Neem is a common household name in India. There are 2 different species which are known as neem in India.
The first one is the ‘Indian Neem’ commonly termedas the ‘Kadva Neem’ due to its bitter taste. It is of huge religious and medicinal value in India and its qualities are being recognized worldwide. Due to the bitter taste it does not find much culinary uses. This species is a tree in the mahogany family. It is native to India, Burma, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Pakistan. In East Africa it is also known as Muarubaini (Swahili), which means the tree of the 40, as it is said to treat 40 different diseases.
The leaves are of dark green color, which are 8-16 inches long. The essential oil from the neem leaves is also used in various antiseptics, cosmetics and medicines. The oil contains 3 bitter compounds – nimbin, nimbinin and nimbidin.
In India, the neem leaves are so easily available that no one needs to buy them separately. If one needs to buy them, it would be sun dried leaves packaged in plastic bags. Before buying such leaves always look for any signs of discoloration, fungal infestation and water drops in the bag. The plastic bag should be properly sealed to avoid any kind of infection.
Store in cool dry place and in an air tight container.
Culinary uses: Due to the bitter taste Indian neem leaves do not find much culinary uses but it is used in few religious ceremonies and rituals as it is considered to be an auspicious tree.
Young neem leaves with eggplant are used to make nim begun in Bengal. It is eaten with rice.
Pickled neem leaves are also eaten with tomato and fish paste sauce in Myanmar.
Chewing of young reddish colored neem leaves, early morning, is considered to protect against many diseases. Neem leaf juice/ extract have been proven by some recent researches to be anti-diabetic.
Neem leaves are said to have many health benefits. They find a liberal use in Ayurvedic and Unani medicines. Some of the qualities are listed below:
- They are effective anti-fungal, anti- bacterial and anti-viral.
- They are anti-diabetic.
- They act as a strong pesticide or pest repellent for almost 500 species of pests.
- It helps in blood purification.
- It also helps in curing indigestion.
- Neem leaf paste is used on acne,and for chicken pox and measles.
- Neem leaf juice is used for controlling blood sugar.
- Chicken pox sufferers are asked to sleep on bed covered with neem leaves.
- Fumigation of the house with dried neem leaves acts as mosquito repellent.
- Bathing with infusion of neem leaves is considered to be good for skin.
Dietary facts: Much work has not been done on the nutritional value of the neem leaves. Major work has been done on the functional components of neem leaves which are grouped as – “limonoids.”. Till now 9 different limonoids have been identified and new ones are still being worked upon. The more commonly known limonoids are: azadirachtin, salannin, meliantriol, and nimbin.
B. The second variety known as neem is a herb. It is commonly known as meetha neem or curry patta. The shape of the leaves and its arrangement on the twigs is quite similar to that of Indian neem tree. It is part of every kitchen garden in India.
In India, the plant is usually found in every house so much buying is not required. For buying the leaves always look for sun dried leaves which are properly packaged in a sealed plastic bag. Always look for signs of any fungal growth and water droplets in the packaging. Water droplets denote that the drying process was not followed properly. Buy in small quantities at a time.
Store the leaves in an opaque container in a cool, dry place. If fresh leaves are being stored than do not remove them from the stalk and keep it in the refrigerator. This increases their keeping time.
- It is an important part of Indian curry powder.
- It is used to season various South Indian dishes.
- It is used to flavor some rice preparations and dishes such as ‘khadi’.
- It is also used in meat and chicken dishes.
- It acts as an appetizer.
- It helps in various digestive problems.
- Curry leaf juice helps in preventing cataract.
- Boil curry leaves in coconut oil till they reduce to a black residue. Let the solution cool down. Regular use of this oil for oiling the hair will enhance hair growth.
- Fresh curry leave juice added with lime juice and honey controls blood sugar levels.
Dietary Facts: Curry leaves are a rich source of calcium, vitamin A in form of carotene and folic acid. It is low in calorie content and total fat content. It is a fair source of protein and fiber and provides moderate calories. This makes curry leaves ideal for people with anemia and calcium deficiency. The leaves contain 2.5% of essential oil which is responsible for the sweet, delicate aroma of the leaves.