Today as I was walking Rocco the Chihuahua, I noticed that the trees that he was marking are Neem, a native of India and other SE Asian countries. It makes a pleasant street tree here in Panama, but it's so much more. Follow Rocco for the rest of the story.
The Neem tree (Azadirachta indica) is commonly planted in tropical and sub-tropical areas around the world, thriving in arid lands like the Middle East as well as very wet places like Central America. As a member of the mahogany family, its wood is used for making furniture.
Neem's other uses are nothing less than amazing, hence the title of this little ode to the "panacea tree".
All parts of the tree are said to have medicinal properties (seeds, leaves, flowers and bark) and are used for preparing many different medical preparations.
Part of the Neem tree can be used as a spermicide
Neem oil is used for preparing cosmetics (soap, neem shampoo - Sunsan herbal, balms and creams, for example Margo soap), and is useful for skin care such as acne treatment, and keeping skin elasticity. Neem oil has been found to be an effective mosquito repellent.
Neem derivatives neutralise nearly 500 pests worldwide, including insects, mites, ticks, and nematodes, by affecting their behaviour and physiology. Neem does not normally kill pests right away, rather it repels them and affects their growth. As neem products are cheap and non-toxic to higher animals and most beneficial insects, they are well-suited for pest control in rural areas.
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.
Practitioners of traditional Indian medicine recommend that patients suffering from chicken pox sleep on neem leaves.
Neem gum is used as a bulking agent and for the preparation of special purpose food (for diabetics).
Aqueous extracts of neem leaves have demonstrated significant antidiabetic potential.
Traditionally, slender neem branches were chewed in order to clean one's teeth. Neem twigs are still collected and sold in markets for this use, and in India one often sees youngsters in the streets chewing on neem twigs.
A decoction prepared from neem roots is ingested to relieve fever in traditional Indian medicine.
Neem leaf paste is applied to the skin to treat acne, and in a similar vein is used for measles and chicken pox sufferers.
Neem blossoms are used in Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka to prepare Ugadi pachhadi. "Bevina hoovina gojju" (a type of curry prepared with neem blossoms) is common in Karnataka throughout the year. Dried blossoms are used when fresh blossoms are not available. In Tamilnadu, a rasam (veppam poo rasam) made with neem blossoms is a culinary speciality.
A mixture of neem flowers and bella (jaggery or unrefined brown sugar) is prepared and offered to friends and relatives, symbolic of sweet and bitter events in the upcoming new year.
Unfortunately, Neem doesn't tolerate freezing temperatures, so most of the U.S. won't be planting this wonder tree. As you travel in warmer climes, keep an eye out for its dark green leaves, small white fragrant flowers, and olive-like fruits.
Maybe the best part of all is this: the USDA and W.R. Grace were granted a patent on an anti-fungal product from Neem, which has been used in India for 2000 years. The good guys (and good tree) won that one on appeal and the patent was revoked.