Monday, January 12, 2009

Neem Tree - The "Village Pharmacy"

From the very beginning of recorded human history, people have used the mysterious Azadirachta indica or neem tree. Today, rural Indians call this tree their "village pharmacy" because of claims it "cures" diseases and disorders ranging from bad teeth and bedbugs to ulcers and malaria. The seeds, bark and leaves contain compounds called limonoids with proven antiseptic, antiviral, antipyretic, anti-inflammatory, anti-ulcer and antifungal uses.

The Neem Foundation suggests that a Neem tree needs little water and plenty of sunlight. The tree grows naturally in areas where the rainfall is in the range of 20 to 45 inches. It tolerates drought well but cannot withstand water-logged areas and poorly drained soils. Some small scale plantations are reportedly successful in the United States.

Neem tree is a cousin to mahogany. Neem also has a close relative called Chinaberry that grows in the United States.

Chinaberrytree (Melia azedarach L.) otherwize called China Tree, Pride of India or Umbrella Tree is a small Asian tree, 20 to 40 feet tall with a spreading crown. The tree has become naturalized in the southeastern United States where it was extensively used as an ornamental around old southern homes. It has managed to spread by root sprouts and an abundant seed crop.

Chinaberry's fast-growth and rapidly spreading thickets make it a significant invasive exotic pest plant in the U.S. Even so, it continues to be sold at some nurseries. Chinaberry outgrows, shades-out and displaces native vegetation; its bark and leaves and seeds are poisonous to farm and domestic animals.

Photo of Neem Tree on street in New Delhi, India - RAVEENDRAN/AFP/Getty Images


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