By Naini Setalvad
The medicinal properties of various parts of the neem tree make fascinating reading
Neem is called, ‘sarva roga nivarin’, in Sanskrit, meaning one that heals and cures all ailments. The humble neem leaf is indeed loaded with numerous properties. Neem toothpaste, soaps and creams are on display in most shops and adding neem leaves to bath water after a bout of chicken pox is a well-known practice in most Indian homes.
It is believed that the neem tree comes from Myanmar. It was found in the Indus Valley civilisation and is more than 5,000 years old. There are two kinds – the bitter variety known as kadwa neem, and kadi patta, the sweeter one, used as a seasoning in vegetables, curries and chutneys.
Neem is a part of everyday life in India. The shade of the tree is believed to be healthy due to its antiseptic properties and is a natural repellant against mosquitoes and other insects. Jaya Bachchan in a TV clip recently urged people to grow more neem trees and elaborated on its benefits. Chewing on neem leaves and sipping the juice is a well-known ritual on Gudi Padwa (New Year for certain states like Maharashtra and Karnataka).
Neem is a popular beauty aid. Bathing in neem water keeps the skin healthy and free from skin ailments. It has anti-aging action. It is also used in face and hair packs. Neem oil is believed to slow down greying of hair. It is also a natural contraceptive. The antiseptic property of neem leaf extracts help in controlling pimples and acne. Drinking neem juice first thing in the morning is effective in treating urinary tract infection.
Neem is also a powerful blood purifier and detoxifier and treats a variety of ailments from skin rashes, acne, eczema, and herpes, to malaria and diabetes. Neem oil is useful in treating psoriasis. It is a natural preservative. A handful of neem leaves added to stored rice and grains keeps them free from insects and weevils for more than a year.
Stubborn warts are cleared with the use of a high quality neem powder. Neem oil is a good moisturiser and heals skin lesions. Early ayurveda practitioners believed that high sugar levels in the body cause skin disease. Neem’s bitter quality was thought to counteract the sweetness. Therefore chewing a few neem leaves was a popular remedy. Neem strengthens the immune system minimising allergic responses and inflammations.
Neem leaf extract reduces clotting, slows rapid or abnormally high heartbeat, inhibits irregular heart rhythms, and lowers blood pressure and bad cholesterol. It reduces insulin level up to 50 per cent, therefore chewing a couple of neem leaves helps in keeping sugar levels in the body at ideal levels.
In rural India, chewing on neem bark is a popular version of the urban toothbrush and toothpaste. The white gleaming teeth of the practitioners are a testimony to its efficacy. Mouth infections, tooth decay, sore and bleeding gums have been successfully treated with neem mouth rinse or neem leaf extract added to the water.
Southeast Asia has used neem successfully for hundreds of years to reduce tumours. Japan holds several patents including for neem bark extracts which are effective against several types of cancer. Natural healer, Gilberto Aleman, treats patients with neem tea for chronic diseases such as retinis pimentos, in his health farm. A friend of mine who had retinal disorder and was losing her eyesight rapidly, visited a health farm, where they made her drink neem extract in tea. She has not been able to reverse her condition but further deterioration has definitely stopped. Neem leaves have anti-inflammatory activity, similar to drugs such as phenyl butazone and cortisone. They are excellent pain relievers. For rheumatism, topical applications of a warmed neem cream that contains neem oil and a mild neem tea will help lessen pain. Neem has a long history of relieving inflamed joints. It creates a balance in the immune system, directly affecting the progression of arthritis. The Global Neem Update says that dry powder of neem leaves is useful in restoring disturbed liver function.
The neem tree is the most researched tree in the world. It helps to keep the environment free of pollution, prevents epidemics and infectious diseases, and is useful to human beings and animals. Ticks in cats and dogs can be treated effectively with neem oil. Burning neem leaves on live coals at dusk keeps mosquitoes and insects away. The neem tree is indeed an indispensable part of our heritage that needs to be respected and revered for its uses. Could it be the modern man’s kalpavriksha (all-purpose tree)?
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