Neem: Nature’s proven healer

Ayurvedic practitioners and veterinary medicine practitioners consider the neem to be a very useful plant for healing and preventing a wide array of conditions. Various parts of the plant – the fruit, seed, root, flower and bark – have been used in India since the days of Vedic civilization.

Botanical name: Azadirachta indica (Family: Meliaceae – Mahogony family)
English name: Margosa tree, Indian lilac
Hindi name: Neem, Nimb

The margosa tree is medium to large in size, 15–20 m in height with a clear bole of 8m grayish to dark grey tubercle bark.
Leaves: compound, imparipinnate, leaflets sub opposite, serrate, oblique at base.
Flowers: yellowish white in axillary panicles.
Fruits: one-seeded drupes with woody endocarp greenish yellow when ripe.
Seeds: ellipsoid, thick, fleshy and oily.

Parts used as medicine: bark, leaves, flowers, seed, oil.

Ayurvedic recommendations

Taste: Bitter, astringent
Quality: Acrid, refrigerant, insecticide, liver tonic, expectorant and tonic.
Potency: Cool.
Special actions: Reduces vitiated Pitta.

Conditions treated: Nervous diseases, dyspepsia, diarrhea, dysentery, tumors, inflammations, vitiated conditions of Vata and Pitta, burning sensation, ophthalmopathy, nephropathy, hepatopathy, throat infection, cough, bronchitis, leucorrhea, leprosy, epilepsy, hyperacidity, colic, piles, cardiac debility, hypertension, abortion, general debility and all female reproductive diseases.

Therapeutic uses

1. Ayurveda recommends the decoction of root bark as an anti-helminthic for children. This has to be followed by mild purgation. Juice of the leaf is also used for the same purpose.
2. Flowers are heated and applied as a poultice in case of headache, body ache, joint pains, and weakness of nerves.
3. The decoction of the leaves and bark is a known remedy for leprosy, skin diseases, and certain poisons.
4. The bark powder when taken with hot water helps control sugar levels in patients with diabetes.
5. The flower paste in curd when applied to scalp helps gets rid of lice and controls eruptions on the scalp.
6. In Ayurveda, the gum powder is administered for spleen and liver disorders.
7. The oil extracted from the seeds is used as external application for joint pains and gout to relieve acute pain and swelling.

Note: In large doses, the fresh leaves, bark, fruits and berry of the neem are poisonous and narcotic, and may even cause death.

Side effects:

1. The tender twig is used as therapeutic tooth brush. However, ‘neemstick’ should be avoided in cases of cough, indigestion, and nausea.
2. Neem seed oil should be used externally. Don’t ingest neem seed oil.
3. Avoid neem if pregnant or trying to conceive.
4. All side effects are similar in cases of pets (especially cats).

Source: Dr K Gowthaman, Medical Director, rVita (rVita Ayurveda Centers)

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Image: JM Garg