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What is Neem?

THE NEEM TREE (AZADIRACTA INDICA. A USS)

 

THE NEEM TREE has been known as the wonder tree for centuries in the Indian sub-continent.

This robust looking tree has been cherished as a symbol of health in the country of its origin, INDIA.  Brihat Samita, the ancient Hindu treatise, contains chapter of verse on plant medicines and Neem was highly recommended. 

Neem is a medium sized to a large tree characterised by its short trunk,  furrowed brown to grey bark, and dense rounded crowns pinnate leaves.  Native to India, Neem is widely planted throughout Asia and Africa.  Neem is an evergreen of tropics and sub-tropics.  It belongs to the family Meliaccase and is a cousin of the Chinaberry.  With an extensive and deep root system, the hard Neem can grow luxuriantly even in marginal and leached soils. 

The neem  flowers profusely between February and May.   The honey scented white flowers, found in clusters, turn to a golden source of nectar for the bees.  Neem fruits are green drupes which turn golden yellow on ripening in the months of June, July and August.  The kernals have 45% oil.  The bark yields tannin and gum.

 

MEDICAL PROPERTIES

 The medical properties of neem have been known to Indians since time immemorial.  The earliest Sanskrit medical writings refer to the benefits of Neem's fruit, seeds,oil, leaves bark and roots.  Each has been used in the Indian Ayurvedic and Unani systems of medicines, and is being used in the manufacture of modern day medicinals, cosmetics, toiletries and pharmaceuticals.

Neem fruit, seeds, oil, leaves, bark and roots have been used in the treatment of urinary disorders, diarrhoea, and bronchitis, skin diseases, septic sores, infected burns, hypertension and inflammatory diseases. This is mainly due to its chemical constituents which enables neem to protect itself from a multitude of pests by a sustantial number of pestcidal ingredients.  Its main chemical composition is a blend of 3 to 4 related compounds along with over 20 lesser ones which are equally as active.  The general class of these compounds along with over 20 lesser ones, which are effective, are the limonoids, which are abundant  in Neem oil.  At least nine limonoids are effective in inhibiting insect growth , especially some of the most deadly varieties found in human health and agriculture worldwide.  Of these limonoids, azadirachtin has been found to be the main ingredient for fighting insects and pests, being up to 90% effective in most instances.  It repels and disrupts the life cycle, however does not kill immediately but is nonetheless one of the most effective growth and feeding detterents ever examined.  Meliantriol is another inhibitor which prevents locusts chewing and has therefore been in traditional use in India for crop protection.  Nimbin and nimbidin, also found in Neem have anti-viral properties and these have been effective in inhibiting fungal growth on humans and animals.   Gendunin, a lesser liminoid, is effective in treating malaria through teas and infusion of the leaves.

FUNGICIDES

Neem has proved effective against certain fungi that infect the human body.  Such fungi are an increasing problem and have been difficult to control by synthetic fungicides.  For example, one  laboratory study, conducted by Khan and Wassilew- 1987 Neem preparations showed toxocity to cultures of 14 common fungi, including members of the following genera:

Trichophyton - an 'athlete foot' fungus that infects hair, skin and nails

Epidermophyton - a ringworm that invades both skin and nails of the feet

Microsporum - a ringworm that invadess hair, skin and rarely nails

Trichosporon - a fungus of the intestinal tract

Geotrichum - a yeast like fungus that causes infections of the bronchi,lungs and mucous membranes

Candida - a yeastlike fungus that is part of the normal flora but can get out of control, leading to lesions in mouth (thrush), vagina, skin, hands and lungs

THE PHSIO AND CHEMICAL COMPOSTION OF NEEM LEAVES

Moisture                   59.4%                          Fibre                     6.2%

Proteins                   7.1%                            Carbohydrates   22.9%

Fat                            1.0%                            Minerals              3.4%

Calcium                   510mg/100g              Phosporous      80mg/100g

Iron                           17mg                           Thiamine           0.04mg/100g

Niacin                       1.40mg/100g             Vitamin C           218mg/100g

Carotene                  1998 micro/100g      Glutamic acid    73.30mg

Tyrosine                    31.50mg/100g