The Indian Lilac or neem (Azadirachta indica), is native to India and grows in tropical and subtropical regions. Christened as “sacred tree,” “Heal All,” “Nature’s Drugstore,” “Village Pharmacy,” and “Panacea for all Diseases” all parts of the tree including seeds, leaves, flowers, fruits, bark have medicinal properties. Neem tree due to its incredible properties has been declared as “tree of the 21st century” by United Nations.
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Neem in Ancient India
- The medicinal benefits of neem are mentioned in the ancient scriptures of Veda including Atharva Veda, Upanivahod, Amarkosha and Ghrysutra.
- The neem tree was regarded as sacred and used as a medicinal herb in the ancient Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa civilizations.
- In ancient Ayurvedic medical texts the medical information on neem mentions that all parts of the neem have health providing benefits.
- It can be safely mentioned that general population in India has been using neem for medical reasons for over 5000 years.
Neem and Indian festivals
- Neem is an integral part of Indian culture being used in a lot of Indian festivals.
- Ugadi, a festival celebrated in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka is marked with the preparation of ugadi pachhadi, a pickle made with neem flowers.
- During Gudi Padwa (New Year in the Indian state of Maharashtra) a small quantity of neem juice made in jiggery, tamarind and carom seeds, is drunk as a tradition before the start of festivities.
- In thousand year old tradition of Mariamman temple festival in Tamilnadu, the goddess is decorated with neem leaves and flowers.
- In the state of Orissa, the world famous Jagannath temple idols are made up of neem heart wood and some other essential oils and powders.
- In Bengal neem is considered to be the abode of “Sitala” the mother pox, who can cause or cure diseases. This is the reason why traditional pox treatment comprises of rubbing the body with neem leaves!
- Neem as food!
- The word neem is associated with bitterness and hence neem is not widely known and used as food. In some parts of India, tender shoots and leaves of neem are used as food.
- In ancient India, tender neem leaves were cooked like spinach and eaten. The bitterness of neem leaves can be removed by boiling it in water; it can also be fried in butter or oil to make them more pleasant.
- Trivia has it that Mahatma Gandhi used to eat neem leaf chutney despite its bitter taste!
- In India, a bitter tasting honey is prepared from bees using neem flowers as nectar source. Neem leaf tea is also used for drinking for remedial purposes.
Neem in folklore medicine
Folklore medicine has used neem traditionally in a number of ailments such as:
- Skin diseases
- Inflammations and fevers
- Rheumatic diseases
Traditionally neem has been put to a variety of use such as:
- Agent to increase urine flow (diuretic)
- Agent to increase the menstrual discharge (emmenagogue)
- Agent to reduce body temperature in fever (febrifuge)
- The various roots of administration of neem in folklore medicine are oral, vaginal and topical administrations.
- Traditionally, slender neem shoots have been chewed to clean teeth. You can still notice people selling neem twigs for this purpose. It is purported that neem twigs have excellent dental properties.
Neem in Ayurveda
In ancient Ayurveda scripted, neem has been termed as “Sarv Rog Nivarini” i.e. a reliever of all diseases. Different parts of neem have been used for different purposes in Ayurveda. It is considered as an excellent herb for skin.
Leaf: Leprosy, skin problems (acne, psoriasis and eczema), skin ulcers, loss of appetite, eye problems
Bark: Analgesic, fever
Flower: Removal of intestinal worms, phlegm, bile suppression
Fruit: Diabetes, eye problems, piles, intestine worms, urinary disorders, wounds, leprosy
Twig: Asthma, cough, piles
Gum: Scabies, wounds, ulcers, skin diseases
Seed: Intestine worms, leprosy
Oil: Intestine worms, skin disease, leprosy
Neem purifies the blood and hence finds use in the treatment of skin disease and diabetes. Ayurvedic practitioners have used neem in blood pressure and lowering of cholesterol. Neem also finds use in treatment of hair problems.
The anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-fungal properties of neem have led to its widespread use in body and hair soaps, lotions and creams.
Neem also enhances the immune system of the body and also protects against premature aging and diseases.
Neem in modern medicine system
Neem contains chemicals such as nimbin, nimbinin, nimbidin and azadirachtin which may help in reducing blood sugar levels, heal ulcers in the digestive tract, prevent conception, kill bacteria and prevent plaque formation in the mouth.
The various uses of neem in modern therapy are in the treatment of:
- Gum diseases
- Upset stomach
- Breathing conditions
- Head lice
- Skin conditions and diseases
- Heart diseases
- Birth control (contraception)
Neem and cancer
Neem has come up big way as an alternative treatment of cancer to be used along with the ongoing therapy and with the approval of the doctor. Research has shown that neem is effective against a number of cancers including lung, cancer, stomach, skin, prostate and breast cancer. Neem based creams have been used to treat skin cancers, and it has also been taken internally to treat lymphocytic cancer. Indian, Japanese and European scientists have discovered that neem bark, seeds and oils contain chemicals that help in reducing tumors. Another research has revealed that neem leaf extract prevents the spread of cancer from one part to another part in the body.
- Neem Capsules (Himalaya Herbal Health Care) has antibacterial, antifungal and blood purifying properties. It is useful in skin disorders and keeps skin healthy and glowing.
- Neem Face Pack (Himalaya Herbal Health Care) has antibacterial properties, regulates excess oil secretion, cleans clogged pores and prevents recurrence of pimples. It also improves skin texture.
- Protecting neem and turmeric soap (Himalaya Herbal Health Care) has antibacterial activities.
- Pure hands (Himalaya Herbal Health Care) is a disinfectant which prevents the spread of infection from person to person. Its constituents are neem, lemon and hrivera.
- Neem topical oil (Neem Aura Naturals) is useful for a number of skin and scalp problems.
- Neem leaf capsules (NeemAura Naturals) is used as a herbal dietary supplement used daily to support immune system function and to maintain healthy blood sugar levels.
- Wild crafted neem oil (NaturMix USA) is extremely effective in treating psoriasis. It moisturizes and protects the skin and helps in healing the skin lesions, scaling and irritation.
- Parker neem oil (Parker Biotech Pvt Ltd) is a natural pesticide.
1. Schmutterer H. The neem tree Azadirachta indica A. Juss. and other meliaceous plants: sources of unique natural products for integrated pest management, medicine, industry and other purposes. 1995, 696.
2. Tewari DN. Monograph on neem (Azadirachta indica A. Juss.). 1992, 279.