The bitter neem tree:
Neem Tree – botanical name : Azadirachta Indica, is a native of India. It is an evergreen tree that grows to a moderate height of 30 to 40 feet. The leaves of the neem tree are crescent shaped with serrated edges. The mature tree has a large growth of white flowers which smell sweet at night. The fruits of this tree are like small olive shaped berries that grow in bunches. Though this tree grows on almost all kind of soils throughout India, it flourishes on black cotton soil. (It is called Margosa tree in English)
The neem tree has great medicinal benefits which have been recognised centuries ago. The leaves of the neem tree are bitter in taste. In Marathi this tree is called the “kadoo limb” (which means bitter neem). Neem has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties and extracts of the neem leaf and tree are used widely in the treatment for many diseases.
The various benefits of neem
According to Ayurveda, Neem is one of the most powerful blood-purifiers and detoxifiers and it is very effective in the treatment of pimples and acne. Many cosmetics, health care and skin care products are made from neem extracts. Neem soaps, neem toothpastes, neem blood purifying tonics, neem face packs are available in the market under many brand names. Many medicines use neem leaf extracts and neem oil as base.
Using neem leaves in your bathing water keeps your body free of odour.
Neem leaves and twigs are excellent for oral health. In the olden days, when toothpaste was not available, people used twigs of the neem tree as “datoons” or as a medium to clean their teeth.
Chewing on a fresh twig of neem is better than brushing your teeth with toothpaste as many toothpastes have ingredients that are not very good for health- such as SLS and glycerine. Glycerine apparently coats the teeth and inhibits the natural action of saliva of re-mineralising teeth. Dried neem leaves can be powdered and stored. Applying this powder on the teeth and gums everyday can help you keep your teeth free of infections and cavities.
Neem is a natural antipyretic
Neem leaves can be used to reduce fever. Neem leaves can help to reduce fever and itching in people suffering from chicken pox. If your child has a bad case of chicken pox, just spread fresh neem leaves on the bed and make the child lie on the bed of neem leaves with minimum clothing on the body. This not only helps in reducing the fever and itching but also kills of any germs that are released when the scabs fall off. After the scabs fall off, bathe the child with neem leaf water- that is boil some neem leaves in water and use this water ot sponge or bathe the child. This also helps in preventing any scars that may result because of the chicken pox.
Neem leaves are used to treat a variety of skin and fungal infections as it as strong anti-fungal properties.
Neem leaves as preservatives:
As a preservative, neem leaves are dried and then mixed with rice, wheat or any grains that you wish to store for a long period of time.
Neem leaves as pest inhibitors:
The Neem tree is recognized as an effective and environmental friendly source as pest inhibitor.
It does not kill the pests but rather alters the life-processing behavior or the environment, so that the insect can no longer feed, breed or undergo metamorphosis.
Dry Neem leaves are used in libraries to keep away book-eating worms. The well dried leaves are placed in between the books on the shelves, or can be placed in between the pages of old manuscripts to protect them from being damaged by mildew and silverfish.
Neem leaves are insect repellent and keep away mosquitoes and flies.
The benefits of neem are endless, and are recognised in India so much so that this tree is a part of Indian culture. Among Maharashtrians, the leaves of this tree are erected with the Gudhi on Gudhi- padwa, which is the Maharashtrain new year celebrated in the month of Chaitra which coincides with March. Traditionally, families begin the festivities by eating the bitter leaves of the neem tree. These leaves are usually chewed with Dhane-that is coriander seeds and jaggery. Coriander seeds and jaggery also have health benefits and keep the body temperature down in the summer months that follow and help to reduce the bitter taste of the neem leaves. Chewing this mixture helps purify the blood and strengthen the body’s immune system against diseases.
I still remember, as children we were all given just two neem leaves with a bit of jaggery and coriander seeds to eat, and then having my grandfather watch over all the children until we ate and swallowed that mixture trying not to gag at the terrible taste. It was not something we could easily escape from. We had to eat it no matter what because the bitter neem tree makes your health better!