Africa focusInternational fashion model Camilla Barungi wants Americans to use moringa, a traditional leafy vegetable in Africa, as a nutritional supplement.

She recently launched her product line, African Moringa™, offering African Moringa powder (loose and in tea bags) and African Moringa oil. “I’ve been using both for the last five years. I fell in love with both products and decided that I wanted to build my own Moringa brand and so African Moringa was born,” says Barungi, a native of Uganda.

The benefits of moringa, which is found in all tropical regions, are infinite, Barungi says. “African Moringa™ powder gram for gram contains 0.5 times the vitamin C in oranges, 10 times the vitamin A in carrots, 17 times the calcium in milk, 15 times the potassium in bananas, 9 times the protein in yogurt, 25 times the iron in spinach, the B vitamins, the rarely available vitamin D, selenium, magnesium, zinc and copper.  It contains antioxidants, has a high chlorophyll phytonutrient content and over 22 amino acids, including 10 of which humans do not have the ability to manufacture naturally,” she says.

Optima of Africa Ltd., a private company that works with the tree in Tanzania, says 25 grams daily of moringa leaf powder will give a child 42 percent of its daily recommended protein allowance, 125 percent of calcium, 61 percent of magnesium, 41 percent of potassium, 71 percent of iron, 272 percent of vitamin A and 22 percent of vitamin C.

Almost every part of the moringa tree, hailed by scientists as “nature’s miracle tree,” can be used for food, or has some other beneficial property. The bark, sap, roots, leaves, seeds, oil and flowers are used in traditional medicine in several countries. Ayurveda practitioners use it to cure more than 300 diseases; naturopaths and physicians worldwide use it to treat diabetes, constipation, depression, allergies, asthma and menopause, as well as to assist in AIDS and cancer treatments.

From further south, South Africa’s indigenous Cape Aloe plant is making its name in the U.S. market as “aloe ferox,” a cleanser, detoxifier and stimulator of cell renewal. Aloe ferox is said to contain more amino acids (34), vitamins, minerals and polysaccharides than aloe vera and reportedly helps to relieve heartburn, acne, urinary tract infections, stomach ulcers, liver function, eye infections, sunburn, chapped skin, itching, heat rashes, insect bites, dermatitis, skin allergies, athlete’s foot, varicose veins, insomnia, high blood pressure, spastic colon, gingivitis and many other ailments.

“After more than ten years marketing Aloe Ferox in the U.S., I am confident that African traditional medicines are well on their way to receiving the acceptance and recognition accorded traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicines,” says Waine Grose, principal of JahWay Distributors Inc., based in New York. “At a time of unprecedented concern for maintaining good health, modern production techniques allow us to offer superior products and affordable prices.”

As the Obama administration prepares to overhaul the U.S. health care system to emphasize prevention and individual responsibility, distributors of African nutritional and medicinal supplements, like Barungi and Grose, expect to see an increased share of the U.S. market.

Their expectation is not unreasonable. Use of traditional medicines in the West has surged in the past 20 years with the emergence of research attesting to the effectiveness of such medicines.

“Recent progress in the fields of environmental sciences, immunology, medical botany and pharmacognosy [the study of medicines derived form natural sources] have led researchers to appreciate in a new way the precise descriptive capacity and rationality of various traditional taxonomies, as well as the effectiveness of the treatments employed,” Conserve Africa, a British charity that promotes sustainable development, notes in its  2004 report “Medicinal Plants and Traditional Medicine in Africa.”

The pharmaceutical industry has turned to traditional medicine in its quest for bioactive agents that can be used in synthetic medicine. The most recent headliner case is Unilever N.V., owner of SlimFast, which invested some $30 million in research over the past four years to develop a fat-fighting product based on the Hoodia Gordonii plant of South Africa and Namibia.

Unilever abandoned its efforts in December, but Britain’s Phytopharm P.L.C., which licensed
the rights to extract the active ingredients in Hoodia from South Africa’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, is sure it will find commercial weight-management applications for the extract and is looking for new partners for pharmaceutical as well as veterinary products.

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