A practical guide for nutritional and traditional health care.
Azadirachta indica syn. Melia azadirachta, M. indica
The neem is a tree in the mahogany family Meliaceae. Neem is one of the two species of the genus Azadirachta. Neem is native to Burma and to India. It is a fast growing tree, and it can quickly reach a height of 15-20 m, and at times can even grow up to a height of 35-40 m. An evergreen tree, the neem is capable of surviving severe drought conditions, wherein it can shed some or all of its leaves and still flourish.
Some of the popular vernacular names used in reference to the neem are Nimtree, Margosa, Vepu, Nimba, Vempu, Veppam (Tamil), Indian-lilac, and Vepa (Telugu). A tree with widespread branches, the neem has a dense oval or round crown, and the diameter of the tree may reach almost 15 to 20 m, as is evident in several old free standing specimens to date.
The neem has a short and relatively thick trunk, of about 1.2m diameter, and the bark may be fissured and roughly textured, reddish brown or whitish gray in color. The sapwood of neem tree may be grayish white, the heartwood reddish when they are initially exposed to air, after which they may turn reddish brown in color. The root system of the neem is comprised of a strong taproot, and excellently developed lateral roots.
The pinnate leaves of the neem are alternating, and they can be about 20 to 40 cm long, with about 20 to 30 dark green to medium green leaflets about 3 to 8 cm in length. The leaves when they are very young can be purplish or reddish in color. More often than not, the terminal leaf is found to be missing, and the petioles are found to be very short. The mature leaflets are often asymmetric, and their margins are dentate, except for the base of their basis copal half, which is very strongly cuneate and reduced.
The flowers of the neem tree are small, white and fragrant. They are arranged in an axillary manner, and consist of more or less drooping pinnacles almost 25cm in length. The inflorescences bear about 150 to 250 flowers and one single flower maybe anywhere from 5-6 mm long and 8-11 mm wide. The neem is a polygamous tree, with protandrous, bisexual flowers as well as male flowers growing on the same individual.
The fruit of the neem tree can be described as a glabrous olive-like drupe, which can be either an elongated oval in shape, or completely rounded. The fruit when completely ripe can be about 1.4-2.8 x 1.0-1.5 cm in size and the skin of the neem fruit or in other words the exocarp is thin and delicate. The bitter-sweet pulp or the mesocarp, which can be about 0.3-0.5 cm thick, is yellowish-white and very fibrous. The endocarp or the white hard inner shell of the fruit normally encloses about one, or at time two, or even three elongated seeds that are encased in a hard outer shell or kernel which sports a brown color seed coat.
Bark, leaves, twigs, seeds, sap.
In India, the neem tree is considered to be a literal pharmacy in its own right. It is true that each and every small part of the neem tree has medicinal value and can be used for medicinal purposes. While the decoction of the bitter bark that has astringent properties can be used for the treatment of hemorrhoids, the neem leaves can be steeped for the treatment of malaria, intestinal worms and for peptic ulcers. The juice of the neem leaves, or an infusion, or neem ointment can be used externally to treat ulcers, eczema, wounds or boils. Even the twigs of this amazing tree can be used to clean one's teeth, and this would help to prevent gum disease and also help in firming up the gums. The neem oil, which is expressed from the seeds, can be used as a sort of anti-viral and anti-fungal hair dressing. This dressing is also known to prevent and get rid of lice and other infestations of the scalp. Leprosy can also be treated with the help of neem oil, and it is a fact that neem oil can be used as a vehicle for several other active ingredients. In addition, while the sap of the neem tree may be used as an external remedy in the treatment of leprosy, the seeds are considered to be spermicidal.
Habitat and cultivation
The neem tree is found growing in abundance in woody areas and in lowland tropical areas in Sri Lanka and in India, where it is native, and today this useful tree is also naturalized in several other tropical regions of the world, including Indonesia, West Africa and Australia.
Research conducted on the benefits of the neem tree have shown that while the oil of the neem is considered to have anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties, it also has the capacity and ability to reduce fever and lower blood sugar levels to a certain extent. Today, experts are avidly researching the possibility of neem oil being used as an effective contraceptive for both men and for women.
The oil of the neem tree generally obtained by pressing the seeds possesses remarkable and extraordinary properties in its various minor components. Upon analysis, the fatty acid profile of the neem oil was found to be completely unremarkable; it consisted primarily of saturated and of mono-unsaturated fatty acids. The various minor components of neem oil, which can also be found in its leaves and in its bark, can be used for several different and diverse applications.
For the skin and for the hair, neem oil is effective in treating conditions such as wart, pox, hepatitis, athlete's foot, ringworm, salmonella, candida, and staph. When neem oil is used as one of the main ingredients in soap, skin creams and shampoo, it is found to be effective in treating conditions such as fungi, viruses, and bacteria of the skin and hair.
For oral hygiene, neem oil can be used in toothpastes. The oil is found to have an immediate impact on receding gums, mouth ulcers, gum inflammation or pyorrhea, and also for tooth decay. In the areas where neem trees grow, people use its sticks or twigs to brush their teeth, and this can be an effective preventative measure for tooth decay and other oral conditions.
The oil of the neem tree can be used for pest control. The oil can be extremely effectual in repelling house flies and fleas when it is applied in the home. It also provides effective protection against flea bites, mosquito bites and sand fly or no-seeum bites. The neem oil can be applied to plants as a systemic pesticide, and it can prevent pests such as gypsy moths, fruit flies, fire ants, flour beetles, cabbage loopers, weevils and leaf miners from attacking and destroying crops and plants. Neem oil can also disrupt the growth and development of creatures such as cockroaches, thrips and potato beetles that can feed on precious plants, sterilizing, deforming, and eventually killing them. When applied properly, neem can kill snails, slugs, viruses, fungi, and bacteria, and has the capacity to stop the production of aflatoxin by fungi. Neem can be applied to soil, and when this is done, it can work as a preventative against nematodes and insects. Neem leaves and neem cakes help protect plant roots from pests, and they can also make the soil more fertile because they prevent the soil bacteria from wasting nitrogen and being destroyed like chemical pesticides may do.
The versatile neem oil can also be used as veterinary medicine; intestinal parasites including tapeworms, roundworms, nematodes, and other kinds of insects such as fleas, biting flies, lice ticks, and other tropical skin parasites that attack an animal. Neem can also be effective against genital tract infections in animals.
In human beings too, neem oil can be used against a wide variety of infections and ailments of the skin, of the blood, and of the lymph. Intestinal parasitic control and protection against a wide host of similar parasite-caused infections can also be achieved by using neem oil. However, although its toxicity appears to be quite low, it must still be remembered that testing of the oil has not yet been completed. One can expect to use neem oil very soon though, for the ‘morning-after' birth control, and also as an effective spermicide. Neem would also soon provide the basis for six-month reversible sterility preparations, an ongoing process.