Neem (Azadirachta indica) is a tree in the mahogany family Meliaceae. It is one of two species in the genus Azadirachta, and is native to India, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Pakistan, growing in tropical and semi-tropical regions. Other vernacular names include Neem (Hindi, Urdu and Bengali), Nimm (Punjabi), Arya Veppu (Malayalam), Azad Dirakht (Persian), Nimba (Sanskrit and Marathi), DogonYaro (in some Nigerian languages), Margosa, Neeb (Arabic), Nimtree, Vepu, Vempu, Vepa (Telugu), Bevu (Kannada), Kohomba (Sinhala), Vempu (Tamil), Tamar (Burmese), xoan Ấn Độ (Vietnamese), and Indian Lilac (English). 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.
Neem is a fast-growing tree that can reach a height of 15-20 m (about 50-65 feet), rarely to 35-40 m (115-131 feet). It is evergreen, but in severe drought it may shed most or nearly all of its leaves. The branches are wide spread. The fairly dense crown is roundish or oval and may reach the diameter of 15-20 m in old, free-standing specimens.
In India, the tree is variously known as "Divine Tree," "Heal All," "Nature's Drugstore," "Village Pharmacy" and "Panacea for all diseases." Products made from neem have proven medicinal properties, being anthelmintic, antifungal, antidiabetic, antibacterial, antiviral, anti-fertility, and sedative. It is considered a major component in Ayurvedic medicine and is particularly prescribed for skin disease.
- All parts of the tree (seeds, leaves, flowers and bark) 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, shampoo, 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, it is 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, teeth cleaning was conducted by the chewing of slender neem branches. 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.
- Neem blossoms are used in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka to prepare Ugadi pachhadi. Actually, "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.
- 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.
- Extract of neem leaves is thought to be helpful as malaria prophylaxis despite the fact that no comprehensive clinical studies are yet available. In several cases, private initiatives in Senegal were successful in preventing malaria. However, major NGOs such as USAID are not supposed to use neem tree extracts unless the medical benefit has been proved with clinical studies.