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All about Neem

    Neem or Margosa is a botanical cousin of mahogany. It belongs to the family Meliaceae. The latinized name of Neem - Azadirachta indica - is derived from the Persian, which literally means: "The Free Tree of India".

    In India, the tree is variously known as "Divine Tree," "Heal All," "Nature's Drugstore," "Village Pharmacy" and "Panacea for all diseases." Products made from neem have proven medicinal properties, being anthelmintic, antifungal, antidiabetic, antibacterial, antiviral, anti-fertility, and sedative. It is considered a major component in Ayurvedic medicine and is particularly prescribed for skin disease.

    The National Research Council (NRC), Washington, USA, has released a report with title as " Neem: Tree for Solving Global Problems." (view the video). The NRC Panel considers the Neem to be " one of the most promising of all plants and the fact that it may eventually benefit every person on this planet. Probably no other plant yields as many strange and varied products or has as many exploitable by-products. ".

United Nations has declared Neem as the tree of the 21st Century

    The Indian neem tree is considered as one of the most promising trees of the 21st century. It shows great potential in the fields of medicine, pest management and agriculture. The neem tree has been known as a wonder tree in India for centuries.

Woman examining neem leaves    As this remarkable tree begins to reveal its secrets to modern science, it should be pointed out that there was a lot of hype created around neem in the early 1990s, especially in America and Europe. American companies like W.R. Grace and Agridyne tried to register over 50 patents related to neem. Such action caused widespread criticism as it would have colonized the use of neem in India by first world corporations. In the meantime, courts have overturned earlier acceptance of such patents because legally, one cannot protect the rights to a plant.

    Neem (Azadirachta indica) is not only known for its herbal medicines and environmental friendly organic pesticides but also for its capabilities to balance ecological problems like deforestation, erosion and global warming. Owing to its capabilities, United Nations has rightly declared neem as "Tree of the 21st Century". Thanks to neem that has served our mankind from almost of the very beginning of known human history.

    The neem tree exemplifies Mahatma Gandhi’s concept of Economy of permanence and has much to offer in solving global, agricultural, environmental and public health problems. The commercial and Industrial prospects of Neem are unlimited and exciting. Speedy realization of its economic potential should be a priority for all those involved in the Green movement.


The history of the Neem tree

    Neem – the legendary medicinal tree of India, has grown with the human settlement all over the country and has been an integral part of the Indian way of life for centuries. The history of the Neem tree is inextricably linked to the history of the Indian civilization.

    The Neem tree has for a very long time been a friend and protector of the Indian villager. For ages Indians have trusted this tree to fortify their health and remedy scores of diseases. In addition, it has been used for protecting food and stored grains and as a fertilizer and natural pesticide for the fields. It has been used for a far wider array of uses than any other tree!

Stamp - Neem Tree    The Neem tree (Azadirachta indica A. Juss) was probably India’s best kept secret ! Ancient India was envied for its Black Pepper, Cardamom, Saffron, Turmeric, Sandalwood, Silk etc. and these prized ingredients were sought after and taken across the seas to Europe for centuries. The British Raj also failed to grasp the significance of the presence of this tree in every nook and corner of India (barring the Himalayas and the costal regions). Perhaps, if they had known about the wonderful array of uses of the Neem Tree, it would have become a worldwide phenomenon ages ago !!

    For Indians, the Neem tree had many fascinating aspects. For the children this evergreen, attractive tree was a haven from sun and rain - they spent hours in its cooling shade, plucked the sweet ripe fruit for a snack and built tree houses, which they shared with butterflies, birds and bees. This tree was the chosen one because its shade is known to be cooler than any other tree's, and also, no bugs or insects are to be found under it because of its repellant action.

    For the women, the neem was the mainstay of the herbal beauty tradition. It was also a source of medicine to treat more than a 100 health problems, from scratches and skin rashes to malaria and diabetes. The women also used it to protect their stored grains and pulses through the year.

    For the men folk the tree provided seeds, leaf and bark which could be converted into fertilizer and pest control material. It also provided medicinal potions for their cattle and livestock. Besides, the breeze that blew through the boughs of the tree kept their homes free of bacteria and viruses and cool through the summer.

    For centuries Indians planted this tree in the vicinity of their homes and practiced gentle and daily interaction with this extraordinary plant. For women in particular, the Neem proved an invaluable source of health, hygiene and beauty that was freely available. Having a bath with a decoction of neem leaves kept their skin supple and healthy. Neem leaf powder or crushed leaves incorporated into their face packs provided emollient and anti ageing action. The antiseptic properties of neem leaf extracts helped in controlling pimples and acne.

    In some parts of India, it was a regular practice to apply coryllium (lamp black) along the side of the eye, particularly by young ladies as a beauty aid to make eyes conspicuous. The common method employed to make lamp black was to take an earthen lamp and put neem oil and a cotton wick in it. When ignited, the wick liberated copious smoke from which lamp black could be collected, by placing a brass cup containing water for cooling, some distance away from the flame. The lamp black deposit was then scraped from underneath the cup and mixed with a small quantity of mustard oil to form a thick paste called Kaajal.

    Neem oil was believed to prevent baldness and greying of hair and was used as anti-lice and anti-dandruff treatment. A teaspoon of dried neem leaf powder, mixed with the same quantity of ghee (clarified butter) and honey was known to help control skin allergies.

    A mixture of equal quantities of neem seed powder, rock salt and alum mixed well was used for maintaining healthy teeth and gums.

Nimba, the great medicine
for the cure of pitta - aggravations and
for blood purification

- Priyanighantu Harotakyadivarga

    All these practices have been validated by modern science. We know today that this extraordinary tree can do all that it can do because of the sheer range of compounds present in it. A 132 to be precise have been identified to date. Modern research has uncovered the secret of its effectiveness. Its powerful antibacterial, anti-fungal, antiviral and antiseptic properties make it particularly effective in treating anything from dandruff to acne, eczema to malaria and cold sores to warts! Ironically, it is this very versatility that for so long has kept this tree and its amazing properties from taking center stage. The mindset that consumers have been shaped into dictates that there has to be a specialist solution to each problem, in order for the solution to be effective. That one tree can solve so many diverse problems is simply suspect in today's market.

Sai Baba under a Neem Tree      The word NEEM is derived from Sanskrit Nimba which means ‘bestower of good health’. It has also been known as Ravisambha – sun ray like effects in providing health. The Neem tree has been venerated through the ages in the Indian countryside as it provided hope in any situation and the faith in the miraculous healing powers of this amazing tree led patients with incurable diseases to adopt neem as way life. They lived in the shade of the tree, drank infusion of various part (Leaf, bark, etc) as advised by Ayurvedic tradition. They used young twigs for oral hygiene first thing in the morning, ate tender leaves as salad or cooked leaves with vegetable as food. Neem gums was used as lozenges for dryness of throat and allay thirst. In summer, sweet, ripe fruit were sucked for their sweetish pulp. All this together, probably strengthened their immune system to meet any challenge!!!

    Its medicinal properties are documented in the ancient Sanskrit texts – puranas and it is estimated that Neem is present, in one form or another, in 75% of Ayurvedic formulations.

    The ancient Indian found many therapeutic uses for the tree and also observed that the tree could survive and grow almost anywhere as long as it was warm and dry. In due course of time, migrating Indians carried it to distant lands ie: Africa, Fiji, Mauritius, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, plantations are reported to be making headway in USA, Mexico, Australia and China and several countries of Latin America.

    Neem Oil is generally recommended for skin diseases while neem leaves are used for beauty purposes.

    The Neem leaf extracts have a powerful antiseptic, antifungal, antiviral and anti-bacterial effect. unlike synthetic chemicals that often produce side effects such as allergic reactions, rashes etc. Neem is gentle and does not create any complications.

    Unlike Neem seed oil, Neem leaves have a pleasant odour. An extract from neem leaves can be prepared as an alcoholic tincture or as tea. The alcohol extract has a dark green colour and is effective for several weeks. It can be used in anti ageing nourishing formulas, mouthwashes, facewashes, shower gels, soothing gels, face masks, skin toners etc

Did you know?

• The Vedas called Neem sarva roga nivarini, which means ‘one that cures all ailments and ills’.
• This tree is considered to be of divine origin, According to Indian mythology, amrita (ambrosia or the elixir of immortality) was being carried to heaven and a few drops of it fell on the Neem tree.
• Another story tells of the time the Sun took refuge in the Neem Tree to escape from the awesome powers of the demons.
• Planting three or more Neem trees during one’s lifetime was considered a surefire ticket to heaven.

Resource: Neem Foundation, Mumbai, India. "Neem: History of Usage".

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More information:

Neem & acne

Neem - contraceptive

Neem & cholesterol

Neem & diabetes

Neem & herpes

Neem & hypertension

Neem & malaria

Neem & pets

Neem & psoriasis

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