Herb of the week – Neem


Neem 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, the month of Chaitra as per the Hindu Calendar which usually falls in the month of March – April).

Azadirachta indica Neem (Hindi) is a tree in the mahogany family Meliaceae. It is one of two species in the genus Azadirachta, and is native to India growing in tropical and semi-tropical regions. Its fruits and seeds are the source of neem oil.

Leaves

The opposite, pinnate leaves are 20–40 cms long, with 20 to 31 medium to dark green leaflets about 3–8 cms long.These leaves are also used in many Indian festivals (by making them into garlands).Elders find it useful in controlling high blood sugar level and is said to clean up the blood.Neem leaves are dried and placed in cupboards to prevent insects eating the clothes. Neem leaves are dried and burnt in the tropical regions to keep away mosquitoes.

Flowers

The white and fragrant flowers are arranged axillary, normally in more-or-less drooping panicles which are up to 25 cms long. An individual flower is 5–6 mm long and 8–11 mm wide.

Fruit

The fruit is a smooth olive-like drupe which varies in shape from elongate oval to nearly roundishThe fruit skin (exocarp) is thin and the bitter-sweet pulp (mesocarp) is yellowish-white and very fibrous.The white, hard inner shell (endocarp) of the fruit encloses one, rarely two or three, elongated seeds (kernels) having a brown seed coat.

Uses

  • Neem oil is used for preparing cosmetics and many oral health products.
  • Practitioners of traditional Indian medicine recommend that patients with chicken pox sleep on neem leaves.
  • Neem blossoms are used in Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka to prepare Ugadi pachhadi. In Tamilnadu, a rasam made with neem blossoms is a culinary specialty. In West Bengal, young neem leaves are fried in oil with tiny pieces of eggplant (brinjal). The dish is called nim begun and is the first item during a Bengali meal that acts as an appetizer. It is eaten with rice.
  • Azadirachtin : One of the first active ingredients isolated from neem,It appears to cause some 90% of the effect on most pests.
  • Fungicides : Neem has proved effective against certain fungi that infect the human body.
  • Antibacterials :In trials neem oil has suppressed several species of pathogenic bacteria including Staphylococcus & Salmonella spp.
  • Antiviral agents : In India,small pox, chicken pox have traditionally been treated with a paste of neem leaves – usually rubbed directly on to the infected skin.
  • Dermatological Insects : In India, villagers apply neem oil to the hair to kill head lice, reportedly with great success. Neem seed oil and leaf extracts may be the wonder cure for psoriasis. It relieves the itching and pain while reducing the scale and redness of the patchy lesions.
  • Dental Treatments : In India, millions of people use twigs as “tooth brushes” every day. Dentists have endorsed this ancient practice, finding it effective in preventing periodontal disease.
  • Malaria : Practitioners of the Indian Ayurvedic Medicine system have been preparing neem in oral doses for malarial patients for centuries.
  • Cosmetics : Neem is perceived in India as a beauty aid. Powdered leaves are a major component of atleast one widely used facial cream. Purified neem oil is also used in nail polish & other Cosmetics.
  • Lubricants : Neem oil is non drying and it resists degradation better than most vegetable oils. In rural India, it is commonly used to grease cart wheels.
  • Fertilizers : Neem has demonstrated considerable potential as a fertilizer. Neem cake is widely used to fertilize cash crops particularly sugarcane & vegetables.
  • Bark : Neem bark yields a strong, coarse fibre commonly woven into ropes in the villages of India.
  • Honey : In parts of Asia neem honey commands premium prices & people promote apiculture / apiary by planting neem trees.
  • Neem fruits : The fruits are recommended for urinary diseases, piles, intestinal worms, leprosy etc. The dry fruits are bruised in water & employed to treat cutaneous diseases.
  • Medicinal Use: Neem products are believed to be anthelmintic, antifungal, antidiabetic, antibacterial, antiviral, contraceptive and sedative. Neem products are also used in selectively controlling pests in plants. It is particularly prescribed for skin disease.

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