By CARL E. FEATHER - email@example.com
CHERRY VALLEY TOWNSHIP —
Back in late 2011, Gary Morrison Jr. was visiting with a missionary friend from the Akron area when the visitor, Tim Spurrier, asked Morrison if he had ever heard of the moringa tree.
Morrison was stumped. A cabinetmaker most of his 40 years and familiar with 5,000 kinds of exotic woods, Morrison had to turn to the Internet for help with “moringa.”
He soon discovered why he’d never heard of the sub-tropical species: moringa wood is light as balsa and riddled with a bold, unattractive grain pattern. But its leaves, fruit and roots are so amazing in their medicinal and nutritive values, moringa is known as the “miracle tree.” Some go so far to compare it to the “tree of life” that stood in the Garden of Eden.
“Everybody calls it a miracle tree, a tree totally designed by God,” Morrison said.
According to Morrison, moringa leaves contain more than 90 nutrients and 46 types of antioxidants. There are 300 diseases that can be treated with it, according to Morrison.
“It can easily be termed as the most nutritious plant on the face of the earth,” Morrison said. “What’s so great about it is that it brings your body up to its full potential.”
Initially, however, it was the water-purification qualities of the tree’s seeds that captured Morrison’s attention. For three years, he worked as a missionary in Guatemala, where Morrison helped set up and teach the woodworking/carpentry program in a vocational school. Throughout his time in the Central American nation, Morrison saw how malnutrition caused by parasites and disease claimed the lives of children and adults alike. Polluted water was the source of these maladies. But moringa evangelists were claiming that one seed from the tree could treat a liter of the filthiest water.
“Moringa has this unique ability to filter dirty water. If you put ground-up seeds in septic water, it would end up 99 percent free of bacteria and viruses,” he said.
Morrison’s research revealed that the moringa tree, which originated in India, is cultivated on plantations in Kenya and Ethiopia for the herbal medicine market. Morrison assumed it would flourish in the damp heat of Central America.
“What we discovered was that these grew faster there than anyone had ever seen,” he said of their test plot in Guatemala. Growth rates of more than a foot a day were noted for the tree; only bamboo grows faster.
The tree’s propensity for the Guatemalan environment, coupled with the need for clean water and inexpensive nutrition and medicine, convinced the Morrisons that God was calling them into a ministry of sharing moringa in the mission field, Hospital Shalom in San Benito Peten.
In one documented case, an 8-year-old patient, who weighed just 20 pounds because of malnutrition resulting from parasites, more than doubled her weight after one month on the supplement. Her brother was likewise treated and regained health and energy.
“It brings me great joy to see these things happen,” said Gary Morrison.
Back in the United States, he and Tiffany worked with a New Jersey man who holds the necessary federal licensing to sell the ground, dried leaves. The couple market the moringa powder on the Internet and from their Sentinel Road home. They call their ministry “Leaves for Life Guatemala.” The ministry is supported by their church, Cherry Valley First Church of God, where Gary’s father is pastor, and sales of the herbal powder.
In the process of learning about moringa, the couple came across the guanabana tree, the fruit of which is purported to cure cancer.
“The (active) component strips the lining off the cancer cells,” Morrison said.
“If you get cancer in Guatemala, it is a death sentence,” he said. “So the people make a tea from the leaves of this tree and drink it. And it has an 80 percent cure rate.”
Morrison claims that compounds in guanabana leaves are selective in targeting only cancer cells, so there are no side effects.
As for why these cures are not more widely used in the United States, Gary Morrison said it is largely because pharmaceutical companies can’t patent botanicals. However, he has seen late-night television infomercials for the products, and Wal-Mart offers moringa in capsules, at about $10 for 30.
The couple sells the powder for $20 for 8 ounces. For someone on a preventive regimen, that supply would last about six weeks, Gary Morrison said. Tiffany Morrison adds it to every recipe she makes.
“I have a new meaning for ‘green eggs and ham.’ When we eat eggs, they are always green,” he said.
Tiffany Morrison said she puts the powder in a salt shaker and sprinkles the moringa on everything from pasta to toast. An elementary school cook, Tiffany is also studying nutrition at Kent State and hopes to meld her profession, education and ministry in helping children live healthier lives.
Gary Morrison said they have not noticed any negative side effects from the herb, unless it is consumed right before bedtime.
“I did that and had so much energy, I had to go out in the shop and work until 3 a.m.,” he said.
The family has seen moringa’s effectiveness as an immune-system booster, as well.
“In the last 15 months, our (five) kids who go to public school have not been sick one time,” Gary Morrison said. “That’s one of the biggest proofs for me.”
Last summer, the couple attempted raising the plant on their Sentinel Road property and discovered that, when temperatures rise above 70 degrees, moringa will grow in Ashtabula County. For now, however, the product they sell is sourced from Florida. The guanabana comes from Guatemala, by way of Peru and New Jersey because of importation laws.
The moringa trees that they are distributing in Guatemala are exclusively for the use of the natives and part of the couple’s efforts to reach the nation with the gospel. Nevertheless, the agricultural potential of the tree has caught the attention of the Guatemalan government, and next week Gary and Tiffany leave for Central America for a month of discussions with government officials about moringa. Gary said farmland in Guatemala costs about $60,000 an acre, so crops are chosen very carefully.
The Morrisons said that discovering the moringa tree has changed the direction of their ministry in Guatemala. For Gary, it also is a story of redemption. As a woodworker most of his life, he’s sometimes been accused of being a “tree killer” in order to sustain his craft.
“Now I’ve gone from killing trees to growing them,” he said.