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Saturday 4 August 2007

Neem (Divine Tree) and Sultry Heat

This summer’s sultry heat in Delhi has been very inconvenient for me. Prickly heat and itching on whole body have kept me indoors. I tried almost all prickly heat powders available in the market but all proved ineffective. Then someone suggested to take freshly picked Neem leaves with water, first thing in the morning. I did it and problem has been almost cured. Summer is still bothering me but not to that extent as it was before taking Neem leaves.

I thought, I should share this experience with others. I also want to include in my post some information on Neem (Wikipedia).

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 Burma,India and Pakistan, growing in tropical and semi-tropical regions. Other vernacular names include Azad Dirakht (Persian), Margosa, Neeb (Arabic), Nimtree, Nimba (Sanskrit), Vepu, Vempu, Vepa (Telugu), Bevu in Kannada, Veppam in (Tamil) and Indian-lilac. Neem is a fast growing tree that can reach a height of 15-20 m, rarely to 35-40 m. It is evergreen but under severe drought it may shed most or nearly all of its leaves. The branches are wide spread. The fairly dense crown is roundish or oval and may reach the diameter of 15-20 m in old, free-standing specimens.

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Neem flowers close-up

Usage

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 as: antihelmintic, antifungal, antidiabetic, antibacterial, antiviral,and antifertility etc. It is particularly prescribed for skin disease (Puri, 1999).

  • Neem twigs are used for brushing teeth in India and Pakistan. This practice is perhaps one of the earliest and most effective forms of dental care.
  • 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).
  • 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.
  • Neem oil is useful for skin care such as acne, and keeping skin elasticity.
  • Traditionally, patients suffering from Chicken Pox sleep on the leaves in India owing to its medicinal value.

Horticultural usages

Neem is a source of environment-friendly biopesticides. Among the isolated neem constituents, liminoids (such as Azadirachtin) are effective in insect growth-regulating activity. 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.[3] 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 spiders, 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. It is also very good for treating worms (soak the branches and leaves in lukewarm water and then drink it).

Culinary use

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 South India.

Neem is also used in parts of mainland Southeast Asia, particularly in Cambodia (where it is known as sadao or sdao), Laos (where it is called kadao) and Vietnam (where it is called sầu đâu). 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.

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