Azadirachta indica, neem, the village dispensary. This amazing tree has so many uses that it’s hard to imagine a tropical garden being complete without it.
First, the tree has a deep tap root, making it drought hardly. It is not, however, tolerant of seasonal flooding or of frost. It helps rejuvenate damaged soils. In the hot climates it grows in, its shade is very welcome. It also makes a good windbreak. Timber from neem trees is termite resistant – a good feature in the tropics – and its calorie-rich wood makes good fuel. The flowers of neem also make good bee fodder.
Neem leaves are sometimes used in curries and chutneys in India. Extended consumption over long periods has the potential to damage the liver, so consumption should be occasional. Also, neem should NOT be consumed by pregnant women, women trying to conceive, or by small children.
The dried leaves are used as a moth repellent to protect clothes, in grain and dried fruit stores to protect from insects, and as a general insect repellent. Fresh leaves are sometimes eaten to rid the body of parasites. Twigs from the tree are chewed on one end, then used as a tooth brush.
Azadirachtin, the active ingredient in neem, is a very effective pesticide. It repels insects and disrupts their growth and reproduction. A neem solution can be sprayed directly on plants to deal with existing insects and to help repel further insect attack. To make a solution, simply bring a bucket of water to boil, add 2 handfuls of crushed seeds or 6 handfuls of minced leaves, and steep for 1 hour. Add a small amount of soap as a surfactant, strain and spray directly on plants. If only neem oil is available, mix 10 ml of neem oil with 1% azadirachtin content (get certified aflatoxin-free neem oil) with 500 ml of water and a touch of soap and spray the mixture on plants. Neem can also be used on animals to kill fleas, ticks, intestinal parasites, and repel blowflies. For a topical solution for animals, mix 1 ml of neem oil to 30 ml of water and spray it on the animal’s coat.
Looking at the medicinal uses of neem, it is easy to see why it is called the village dispensary. It is an emollient (soothes the skin), a purgative (a laxative), a vermifuge (rids internal and external parasites), a digestive agent, an anti-inflammatory, a sedative, a carminative (prevents gas), an anti-fungal agent, an antiviral, an antiseptic, and a diuretic. The list of ailments it is used to treat includes but is not limited to:
- Poor circulation
- Candida (yeast infection)
- Kidney problems
- Duodenal and peptic ulcers
- Liver problems
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Conjunctivitis (pink eye)
- Venereal disease
- Skin ulcers
- Urinary tract infections
- Athlete’s foot
- Head lice
Neem also has commercial value with popular products made from neem including soap, toothpaste, shampoo, candles, mouthwash, tea, and on and on.
If you are in the dry tropics and are looking for useful trees for your site, be sure to include this amazing tree to you list. With so many uses from neem, you’ll be glad you have it nearby, and your pests will hate you for it.