Neem (Azadirachta indica, syn. Melia azadirachta L., Antelaea azadirachta (L.) Adelb.) is a tree in the mahogany family Meliaceae. It is one of two species in the genus Azadirachta, and is native to India, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan growing in tropical and semi-tropical regions. Other vernacular names include Arya Veppu (Malayalam), Azad Dirakht (Persian), Nimba (Sanskrit and Marathi), DogonYaro (Nigerian), Margosa, Neeb (Arabic), Nimtree, Vepu, Vempu, Vepa (Telugu), Bevu (Kannada), Kohomba (Sinhala), Vempu (Tamil) and Indian Lilac (English). In East Africa it is also known as Mwarobaini (Swahili), which means the tree of the 40, as it is said to treat 40 different diseases. Mambu (Mal)
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.
* All parts of the tree (seeds, leaves, flowers and bark) are used for preparing many different medical preparations.
* Neem oil is used for preparing cosmetics (soap, shampoo, balms and creams), and is useful for skin care such as acne treatment, and keeping skin elasticity.
* Besides its use in traditional Indian medicine the neem tree is of great importance for its anti-desertification properties and possibly as a good carbon dioxide sink.
* Practictioners of traditional Indian medicine recommend that patients suffering from chicken pox sleep on neem leaves.
* Neem gum is used as a bulking agent and for the preparation of special purpose food (those for diabetics).
* Aqueous extracts of neem leaves have demonstrated significant antidiabetic potential.
Extract of neemtree leaves are thought to be helpful as malaria prophylaxis despite the fact that no comprehensive clinical studies are yet available. Private initiatives in Senegal were successful in several cases to prevent malaria. However, major NGOs such USAID are not supposed to use neemtree extracts unless the medical benefit has been proved with clinical studies.
Neem is a source of environment-friendly biopesticides. The unique feature of neem products is that they do not directly kill the pests, but alter the life-processing behavior in such a manner that the insect can no longer feed, breed or undergo metamorphosis. However, this does not mean that the plant extracts are harmful to all insects. Since, to be effective, the product has to be ingested, only the insects that feed on plant tissues succumb. Those that feed on nectar or other insects such as butterflies, bees, and ladybugs hardly accumulate significant concentrations of neem products.
Uses in pest and disease control
Neem is deemed very effective in the treatment of scabies although only preliminary scientific proof exists which still has to be corroborated, and is recommended for those who are sensitive to permethrin, a known insecticide which might be an irritant. Also, the scabies mite has yet to become resistant to neem, so in persistent cases neem has been shown to be very effective. There is also anecdotal evidence of its effectiveness in treating infestations of head lice in humans. A tea made of boiled neem leaves, sometimes combined with other herbs such as ginger, can be ingested to fight intestinal worms.
The oil is also used in sprays against fleas in cats and dogs.
Neem and its association with Hindu festivals in India
The tender shoots and flowers of the neem tree are eaten as a vegetable in India. Neem flowers are very popular for their use in Ugadi Pachadi (soup-like pickle)which is made on Ugadi day in the South Indian States of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. A souplike dish called Veppampoo Rasam (translated as “juice of neem flower”) made of the flower of neem is prepared in Tamil Nadu. Leaf or bark is considered an effective pitta pacifier due to its bitter taste. Hence, it is traditionally recommended during early summer in Ayurveda (that is, month of Chaitra as per the Hindu Calendar which usually falls in the month of March – April), and during Gudi Padva which is the New Year in the state of Maharashtra, we find an ancient practice of drinking a small quantity of neem juice or paste on that day before starting festivities. Like many Hindu festivals and their association with some food to avoid negative side-effects of that season or season change, neem juice is associated with Gudi Padva to remind people of using it during that particular month or season to pacify summer pitta.
Neem is also used in parts of mainland Southeast Asia, particularly in Cambodia and Thailand (where it is known as sadao or sdao), Laos (where it is called kadao) and Vietnam. Even lightly cooked, the flavour is quite bitter and thus the food is not enjoyed by all inhabitants of these nations, though it is believed to be good for one’s health. Neem Gum is a rich source of protein.
Other names: arya veppu, azad dirakht, bevu, margosa tree, nim, nimb, nimba, ravipriya
Medical uses and remedies:
Anthelmintic (parasites and worms)
Drowsiness / somnolence
Erysipelas (a kind of acute Streptococcus infection)
Capsules – A neem capsule is typically around 250 mg, although it may vary, and dosages may also change, though many are between 1 capsule twice per day, to 2 capsules 3 times per day. See an individual product for its specific details.
Flowers – Up to 5 g of dried flowers taken as powder may be used daily.
Leaves – Take up to ten dried leaves daily.
Oil – Neem oil is extremely strong and should be used in slight doses and diluted properly. Contact a medical professional for proper dosage of the oil form. Neem oil may be used either orally or topically.
Tea – An infusion of up to ten leaves may be taken daily.
Cautions and side effects:
Women who are pregnant or nursing should not take neem, and it should also not be administered to children. Neem use by young children may cause severe poisoning. Oral use of neem over an extended period of time may cause liver damage.
Neem trees appear very similar to the Chinaberry, however Chinaberry plants are extremely poisonous. Chinaberry is scientifically called Melia azedarach and is also known as bead tree, Indian lilac, Persian lilac, pride of China, umbrella tree, or white cedar, amongst other names. Do not use or ingest Chinaberry as it is toxic.
Check with a medical professional for additional precautions and contraindications before taking any herb.