The United Nations has declared Neem as “tree of the twenty-first century”? Why?Closeup view of a Neem treeCredit: Copyright (c) Vinod Pillai

Can you imagine a single tree providing numerous medicinal benefits and helping to control pests while improving the environs – all without any side effects? A tree that was well-known for over 5000 years in India and referred to as the “village pharmacy” for it’s amazing range of medicinal properties but which remained practically unknown for centuries?

Neem, also known as Margosa (Azadirachta indica), went unnoticed by foreign invaders and traders who targeted India for sandalwood, silk and spices, but during the last hundred years or so, modern research has confirmed the amazing properties of the neem tree that was hitherto confined to folklore and the practitioners of the ancient Indian medical system of Ayurveda. Today Neem is arguably the most researched tree, grown in many parts of the world and acknowledged as a very useful tree in many countries.

Neem is closely related to mahogany and is an evergreen tree with deep green leaves. It is found in almost every village in India growing in almost any type of soil, including wastelands, and requires very little water, provided there is sufficient sunlight.

Benefits of Neem Tree

Neem is known to absorb carbon dioxide and replenish the oxygen in the atmosphere faster than any other tree. It also provides excellent shade and helps in lowering the temperature in the vicinity. The tree can grow in wastelands and surprisingly improve the soil quality.  The wood from the tree is used for making agricultural implements and as firewood.

Besides all these general benefits, neem has many benefits that can be derived by making use of it’s roots, bark, leaves, fruits, seeds, and oil:

  1. Medicinal benefits : In India neem was always referred to as “sarva roga nivarini” (cure for all ailments ). It was used in a variety of ways for almost all ailments.
    • Modern Research has established that Neem is very useful as a general antiseptic and is effective against a variety of skin diseases, sores, boils, ulcer and eczema.
    • Neem seed and neem leaves have been known as good cures for malaria and modern research has established that it is indeed effective against the malaria parasite.
    • Neem is effective against various diseases like Candida, ringworm, athlete’s foot and other diseases caused by salmonella and Staphylococcus
    • In India it was believed that for small pox, chicken pox and warts a paste made of neem leaves could be applied with good results. Modern research confirms that neem does indeed have some antiviral properties.
    • Villagers in India have used neem twigs in place of toothbrushes for centuries. Given its antiseptic properties the neem twig naturally prevents many gum and dental diseases.
    • Neem oil or neem leaf paste is applied to hair as a cure for dandruff and lice. It is also believed to reverse hair fall.    
  2. Natural pesticide: Modern research has confirmed ancient knowledge that neem is effective in controlling and limiting the damage caused by almost 200 insect species. It is as effective as conventional synthetic pesticides and in some cases it is even better, in the sense that insects like green peach aphids and diamondback moth, which are resistant to synthetic pesticides, can be easily controlled by neem. Besides insect pests, neem has also proved to be effective against other plant pests like nematodes and snails.
  3. Beauty and Skincare: For thousands of years women in India have ensured that their skin remains healthy and supple by using a decoction of neem leaves for bathing.  By making use of a paste made from neem leaves as face pack, they got rid of pimples and acne. For their eyes, they prepared kajal from lamp black (soot) collected from a burning neem oil wick. 
  4. Birth Control: Recent research in India has established that neem oil has effective spermicidal properties without any adverse side effects.
  5. Use as fertilizer: Neem cake, which is the residue left after extracting oil from neem seeds and fruits, is useful as a fertilizer.

    Further research on neem is underway to confirm all the claims made about this unique tree and to discover the precise manner in which the active ingredients function to deliver the results.

    Neem has been a part of the Indian civilization for over 5000 years. It is a common saying in India that he who plants three or more neem trees during his lifetime is sure to go to heaven. The substantial benefits that can be derived from it, definitely makes it a very useful tree that will play a pivotal role in our future strategies to control pests and tackle diseases. 

    No wonder, the United Nations has declared Neem as “tree of the twenty-first century”