Neem – the legendary medicinal tree of India has grown with the human settlement all over the country and has been an integral part of the Indian way of life for centuries. The history of the Neem tree is inextricably linked to the history of the Indian civilization.
The Neem tree has for a very long time been a friend and protector of the Indian villagers. For ages Indians have trusted this tree to fortify their health and remedy scores of diseases. In addition, it has been used for protecting food and stored grains and as a fertilizer and natural pesticide for the fields. It has been used for a far wider array of uses than any other tree!
The Neem tree (Azadirachta indica A. Juss) was probably India’s best kept secret! Ancient India was envied for its Black Pepper, Cardamom, Saffron, Turmeric, Sandalwood, Silk etc. and these prized ingredients were sought after and taken across the seas to Europe for centuries. The British Raj also failed to grasp the significance of the presence of this tree in every nook and corner of India (barring the Himalayas and the coastal regions). Perhaps, if they had known about the wonderful array of uses of the Neem Tree, it would have become a worldwide phenomenon ages ago!
For Indians, the Neem tree had many fascinating aspects. For the children this evergreen, attractive tree was a haven from sun and rain – they spent hours in its cooling shade, plucked the sweet ripe fruit for a snack and built tree houses, which they shared with butterflies, birds and bees. This tree was the chosen one because its shade is known to be cooler than any other tree’s, and also, no bugs or insects are to be found under it because of its repellant action.
For the women, the neem was the mainstay of the herbal beauty tradition. It was also a source of medicine to treat more than a 100 health problems, from scratches and skin rashes to malaria and diabetes. The women also used it to protect their stored grains and pulses through the year.
For the men folk the tree provided seeds, leaf and bark which could be converted into fertilizer and pest control material. It also provided medicinal potions for their cattle and livestock. Besides, the breeze that blew through the boughs of the tree kept their homes free of bacteria and viruses and cool through the summer.
For centuries Indians planted this tree in the vicinity of their homes and practiced gentle and daily interaction with this extraordinary plant. For women in particular, the Neem proved an invaluable source of health, hygiene and beauty that was freely available. Having a bath with a decoction of neem leaves kept their skin supple and healthy. Neem leaf powder or crushed leaves incorporated into their face packs provided emollient and anti ageing action. The antiseptic properties of neem leaf extracts helped in controlling pimples and acne.
In some parts of India, it was a regular practice to apply coryllium (lamp black) along the side of the eye, particularly by young ladies as a beauty aid to make eyes conspicuous. The common method employed to make lamp black was to take an earthen lamp and put neem oil and a cotton wick in it. When ignited, the wick liberated copious smoke from which lamp black could be collected, by placing a brass cup containing water for cooling, some distance away from the flame. The lamp black deposit was then scraped from underneath the cup and mixed with a small quantity of mustard oil to form a thick paste called Kaajal.
Neem oil was believed to prevent baldness and graying of hair and was used as anti-lice and anti-dandruff treatment. A teaspoon of dried neem leaf powder, mixed with the same quantity of ghee (clarified butter) and honey was known to help control skin allergies.
A mixture of equal quantities of neem seed powder, rock salt and alum mixed well was used for maintaining healthy teeth and gums.
Nimba, the great medicine for the cure of pitta – aggravations and for blood purification – Priyanighantu Harotakyadivarga
All these practices have been validated by modern science. We know today that this extraordinary tree can do all that it can do because of the sheer range of compounds present in it. A 132 to be precise have been identified to date. Modern research has uncovered the secret of its effectiveness. Its powerful antibacterial, anti-fungal, antiviral and antiseptic properties make it particularly effective in treating anything from dandruff to acne, eczema to malaria and cold sores to warts! Ironically, it is this very versatility that for so long has kept this tree and it’s amazing properties from taking center stage. The mindset that consumers have been shaped into dictates that there has to be a specialist solution to each problem, in order for the solution to be effective. That one tree can solve so many diverse problems is simply suspect in today’s market.
The word NEEM is derived from Sanskrit Nimba which means ‘bestower of good health’. It has also been known as Ravisambha – sun ray like effects in providing health. The Neem tree has been venerated through the ages in the Indian countryside as it provided hope in any situation and the faith in the miraculous healing powers of this amazing tree led patients with incurable diseases to adopt neem as way life. They lived in the shade of the tree, drank infusion of various part (Leaf, bark, etc) as advised by Ayurvedic tradition. They used young twigs for oral hygiene first thing in the morning, ate tender leaves as salad or cooked leaves with vegetable as food. Neem gums was used as lozenges for dryness of throat and allay thirst. In summer, sweet, ripe fruit were sucked for their sweetish pulp. All this together, probably strengthened their immune system to meet any challenge!!!
Its medicinal properties are documented in the ancient Sanskrit texts – Puranas and it is estimated that Neem is present, in one form or another, in 75% of Ayurvedic formulations.
The ancient Indian found many therapeutic uses for the tree and also observed that the tree could survive and grow almost anywhere as long as it was warm and dry. In due course of time, migrating Indians carried it to distant lands ie: Africa, Fiji, Mauritius, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, plantations are reported to be making headway in USA, Mexico, Australia and China and several countries of Latin America.
Neem Oil is generally recommended for skin diseases while neem leaves are used for beauty purposes.
The Neem leaf extracts have a powerful antiseptic, anti-fungal, antiviral and anti-bacterial effect. Unlike synthetic chemicals that often produce side effects such as allergic reactions, rashes etc. Neem is gentle and does not create any complications.
Unlike Neem seed oil, Neem leaves have a pleasant odor. An extract from neem leaves can be prepared as an alcoholic tincture or as tea. The alcohol extract has a dark green colour and is effective for several weeks. It can be used in anti ageing nourishing formulas, mouthwashes, face washes, shower gels, soothing gels, face masks, skin toners etc
Did you know?
- The Vedas called Neem, “SARVA ROGA NIVARINI”, which means ‘one that cures all ailments and ills’.
- This tree is considered to be of divine origin. According to Indian mythology, amrita (ambrosia or the elixir of immortality) was being carried to heaven and a few drops of it fell on the Neem tree.
- Another story tells of the time the Sun took refuge in the Neem Tree to escape from the awesome powers of the demons.
- Planting three or more Neem trees during one’s lifetime was considered a surefire ticket to heaven