Background: Moringa oleifera (MO) and M. stenopetala (MS) (family Moringaceae; order Brassicales) are multipurpose tree/shrub species. They thrive under marginal environmental conditions and produce nutritious edible parts. The aim of this study was to determine the mineral composition of different parts of MO and MS growing in their natural environments and their potential role in alleviating human mineral micronutrient deficiencies (MND) in sub-Saharan Africa.
Methods: Edible parts of MO (n = 146) and MS (n = 50), co-occurring cereals/vegetables and soils (n = 95) underneath their canopy were sampled from localities in southern Ethiopia and Kenya. The concentrations of seven mineral elements, namely, calcium (Ca), copper (Cu), iodine (I), iron (Fe), magnesium (Mg), selenium (Se), and zinc (Zn) in edible parts and soils were determined using inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry.
Results: In Ethiopian crops, MS leaves contained the highest median concentrations of all elements except Cu and Zn, which were greater in Enset (a.k.a., false banana). In Kenya, Mo flowers and MS leaves had the highest median Se concentration of 1.56 mg kg-1 and 3.96 mg kg-1, respectively. The median concentration of Se in MS leaves was 7-fold, 10-fold, 23-fold, 117-fold and 147-fold more than that in brassica leaves, amaranth leaves, baobab fruits, sorghum grain and maize grain, respectively. The median Se concentration was 78-fold and 98-fold greater in MO seeds than in sorghum and maize grain, respectively. There was a strong relationship between soil total Se and potassium dihydrogen phosphate (KH2PO4)-extractable Se, and Se concentration in the leaves of MO and MS.
Conclusion: This study confirms previous studies that Moringa is a good source of several of the measured mineral nutrients, and it includes the first wide assessment of Se and I concentrations in edible parts of MO and MS grown in various localities. Increasing the consumption of MO and MS, especially the leaves as a fresh vegetable or in powdered form, could reduce the prevalence of MNDs, most notably Se deficiency.