Journal of Medicinal Plants Research Vol. 4(9), pp. 753-757, 4 May, 2010
Available online at http://www.academicjournals.org/JMPR
ISSN 1996-0875 © 2010 Academic Journals
Full Length Research Paper
Phytochemicals and uses of Moringa oleifera leaves in
Ugandan rural communities
Josephine N. Kasolo
*,Gabriel S. Bimenya
, Lonzy Ojok
, Joseph Ochieng
Jasper W. Ogwal-Okeng
Department of Physiology, School of Biomedical Sciences, Makererere University College of Health Sciences,
P. O. Box 7072, Kampala, Uganda.
Department of Pathology, School of Biomedical Sciences, Makererere University College of Health Sciences,
P. O. Box 7072, Kampala, Uganda.
Department of Pathology, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Makerere University, College of Health Sciences,
P. O. Box 7072, Kampala, Uganda.
Department of Anatomy, School of Biomedical Sciences, Makerere University College of Health Sciences,
P. O. Box 7072, Kampala, Uganda.
Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics, School of Biomedical Sciences, Makerere University College of Health
Sciences, P. O. Box 7072, Kampala, Uganda.
Accepted 23 April, 2010
Moringa oleifera grown and used in many countries around the world is a multi-purpose tree with
medicinal, nutritional and socio-economic values. In Senegal and Benin, M. oleifera leaves are
dispensed as powder at health facilities to treat moderate malnutrition in children. It established the
medicinal uses of M. oleifera leaves by local communities in Uganda and identified phytochemicals
present in M. oleifera leaves extracts. It used quantitative and experimental methods that established
the uses, and identified phytochemicals in M. oleifera leaves. Employed serial extractions, using ether,
ethanol and water as solvents. The phytochemicals were qualitatively identified using standard
chemicals and standard outcomes. Twenty-four medicinal uses of M. oleifera leaves were established.
Phytochemicals present included: tannins, steroids and triterpenoids, flavonoids, saponins,
anthraquinones, alkaloids and reducing sugars. The local communities in Uganda use M. oleifera leaves
to treat common ailments. Presence of phytochemicals in the extracts, indicate possible preventive and
curative property of M. oleifera leaves. There is need to standardize M. oleifera leaves use for nutrition
and herbal medicine.
Key words: Phytochemicals, medicinal plant extracts, herbal medicine, Uganda.
Moringa oleifera was massively grown and promoted by
the local media in Uganda in the 1980s as a plant
putatively able to cure a number of diseases including
symptoms of HIV/AIDS.
Industrialists bought the leaves and seeds to use as
raw materials and this promoted its being grown by many
families. At the moment farmers have uprooted the plant
*Corresponding author. E-mail email@example.com,
firstname.lastname@example.org. Tel: 256-772-553088. Fax:
and have remained with a few trees around the
Although M. oleifera is native to the sub-Himalayan
tracts of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan
where it is used in folk medicine (Fahey, 2005), it is now
widely distributed all over the world (Lockelt, 2000). M.
oleifera is referred to as a “miracle tree” or a “wonder
tree” (Fuglie, 2001) of significant socio economic
importance because of its several nutritional,
pharmacological (Caceres et al., 1991; 1992; Fuglie,
2001) and industrial applications (Makkar and Becker,
1997; Foidl, 2001). The leaves of this plant contain a
profile of important trace elements, and are a good
754 J. Med. Plant. Res.
source of proteins, vitamins, beta-carotine, amino acids
and various phenolics (Anwar, 2007). With all those
attributes to M. oleifera leaves we wondered why very
few people and media are promoting the use of M.
oleifera leaves in a country where malnutrition among
children below 5 years stands at 15% while 45% children
below 5 years are stunted.
MATERIALS AND METHODS
Over a period of two weeks, a cross-sectional study with
quantitative and qualitative methods of data collection used in
surveys was carried out among heads of households aged 18 years
and above in four rural districts of Uganda (Arua, Kapchorwa,
Mbarara and Wakiso), who had lived in the area for more than two
years. They were interviewed in their homes and focus group
discussions were conducted among them at the local councils’
meeting places. Villages from randomly selected sub-counties were
randomly selected and the list of heads of households was
generated. Every fifth person was interviewed until a total of 30
respondents per district were obtained.
The experimental component extracted M. oleifera leaf/powder
sequentialy using ether, ethanol (95% v/v) and distilled water as
solvent (Cowen, 1999). Medicinal phytochemicals in the extracts
were determined using established methods of Cuilei (1964). The
method uses the principle that different phytochemical groups,
reacts with specific to give end point characteristic colour changes
reagents when mixed because colour changes, froth or precipitate.
Data collection for use of M. oleifera leaves
A pre-tested questionnaire, translated into local languages
(Luganda, Runyankore, Lugbara and Kupsabiny) and back
translated to English to ensure consistence of meaning, was used
by trained research assistants to collect data from the participants.
Two focus group discussions per district (one for men and the other
for women) were performed to complement data collected from the
quantitative study. One man and one woman opinion leader from
each community were interviewed to correlate the information
collected from the focus group discussions. Data was also collected
on respondent’s social-demographic characteristics i.e. age, sex,
education level, marital status, distance to the nearest public health
unit and occupation. It also included knowledge and use of M.
oleifera leaves in their homes and communities.
Consent forms which included the nature and purpose of the
research translated into local languages were read to each
participant. The participants consented by signing or thumbing on
the consent form. Permission to conduct the study was received
from the Makerere University Faculty of Medicine Research and
Ethics Committee. The study was conducted in accordance with
ethical standards for human experimentation established by the
declaration of Helsinki (1965).
Extraction of the leaves
M. oleifera leaves were harvested during the dry season from trees
grown on loam soil in Wakiso district, Uganda. The family and
species of M. oleifera were confirmed by Ms. Olive Wanyanna a
Makerere University botanist and leaves were kept in the University
Herbarium. M. oleifera leaves were air-dried at room temperature in
the Department of Physiology until constant weight was attained.
They were kept away from high temperatures and direct sun light to
avoid destroying active compounds. They were then pounded to
powder with metallic motor and pestle to ease the extraction of
The process followed the already established extraction procedure
of plant samples, using ether followed by ethanol and then distilled
water as solvents (Cowan, 1999; Ciulei, 1964). Serial extractions
were done using 200 g plant powder, in 500 ml diethyl ether (98%)
in Ehlnmeyer flask. The mixture was shaken at two hourly intervals
during day-time for 3 days. The mixture was decant and filtered
using Whatman’s No.1 filter paper in Buchner funnel using a
suction pump. The residue was air dried at room temperature for 3
days and the same procedure repeated using ethanol (95% v/v) for
3 days. Rotary evaporator (BUCHI Rotavapor R-205) was used to
recover the ether and ethanol. Finally 200 g of the dry residue was
soaked into 1,000 ml distilled water at 96°C to prevent fungal attack
and cooled at room temperature. The mixture was shaken hourly to
ease extraction for 12 h. The filtrate was freeze dried at pressure 32
Pa, temperature was started at -47°C and maintained at 0°C for 36
h to dry the extract.
Identification of phytochemical groups in the extracts
The qualitative methods already established to test for classes of
compounds in plant extracts by Ciulei (1964) and Chitravadivu et al.
(2009) were used. The substances that were tested for included:
Alkaloids, steroids and triterpenoids, tannins, anthracenosides,
reducing sugars, flavones, saponins and coumarins which are
reported to have biological activities on animal tissues. The dry
extracts of M. oleifera leaves, ether, ethanol and water extracts
were used to determine the compounds.
Test for alkaloids
One milligram of dried extract was dissolved in 6 props of 2%
hydrochloric acid. The solution was divided into 3 aliquots; to the
first portion which acted as a reference, 2 ml of distilled water was
added. To the second test tube, 2 drops of Dragendorff’s reagent
whose Basic Bismuth nitrate, was purchased from Sikuda Lab
distributors, P. O. Box 12553, Kampala, Uganda, and potassium
iodide from Tomas Baker (Chemicals)Ltd, 4/86 Bharat, Mahal,
Marine Drive, Mumbai- 400 002, India were added. A precipitate
indicated presence of alkaloids. To the third portion, 2 drops of
Mayer’s reagent was added and a yellowish white precipitate
indicated the presence of alkaloids (Raffauf, 1962).
Test for steroids and triterpenoids
One milligram of dried extracts was dissolved in 0.5 ml of acetic
anhydride; 0.5 ml of chloroform from Alpha Chemicals, 18 Inman
Rd, Crorner, NSW 20999 Australia, was added. The solution was
pipette into a dry test tube and 1 ml of concentrated sulphuric acid
added at the bottom of the tube. A brown-red ring at the interface
between the two liquids and a green supernatant indicated the
presence of steroids and triterpenoids.
Test for tannins
One milligram of plant extracts was dissolved in 1.5 ml of water; 3
drop of dilute ferric chloride from LOBA CHEMIE PVT. LTD.
Jehangir Villa, 107, Wode House Road, Colaba, Mumai, 400 005,
India, were added. A blackish blue color indicated the presence of
Gallic tannins and green blackish color indicated catechol tannins.
Test for anthraquinones
To 1 mg of the extract, 2 ml of 25% Ammonia solution from UNILAB
Limited, P. O. Box 78151, Nairobi, Kenya, was added and shaken.
A cherish-red solution indicates the presence of emodols
(aglycones of anthracenosides in oxidized form).
Test for saponins
Three drops of dimethylsulfoxide from BDH Laboratories VWR
International Ltd, 14 Media Village, Liscombe Park, Soulbury,
Leighton Buzzard , LU7 0JL, UK, were added to 1 mg of plant
extract, 5 ml of distilled water added and shaken. Presence of foam
which persisted for more than 15 min indicated the presence of
Test for coumarins
One milligram of the extract was dissolved in 2 ml of water. The
solution divided into 2 portions. To first portion, 0.5 ml of 10%
ammonia solution was added. The second portion acted as a
reference. The occurrence of an intense fluorescence under ultra
violet light indicated the presence of coumarins and its derivatives.
Test for flavones aglycones
One milligram of dry plant extract was dissolved in 1 ml of methanol
at 50°C. Metallic magnesium from BDH Lab Supplies (U) Ltd. Plot
7. Bombo Road, Kampala, Uganda and 5 drops of concentrated
hydrochloric acid were added. A red or orange color indicates the
presence of flavones aglycones (Shibata’s reaction or Cyanidin
Test for reducing sugars
One milligram of the extract dissolved in 2 ml of water and 1 ml of
Fehling’s reagent which contained a mixture of Fehlings solution I
and II purchased from Sikuda Lab distributors, P. O. Box 12553,
Kampala, Uganda was added and the mixture heated. A brick red
precipitate denoted the presence of reducing sugars.
Data from the quantitative study was entered into Microsoft Excel
2007 and exported to SPSS 13.0 statistical program for analysis.
The qualitative data was manually analyzed by grouping the
ailments mentioned in the group discussions and in the key
The findings revealed that most of the participants were
aged 50 - 55 years (78; 65%), there were more males
(93; 77.5%) than females (27; 22.5%), the majority were
subsistence farmers (110; 91.6%) with primary education
level (88; 73.3%). Majority of the participants (109; 90.8%) were
Kasolo et al. 755
in some form of marital union and those that had divorced or
widowed had remarried or cohabiting. Most respondents (63;
52.5%) lived more than 5 km from the nearest public
It also found out that there are twenty-four uses of M.
oleifera leaves by rural communities in Uganda, Table 1.
The highest percentage of respondents (108; 90%) use M.
oleifera leaves to treat hypertension and diabetes. A small
number (28; 23.3%) had never used the leaves for
treating any condition and 19 (15.8%) had no knowledge
of its use. There were no traces coumarins in ether,
ethanol or water extracts. However, steroids and
triterpenoids, flavonoids, anthraquinones and saponins
were extracted by all the solvents. Ether and ethanol did
not extract alkaloids while water extracted all the other
phytochemicals (Table 2).
This study has established the fact M. oleifera leaves in
Uganda are used for treatment of twenty-four medical
conditions as shown in Table 1. The respondents are of
low income and live more than 5 km from a public health
facility which makes them susceptible to use of local
herbs as a first line of illness management. They believe
that M. oleifera leaves cure the ailments mentioned and
many of them use it at primary health care level before
seeking help at health facilities. Reports reveal that there
are 43 uses of M. oleifera leaves around the globe
Yet in Uganda the leaves are known to treat twenty-
four medical conditions. Out of the twenty-four ailments
six including: impotence, heartburn, bone setting,
asthma, flu, syphilis are only mentioned by the Ugandan
rural communities and not reported by other
communities. This could be due to the different naming of
ailments in different countries and communities for
example: in many of the Ugandan local languages it is
difficult to get different words distinguishing cough, flu,
pneumonia and common cold or malaria and fever.
Despite the documented nutrition attributes to M. oleifera
leaves, very few respondents (13 (10.8%) appreciated its
use in treatment or prevention of malnutrition. There is
inadequate knowledge about the nutritional and medicinal
values of M. oleifera leaves among the Ugandan rural
communities. The communities need to be educated on
the attributes of the leaves in order to prevent
malnutrition among the children. The respondents were
not able to tell whether the leaves cured the ailments or
just caused the relief symptoms. Unlike in the developed
world where herbal medicines are used because they are
considered to be safer than the orthodox medicine, the
Ugandan rural communities use them due to inadequate
access to medical care.
Having used the methods of Ciulei (1964) and latter
adopted by Cowan (1999); Ogwal-okeng (1998) and
Waako (1996) to qualitatively establish phytochemicals in
756 J. Med. Plant. Res.
Table 1. Reported differential uses of M. olefera leaves in
Ugandan rural communities.
HIV/AIDS -related symptoms
Worms in people and cattle
Protein energy malnutrition
Never used the plant
No knowledge of the use
A number of respondents knew more than one use of M. oleifera
Table 2. Phytochemicals present in M. oleifera leaves.
Steroids and triterpenoids
Key -: not detected; +: present in low concentration; ++: present in
moderate concentration; +++ present in high concentrations.
different plant extracts, this study established that ether;
ethanol and water M. oleifera leaves extracts contained:
catechol tannins, gallic tannins, steroids and
triterpenoids, flavonoids, saponins, anthraquinones,
alkaloids and reducing sugars which have been identified
by other researchers in various plants and in different
parts of plants (Devbhuti et al., 2009; Tijjan et al., 2009;
Hassan et al., 2007; Bennett et al., 2003). None of the
extracts contained coumarins. The findings in this study
agree with earlier studies which also found that, not all
phytochemicals are present in all plant parts and that
those present differ according to the type of the extracting
solvent used (Tijjan et al., 2009; Ayinde et al., 2007).
Flavonoids, which are many in number (Ramo-Tejada,
2002), are strong antioxidants, also found to be effective
antimicrobial substances in vitro against a wide array of
microorganisms by inhibiting the membrane bound
enzymes (Cowan, 1999) . They have been reported to
possess substantial anti-carcinogenic and anti-mutagenic
activities due to their anti-oxidant and -inflammatory
properties (Li-Weber, 2009; Nandakumar et al., 2008;
Hausteen, 2002). They are also active in reducing high
blood pressure (Ayinde et al., 2007; Dhawan and Jain,
Tannins are a group of polymeric phenolic substances
capable of tanning leather or precipitating gelatic from
solution (Scalbert, 1991), causing local tumors(Kapadia
et al., 1978), inactivating and killing microorganisms
(Cowan, 1999; Hausteen, 2005).
On the other hand anthraquinones (9,10-
dioxoanthracene) which are a group of naturally occurring
phenolic compounds are found in M. oleifera leaves and
tend to have laxative effects. Terpenoids and steroids
present in M. oleifera leaves ere described as being
active against bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus
(Cowan, 1999), capable of preventing cancer (Raju et al.,
2004), having anti-carcinogenic effects (Yun, 1996).
Rausch et al. (2006) reported Ginseng saponins to have
antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-apoptosis and
immunostimulant properties, which raised speculation
that these compounds could positively affect
neurodegenerative disorders and delay neural aging. The
local communities use M. oleifera leaves as soap due to
the presence of saponins which form froth and act as
M. oleifera leaves also contain alkaloids which are
nitrogen-containing naturally occurring compound,
commonly found to have antimicrobial properties due to
their ability to intercalate with DNA of the microorganisms
The presence of glucosinolates in Moringa stenopetala
(Bennett et al., 2003) and that of hypotensive
thiocarbamite glycosides in M. oleifera, (Faizi et al.,
(1995) contributes to the use of the plants in
hypertension. On the other hand, they are also reported
to modify tumorigenisis (Ueno et al., 2009), able to inhibit
carbohydrate-mediated tumor growth (Nangia-Makker et
al., 2002), induced a stress response and apoptosis in
human breast cancer cells.
It is also documented that phytochemicals in plant-
based foods can improve glucose metabolism as well as
enhance the overall health of diabetic patients by improving
lipid metabolism, antioxidant status, improving capillary
function, and lowering blood pressure and cholesterol
(Kelble, 2006; Broadhurst et al., 2000). M. oleifera leaves
having these phytochemicals are able to treat the
ailments mentioned by the heads of households in
Ugandan rural communities.
The rural community in Uganda use Moringa oleifera
leaves to treat common medical conditions but a few use
it for preventing and treating malnutrition. Presence of
phytochemicals indicates possible preventive and
curative properties of M. oleifera leaves. There is need to
carry out more pharmacological studies to support the
use of M. oleifera as a medicinal plant.
Authors are grateful to the staff of the Departments of
Physiology and Pharmacology and Therapeutics, College
of Health Sciences Makerere University, Kampala for
their technical assistance and to the Carnegie of New
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