Neem or nirnba as it is called in Sanskrit is a plant of varied uses in Ayurveda since ancient times and is highly extolled by expert physicians as well as practitioners of folk lore medicine. It is a much prized household remedy also. We have popular neem toothpaste and powder and the neem soap. These are tributes of modern pharmaceutical industry or the manufacturers of medicine to this age-old reputation of neem in oral hygiene and keeping up the health of skin.
The plant has thirty two names in Sanskrit. Some of the significant ones are: nimba (the basic term or the basonym). sutikta (auspiciously bitter, refreshing to the taste), pichumarda (controlling a type of leprosy called pichu), neta (leader – among the controllers of disease), ravisannibha (health giving, like sun), arishta (not infected with insects: insect resistant), sheeta (cooling) and cchardana (vomit inducing, emetic) and krimighna (destroying worms). All of these names refer to its medicinal value. Some of the other names describe the plant picturesquely.
They are: sumana (pleasing or soothing to the mind, referring to the graceful appearance of the whole tree), shirsha parna (bearing bunches of leaves at the ends of the branches), shukapriya, kakaphala (fruits, well liked by parrots and crows), malaka (surrounded by a garland of parrots and crows in search of these fruits), hinguniryasa (producing an exudation like asafetida or hing), pitasaraka (having its inner wood, yellow).
Neem (evidently an English form of the Sanskrit nimba) is “vembu” or veppam in Tamil bevu in Kannada, vepa in Telugu and veppu or aryaveppu in Malayalam. Its botanical name in Latin is Azadirachta indica. This is based on the Persian name Azadrakht Hindi (the fever bark from India) which the Muslims bestowed on Neem when they recognised its medicinal value and its source from India. Presumably this would have occurred in the early days of their coming to India.