All About Neem
What is Neem?
We have included a lot of information on Neem below, if you are interested there are many sources on the internet which go into more detail than we have space for here. We also have two books available to purchase in our store
The Neem Tree
The Neem tree (Azadirachta indica) grows in tropical and sub tropical countries such as India, Africa and Australia. It belongs to the family Meliaccae, and is a cousin of the Chinaberry. It may reach up to 15m tall under ideal conditions, and is reported to live for up to 200 years. It has a short straight furrowed trunk, dark brown or grey in colour, with dense rounded crowns of pinnate leaves. It can tolerate temperatures of up to 120 deg. C, and rainfall as little as 45cm. It must have well drained soil, and will respond well to organic fertilisers - although being hardy, it can still grow luxuriantly in marginal and leached soils, up to an elevation of 1500m. Flowering is between February and May, with profuse clusters of small white flowers having a very sweet jasmine or honey-like scent. The flowers provide a good source of nectar for bees. Following on from flowering, the fruit are green drupes, turning golden yellow on ripening, which occurs during June, July and August in India. The fruits are about 1.5 cm long, edible, and loved by African children. The tree will normally begin bearing fruit after 3 to 5 years, and produce about 50 Kg annually when mature. The kernels of these fruits yield about 45% neem oil. The bark yields tannin and amber hued gum, used as a dye in textiles as well as the traditional medicinal usage. The Neem tree is related to mahogany, and is used locally for furniture and building purposes. The inherent properties of Neem make it resistant to termites. In India, it has not tended to be a 'plantation' species, and is seen along the roadside and in gardens. Local tradition dictates that Neem trees should be planted near the home to ensure good health to those that live there.
Indian culture dating back 4000 years makes reference to using the leaves, fruit and bark of the Neem tree for reputedly easing a variety of human ailments. The earliest Sanskrit writings outline its uses, which have been revered by Ayurvedic and Unani practitioners. The time honoured title 'Villlage Pharmacy' has been earned by virtue of its amazing properties. In 1922 a British archeologist discovered the 5000 year old Indus Valley site in North Western India (now Pakistan), where the Harappan civilization has been extensively studied. Clay pots were found containing medicinal herbs, most prominently Azadirachta indica or 'Neem'. The early systems of use, though simple, have stood the test of time - and are still used today in many parts of rural India. Fresh leaves are often picked and stored along with grain, or under mattresses to repel insects. Wounds are bathed in water boiled with neem leaves (decoction). Twigs of the neem tree are used daily by about 600 million people as a 'natural' toothbrush . In tropical countries, it is common practice to take neem leaf with the diet, and to make a paste from the leaves to use as a poultice.
Constituents of Neem
Plants are made up of thousands of chemicals, and Neem is no different in this respect. However, scientists are particularly interested in one family of chemicals particular to Neem, and responsible for its' amazing properties. These are the 'tetranortriterpenoids' or more specifically 'liminoids' - similar to steroids. About 40 of these chemicals act together, producing a 'synergistic' or 'enhanced' affect. The most active and well studied of these is 'Azadirachtin'. As scientists continue to fully unravel the mystery of Neem, they have discovered that although Neem terpenoids are present in almost all parts of the plant, the site, synthesis and accumulation of these chemicals occurs in the 'secretory cells'. These cells are most abundant in the seed kernels, from which the oil is harvested. The following are the most abundant and well studied chemicals in the Neem Tree:
Nimbin - Nimbidin - Nimbidol - Gedunin - Sodium Nimbinate - Quercetin - Salannin - Azadirachtin.
Extensive research has revealed the many & various beneficial properties they deliver. The oil is also rich in long chain fatty acids. In addition to the active ingredients listed above, analysis reveals many other vital nutrients: fibre, carbohydrates, calcium, at least ten essential amino acids and also carotenoids which are powerful antioxidants.
How is Neem used?
The beneficial properties of neem have led to its' inclusion in personal care products, such as soaps, shampoos and skin creams. Neem has been heralded: 'An Ancient Cure for a Modern World'. As we begin the 21st Century, Neem has been little known and under-utilised in Western culture. However, with bodies such as the National Research Council (USA) declaring Neem 'A tree for solving global problems' - the future seems optimistic. Requirements in the West are more exacting and stringent in respect of quality control assurances, but this is achievable by using carefully sourced raw materials from reliable and ethical sources, and using state of the art manufacturing technology.
This process utilises carbon dioxide at critical temperatures and pressures to extract the active ingredients of the neem leaf (or indeed, any other herb), without the usual high temperatures or harsh chemicals. This results in a far more concentrated extract, which closely resembles the fresh herb.