Neem, or margosa, belongs to the family, Meliaceae. It has a botanical name: Azadirachta indica. It grows in tropical and semi-tropical regions and is widely found in Burma, India, and Pakistan.
As a fast growing, evergreen tree, which can reach the height of 15-20 metres, neem is known for its innumerable medicinal properties. It is used as a main ingredient in many home remedies. Commending the medicinal properties of neem, numerous Sanskrit names have been coined by ayurveda acharyas. A few of them are mentioned below.
- Nimba, as it boosts health
- Pichumarda, as it destroys skin infections/diseases
- Arishta, as it can ward off “evil powers” that harm our body.
The neem tree has numerous medicinal properties by virtue of its chemical compounds. Seeds of the neem tree contain the highest concentration of azadirachtin, a chemical [an effective natural insectide]. Neem also has salannin, gedunin, azadirone, nimbin, nimbidine, nimbicidine, nimbinol, etc., which are important liminoids [steroid-like substances].
Neem has been the most traditionally used plant in India, Pakistan and Africa. It’s used to protect grains and cereals from pests.
Fresh neem leaves are mixed with grains and cereals before storage. A paste of fresh neem leaves is also rubbed against the wall of large mud bins, or gunny bags, in which the grains and cereals are stored. Sometimes, a thick layer of dry neem leaves are spread over grains. Neem oil, extracted from seeds, acts as an effective and safe bio-pesticide. Jute bags treated with neem oil, or extracts of neem, are also used to store food grains. Neem oil is a very cheap and effective household pesticide. It protects grains and legumes. Neem is used to protect stored roots and tubers from potato moth too.
Azadirachtin is available in high concentration in neem seeds. It is used as a “botanical pesticide,” and is environmentally-friendly. It prevents insects from feeding on plants and regulates the growth of insects.
Neem extracts, however, do not harm insects like bees and butterflies, which help in pollination.
Neem has many medicinal uses. The chemical compounds present in neem have anti-inflammatory, anti-arthritic, anti-fever, sugar/glucose regulation, antifungal, spermicidal, anti-malarial, antibacterial and diuretic properties. The flower, leaves, bark and seeds of neem are used in many home remedies and in preparation of medicines. The bark of neem helps reduce fever. The flowers are used in intestinal disorders. The juice from fresh leaves is very helpful in treating skin diseases, wounds, and also weight problems [obesity]. Oil from neem seeds is used in arthritis, skin diseases, and muscular sprains. Neem is very effective in treating gum diseases too.
Neem is known to be beneficial in treating skin disorders, as already cited, thanks to its antibiotic, antifungal and blood purifying properties. According to ayurveda disturbed pitta and kapha cause skin diseases. Neem pacifies “harmed” kapha and pitta, and helps cure skin ailments. It promotes wound healing as it is packed with anti-bacterial and astringent properties. In psoriasis, it reduces itching, irritation, roughness of skin and also psoriatic patches. In the same way, it heals eczema too. It also reduces infection and inflammation of acne [Also read, Beauty Salon in this issue]. Neem helps to maintain the health of scalp skin and prevents dandruff.
Due to its detoxifying properties, neem also helps to keep organs/systems healthy – especially our circulatory, digestive, respiratory and urinary systems.
Scientific studies have revealed that neem reduces blood sugar level. Hence, its usage supports diabetic patients to keep their blood sugar levels under control. Diabetes impairs blood circulation and can cause gangrene in lower extremities. Numerous scientific studies have highlighted the role of neem in keeping the circulatory system healthy, thus reducing the chances of gangrene. New studies have shown that neem also reduces blood cholesterol levels and helps to keep the heart healthy.
Neem flower pachidi, prepared from roasted neem flower, is a famous dish in South India. It is prepared during Ugadi [New Year]. Neem flower rasam, another tangy recipe, improves digestion and is very popular in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.
Extracts of skin-friendly neem are being used in bathing soaps, hair gels, body lotions etc.
Neem: Home Care
- Apply crushed fresh leaves of neem on acne. In body acne, mix fine paste of fresh neem leaves in some water and smear this mixture on the back, chest and shoulders
- In itching, application of neem oil on affected areas helps. Boil neem leaves in a big bowl of water and mix this in bathing water. This reduces body itch/itching
- Massaging neem oil to scalp removes head lice and prevents dandruff
- Mix dry neem powder, shikakai, and amla in water and apply this as pack on head . This has to be kept for 45 minutes and rinsed. It helps prevent hair loss and dandruff [Fresh neem leaves can also be used, instead of dry neem powder]
- A freshly prepared paste of turmeric, neem and sesame seeds is recommended in ayurveda for fungal infection between toes
- Fumigating the house with smoke from dried neem leaves in the evenings for 1-2 minutes is an excellent ayurvedic prescription to keep mosquitoes away.