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Publication #HS612

Horseradish Tree—Molinga oleifera L.1

James M. Stephens2

While the horseradish tree (either M. oleifera or M. pterygosperma) is not a true vegetable by definition, its parts are used as a vegetable. The name derives from the roots, which taste like horseradish and are used as a substitute. It is also known as ben tree and coatli (Mexico).

Figure 1. 

Horseradish tree


Krish Dulal, CC BY-SA 3.0

[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]


The horseradish tree comes from eastern India, but is widely grown as an ornamental in many tropical countries. It is sometimes planted in southern Florida (from Tampa to Cocoa and south), where it is easily propagated from cuttings.


The flowers, shoots, and foliage are edible as greens. Cattle are particularly fond of them. Young pods are cooked in curries. Seeds, which taste like peanuts when fried, are eaten, but they contain an alkaloid, which limits their use.

The unripe pods, known as susumber or drumsticks, are cut up and boiled like beans. They are available in tins from delicatessens. The outsides of the pods are extremely hard and woody and impossible to eat; one has to pick them open and eat the mucilaginous inside and pips that are lightly hot and delicious.

Upon pressing, the seeds yield an oil called ben oil. This nondrying oil is used for oiling machinery and watches, in salad oil, and in soaps. The corky bark yields a gum used in India to print calico.


The deciduous, dry-land, 25 foot tall tree is sometimes mistaken for a legume. It has drooping branches with alternate, fern-like leaves, 9–24 inches long having many oval leaflets, each less than 1 inch long. The 1 inch wide, white fragrant flowers are borne in loose clusters in the leaf axils. The pods are narrow, round, pointed, and reach up to 18 inches long.



This document is HS612, one of a series of the Horticultural Sciences Department, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date May 1994. Revised September 2015. Reviewed October 2018. Visit the EDIS website at


James M. Stephens, professor emeritus, Horticultural Sciences Department; UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.

The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.