Sustainability

Miracle in the Green: African Herb Moringa

Ify Nwobi

Product Helps Business Bloom for Cancer Survivor

 

Ify Nwobi always finishes what she starts. When she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010, she was in her final year of law school in New York City. She and her husband, who was completing a hospital fellowship, were raising a son, then 3, and a daughter, who was 2. They had their hands full.

Only 33, she was shocked to be facing cancer. After she began chemotherapy, her energy levels took such a dive that she considered postponing her education. “But I was really determined to finish law school,” she said.

Then she received a care package from her parents in Nigeria that changed the trajectory of her life. It contained an herb with the scientific name Moringa oleifera that was grown by her mother and made into a powder to be added to smoothies, soup or juice, or mixed with cold or warm water for tea. Nwobi had never heard of moringa, even though she had spent her first 19 years in Africa, where it is widely grown and known as the “miracle tree.”

Nwobi, whose full name is pronounced eee-FAY WOE-bee, didn’t try the moringa right away. “I wasn’t really into herbs,” she said. But when she finally gave it a whirl, she felt an immediate boost of energy. “I started researching it and learned that moringa is one of the most nutritious plants on the planet.”

Nutritional Powerhouse

Native to India but cultivated in tropical and subtropical regions around the world, the superfood is prized for its high concentration of antioxidants, protein, vitamins and minerals. The plant’s leaves provide seven times more vitamin C than oranges, 10 times more vitamin A than carrots, 17 times more calcium than milk, nine times more protein than yogurt, 15 times more potassium than bananas and 25 times more iron than spinach.

Its protein concentration is unusual because generally plant leaves provide mostly carbohydrates. For that reason, moringa has become an important food source to fight malnutrition in Africa and India. Its seeds kill bacteria and serve as water purifiers.

The plant’s antioxidants, which help reduce inflammation, are significant because chronic inflammation is linked to many diseases such as cancer, heart and respiratory disorders, diabetes, obesity and arthritis. Moringa also may help lower blood sugar and improve heart function.

Nwobi has no doubt that moringa helped her regain her health and strength. She finished law school and moved to Lakeland, Florida, with her husband, vascular surgeon Obinna Nwobi, in late 2010. “My doctors kept telling me there was a good chance the cancer could come back,” she said, but she chose to stop her post-surgery hormone therapy early because it was weakening her bones. “I wanted to focus on raising my children. I didn’t have time to be sick.”

Moringa

New Business

The family moved to Oviedo and she began to share the powder with other women who were suffering from breast cancer.

“I had found something that worked, and I decided I would dedicate my life to helping other people by providing them with high-quality, affordable, reliable moringa powder,” she said.

Her sideline grew as fast as the moringa she was sourcing from her mother in Nigeria, and in 2014, she founded Miracle in the Green, her Africa-inspired health food and skin-care brand www.miracleinthegreen.com. She outgrew her retired mother’s garden and now sources her pure moringa from others in Africa and Asia. She has named and trademarked it Oringaa for “original moringa.”

Her moringa powder is certified organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, made to her exacting standards and put through rigorous quality controls including microbial analysis to ensure the highest quality.

Family Culture

Nwobi’s family, which now includes four children, enjoys moringa once a day. “It became part of our whole family’s culture, from my parents to my children and husband to my in-laws and my friends,” she said. “To everybody who knows me, my name is synonymous with moringa because of how much it helped me throughout my cancer battle up until today.” She said she has never felt or looked better.

She prefers to mix a half-teaspoon of moringa, which she describes as mild-tasting but not especially pleasant, with warm water, fresh lemon juice and a dab of honey.

Moringa has been used in herbal medicine by Indians and others for thousands of years, including by breastfeeding mothers to increase their milk supply. In the United States, it is just catching on and there is a lack of scientific studies — doctors consider it generally safe but say it should not be ingested by lactating and pregnant women, children under 2 and people taking medication for diabetes, high blood pressure or hypothyroidism. As with any supplement, checking with a doctor is a good idea.

Moringa

Skin and Baby Care

Nwobi has expanded Miracle in the Green to include beauty skin-care products and Mummy’s Miracle, skin care products for babies. These lotions, shampoos and bath products are made with pure oil from moringa seeds. The oil, which contains omega fatty acids and antioxidants, is used in numerous cosmetics because of its moisturizing and cleansing properties.

The oil also stars in her skin-care line for women, which includes hydrating face and body butter, facial cleanser and an anti-aging oil. Moringa seed oil was used in cosmetics in ancient Egypt and during the Roman Empire.

From 2017 to 2020, Miracle in the Green was part of the University of Central Florida’s Business Incubation Program, which was helpful, Nwobi said. “One of the biggest things they did was give me access to other small businesses who could serve as mentors.” She is proud to be the CEO of a woman-owned business certified by the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council.

Paying It Forward

Supporting women entrepreneurs is important to Nwobi. Through Project Little Miracles, a not-for-profit organization she formed in 2017, she pays forward some of her Miracle in the Green profits in the form of business grants for women in Africa.

“I want to empower women, which is really what I want to do with all of this, to use my business as a force for good,” she said. “People who buy from my company are helping us lift up women to develop a livelihood of their own so they can feed themselves and their families.” She cited an old African proverb: “If you educate a man, you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman, you educate a nation.”

Eleven years ago, when Nwobi was sick and didn’t know if she would survive, she made a list of things she wanted to do. One of those dreams was to have two more children, which she did although many women can’t have children after cancer. Another was to record an album of her original songs, and she did that, too, to celebrate her 40th birthday four years ago. Its title says it all: Gratitude. 

About the author

Terry Godbey

An award-winning journalist and poet, Terry Godbey enjoys bringing people’s stories to life on the page. She has sharpened her skills at the “Orlando Sentinel” and as lead writer at Darden Restaurants, and she is always eager to discuss the finer points of grammar. Her poetry collections are “Hold Still,” “Beauty Lessons,” “Flame” and “Behind Every Door.” She enjoys wildlife and nature photography and wanders in woods and wetlands every chance she gets.

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