’ will ever engage in serious research. And the least about malnutrition because these babus with their fat salaries can stuff their fat faces with all the goodies their riches can buy. It is the under-privileged that are malnourished: and damn those ugly, unclad, underfed monkeys.

Fast track to East Africa in the mid-1990s. Caught in the vice grip of one of its countless droughts, the parched, barren land was felling its children like nine pins. Aside: remember the image of the vulture waiting for the famished, bag-of-bones child to die and that the photographer later committed suicide? An aid truck rolls into a starving village and as the hungry populace gathers around it, the white man hands out heavy sacks. He tells the people to plant the seeds in the sacks and never be hungry again.

I have no way of confirming this either as a true story or rejecting it as apocrypha. But I do know that we are told the sacks contained seeds of Moringa oleifera, that blessed tree we of the great and good Indian subcontinent know as sohanjna. This is the same tree that the West, having recently discovered its properties, is now calling the Tree of Life, the Miracle Tree or the Tree that Never Dies.

Native to the subcontinent, this tree grows from the Himalayan foothills through Punjab, Sindh and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa to the arid wastes of Makran – and of course across the rest of India too. It requires next to no water, tolerates all kinds of soil from rich loam to crumbly clay to saline to sand. It grows fast attaining a height of over three metres within a couple of years and can grow up to twelve metres high. Plant a seed and watch it grow. Or simply cut a branch off another tree, stick it in the ground and again watch it grow. It is not for nothing that they know it never dies.

Now, sohanjna seeds known for their water purifying qualities (of which some more later) are not such great food. It is the leaves and the flowers of this tree that are stuffed rich with nutrients. What the white aid giver said to the starving Africans was to plant the seeds and live off the leaves.

Weight for weight, fresh moringa leaves contain seven times more vitamin C than oranges. But this vitamin being water soluble is lost in dried leaf powder. Better to eat the leaves fresh, therefore. However, there is twice as much protein as yogurt, three times as much potassium as bananas, and four times as much vitamin A as carrots and four times as much calcium as milk. There are, in all, ninety different nutrients in sohanjna leaves, all essential for health. Eat two handfuls of green sohanjna leaves every morning and you will not have to spend on fancy multi-vitamin tablets.

Now if that is not good enough, consider this: sohanjna has the highest ratio of protein among any plant so far known. Not only that, this protein is comparable to that found in meat, dairy and eggs. Incidentally, until the West discovered this fact, it was thought that soy protein was the only one of that kind from the vegetable kingdom. So if you had any sense at all you would stuff your soy milk, adding instead a handful of sohanjna leaves to your breakfast yogurt smoothie or eggs Benedict or cheese omelette.

Sohanjna leaves relieve arthritis and uric acid. They are an excellent source of quercetin, a powerful antioxidant that can save you from cancer. This compound is also known to reduce blood pressure. As well as that, the high content of cholorogenic acid will help moderate blood sugar levels. If you take a daily dose of sohanjna leaves fresh or dried, you can flush your statin tablets down the tube because this miracle tree will take care of your blood cholesterol.

The seeds which come in long, thin pods are excellent water purifiers. Three seeds in a litre of water kill all harmful pathogens in just thirty minutes. And the seeds can be reused several times. They can be pressed for oil that never turns rancid and can be used in cooking, cosmetics and for lubrication. The seed cake fed to milch cattle is known to increase milk yield.

On the subject of increased milk output in the context of sohanjna, I have spoken with livestock owners in various parts of Pakistan where this miracle tree grows. Though none of these people ever considered the tree or its leaves as food for themselves, they knew that if their livestock fed on its leaves, milk output increased markedly. If you wonder why, it is because of the high protein and calcium content of the leaves.

But we Pakistanis, all two hundred million of us, are stupid. Tell anyone to plant a sohanjna tree in their yard and you will meet with pitying looks. I have been told variously that the sohanjna is a ‘Hindu’ tree or a ‘paindu’ tree and these modern folks would much rather have a date palm that bears no fruit or a conocarpus that exudes enough allergens to turn this country into an asthmatic catastrophe.

Neem (Azadirachta indica), another native tree of the subcontinent, was famous in ancient times for its health giving qualities and is still valued in India as such. But we in Pakistan are ignorant of the neem magic. Similarly sohanjna has long been celebrated in the subcontinent as a tree of life. Again Pakistanis are completely unmindful of this wonderful tree in our midst. Other than my friend Hussain Mahmud of Jamaldinwali (Rahim Yar Khan) I do not know of anyone else growing it.

If all those Islamabad babus who spend their livelong days expending hot air knew their elbow from their backside, they would set an example at institutional level by planting nine billion sohanjna trees across Pakistan. They would eliminate all the eucalyptus and the newly introduced but already pestilential blight called conocarpus and replace them with the blessed sohanjna. There would be enough health food for all the people of Pakistan. But they will not for the sohanjna is a Hindu tree and it is paindu to boot!

Last of all, the beauty of the tree: it is picturesque; it belongs in a painting. In the first few years of its life it grows straight and thin. In arid regions of Makran and various parts of Sindh I have seen them exquisitely gnarled and twisted and I figure some of those trees would be nearly a century old. But they all look breathtakingly beautiful.


posted by Salman Rashid @ 00:00,


At 3 February 2016 at 09:23, Blogger AHMED BAJWA said...

آپکا بہت بہت شکریہ اس طرح روزانہ ہمیں جگانا کا ۔ لیکن یہ جو بٹ صاحبان ملک پر قابض هیں ان کے لئے تو صور پھونک نا پڑے گا
۔ مافی کا خواستگار ہوں۔ Always love your chronicles.

At 3 February 2016 at 11:34, Blogger Unknown said...

I will plant Sohanjna in my new house very soon

At 3 February 2016 at 11:35, Blogger Unknown said...

I will plant Sohanjna in my new house very soon

At 3 February 2016 at 17:44, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Well said, Ahmed. These people can never see any sense. They and the likes of retired bureaucrats like Kamran Lashari infatuated with the useless date palm.

At 3 February 2016 at 20:50, Anonymous Muhammad Athar said...

I have alredy planted plant in my house which are developing well and sufficient leaves are available to me for daily consumption

At 5 February 2016 at 07:01, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Thank you Athar sahib and Unknown. And Ahmed bajwa.

At 6 February 2016 at 15:41, Blogger AHMED BAJWA said...

You are very welcome Sir. These people are not aware that Sheesham (Rose Wood), Keekar (Babul), Shreen, peepal, are the plants of our soil of central and northern Punjab. Re-plantation/ Relocation of Date Palms from their Origin will not improve the ecological balance of flora and fauna. And the adverse effect would be in form of destruction of Date palm fruit production. Tahli (Sheesham) and keekars were once in abundance along our roads and canal banks. Now we find them scarcely. Wit Disappearance of these Trees eliminated the commonly seen beautiful birds like Bulbul, Bia, HoodHud, NeelKanth etc to the verge of extinction. I am sorry to take your precious time.

At 6 February 2016 at 19:15, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Ahmed, you are very right. Today drove past a new building near Punjab University it is choc-a-bloc with date palms. Bloody idiots.

At 6 February 2016 at 19:17, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

You be blessed, Unknown.


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