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The giving trees

Neighbors: Profiles of our community

Kihei resident Victor Manzano says the secret to his longevity is an active lifestyle, a good sense of humor and a twice-daily dose of moringa. At 94 years young, Manzano combines his passion for agriculture and healthy living on his USDA-certified organic moringa tree farm in Wailuku. Photo courtesy of Victor Manzano

Whoever coined the phrase “age is just a number” may have had Victor Manzano in mind.

At 94, he has the energy of a man half his age. What’s his secret? An active lifestyle. A good sense of humor. And a twice-daily dose of moringa.

Manzano credits the superfood for his vitality. Before breakfast, he drinks a cup of warm water with a teaspoon of organic moringa leaf powder and a squeeze of lemon. He also takes four moringa capsules every day — two in the morning and two in the evening.

The moringa tree, also known as the “miracle tree” or “drumstick tree” (a nod to its drumstick-like seed pods), was a part of Manzano’s life long before it earned superfood status. Growing up in the Philippines, he says the nutrient-dense plant was a dietary staple. And it still is.

“It’s why I’m still alive and kicking,” he said.

VICTOR MANZANO – His secret is moringa

That’s precisely why he started his own moringa tree farm in Central Maui three years ago at the age of 91. Today, there are thousands of trees on the nearly 2-acre organic farm. Manzano harvests, dries and grinds their leaves to make moringa powder and moringa capsules, which he sells online.

Even at 91, starting a farm from scratch was second nature to Manzano. He has spent most of his life in the field, both literally and figuratively. After earning a bachelor’s degree in agriculture from the University of the Philippines Los Banos, he held a number of positions at the Philippine Department of Agriculture, where he worked for more than three decades. He eventually moved to Maui with his family and took on a new role as Lahainaluna High School’s farm manager, a position he held for nearly 13 years. After a short-lived retirement, he started growing mangosteen (a fruiting tree that also grows plentifully in the Philippines) before turning his focus to moringa in 2018.

An endlessly versatile plant, all of its parts are edible: its roots, seeds, pods, leaves and flowers. In addition to food, the drought-tolerant, fast-growing tree is also a biofuel and medicinal source. If you ask Manzano to list all of its health benefits — well, you better clear your schedule.

It’s a long list.

Among many other things, moringa is known for its ability to boost the immune system, improve blood circulation, maintain healthy heart function, minimize inflammation and enhance memory, mental clarity and focus. Often described as a living pharmacy, its leaves are loaded with protein, vitamins and minerals, including, but not limited to zinc, calcium, potassium, amino acids and vitamins A, B and C.

As if that weren’t impressive enough, moringa is said to provide four times more protein than eggs, 15 times more potassium than bananas, 17 times more calcium than milk, 10 times more vitamin A than carrots and 25 times more iron than spinach.

It’s no wonder moringa has gained a reputation for its longevity “superpowers.” And the nonagenarian says he’s living proof.

“It has given me a long life,” he said.

With every tree he plants and harvests, Manzano hopes to bring good health to others, whether they are nine or 94.

“My main mission is to help humanity,” he explained. “I want to help people live a long, happy and healthy life.”

For more information, visit www.moringasuperfoodmaui.com.

* Sarah Ruppenthal is a Maui-based writer. Do you have an interesting neighbor? Tell us about them at missruppenthal@gmail.com. Neighbors and “The State of Aloha,” written by Ben Lowenthal, alternate Fridays.

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