Neem Therapy: Botany of Neem

The familiar Neeme plant belongs to the scientific family, Meliaceae. The plants of this family have some general medicinal properties. They are effective against kushta or skin diseases, worm infection and fever. They are bitter in taste but nourishing, astringent viz. have a power of contracting organic tissues (thus aiding healing up of the wounds) and induce vomiting.

Two important alkaloids developed by the members of this family are: margonine and chloroxyloine; the bitterness of the taste is due to them. Alkaloids are biochemical compounds in plants that have nitrogen as their base and these have specific physiological actions on the human body when given as medicines. The medicinal properties of plants are mainly due to them.

There are many important plants in India belonging to this family. They are as follows: Nimba, Azadiracta indica L, and mahanimba, Melia azaderach L (Persian lilac). It is these two, we discuss below in detail, particularly the former. The others are: mamsa rohini (the healer of flesh) Soymida, febrifuga (the fever destroyer) A. Juss (Indian Red Wood); tuna, Cedrela toona Roxb. (Toon tree; some varieties of this tree smell like garlic; infact, the horse riders of Java actually use its fruits in the place of garlic); rohitaka (the healer), Amoora rohitaka (from the Sanskrit name) W & A; mahagoni, Sweitenia mahogani (from the Sanskrit name) L (the Mahogany tree), a highly valued timber tree for furniture making: Chukrassia tabularis Juss. (Chittagong tree, the Hill neem or the White Damar); Sandoricum tndicurru cav. (Its properties are similar to neem.

Ordinary neem seeds are foul smelling, but the seeds here are fragrant. This is used in diarrhoea and dysentery): Lansium domesticum Jack (fruits are delicious and are called Lengset fruit; the plant contains a lansinic acid which is a heart poison); Milinea edulis (edible) (fruits are eaten); Trichilia spinosa (A scent and an oil are extracted out of its fruits; ayurvedic physicians employ this oil in treating rheumatism or joint pains); Trichilia emetica Roxb. (roots are used by Negro women in inducing abortion.

This is the vomit inducing or the emetic nut of Kerala); Naregamla alata W & A (a destroyer of pitta dosha; this small sized tree grows commonly around Goa and is also sold in the markets; it can very well form a substitute medicine to the famous Brazilian drug Ipecacuanha, which is most preferentially used in treating amoebic dysentery; priyangu Aglaia foxburgiana miq (The cool fruits are used in leprosy); Kapur bhendi Turraea villosa, Benn. (found in the western Himalayas and the Western Ghats in the South along the Konkan coast; roots are used in fistula and also given internally in black leprosy).

Neem or Azadirachta (the fever bark) indica (from India) L is a large sized evergreen tree found growing all over India, wild as well as cultivated. This occurs usually near human .habitations and sometimes as an avenue tree along the highways. It does not normally form a component of wild forests. That is why it is occasionally considered as an exotic tree viz. as introduced into India from foreign countries. But its knowledge is unmistakably present even in our oldest of Ayurvedic texts.

More importantly, figures of neem tree are found in the talismans unearthed from the Mohenjodaro remains. Neem is undoubtedly one of the typically native trees of India, attractive, densely shady and with shining yellowish green leaves generally crowded towards the ends of the branches. It is believed to be a health giving tree purifying the air all around. Its popular occurrence almost everywhere is a result of this belief.

The branches are long, spreading all around and are mainly responsible to give the characteristic graceful appearance to the tree. The colour and details of the bark which is historically the most important medicinal part of the tree varies depending upon the form and the age of the tree. The bark of the smaller branches is sticky and rather violet like jamun fruit in colour, with ash coloured lines all along.

The inner layer of the bark in a fresh state is reddish brown or yellowish white and tastes very bitter being rich in the alkaloid. This justifies the name of Fever-bark by which it was farnilar to the early European authors. The astringent property useful in contracting live tissues is abundant in the outer densely coloured layer of the bark, and not the inner region.

A shining amber coloured clear gum flows out from the bark. This is not bitter in taste like the bark and fully dissolves in the water. Because of such a solubility, it appears to ooze out as it were, constantly in the moist atmosphere surrounding the tree. This can be easily collected in quantity in small containers. Usually it smells strongly like fling or asafaetida; hence the name hingu nryasa in Sanskrit.

Leaves are 20 to 40 centimeters long and densely crowded as a crown at the ends of the branches. They are arranged alternately on the stem and are compound in nature with many leaflets on either side. Leaflets are 2-7 cm long, 1 to 3 cm broad and are described as impartpinnate viz with a single central leaflet at the tip and an equal number of leaflets on either side of a central axis.

The shape of the leaflet is that of a lance or it is lanceolate; the whole form of the leaf blade looks as if it is bent on one side; one half of it is larger than the other. The edge or margin of the leaf blade is serrate or cut up into teeth like projections. The typical colour of the leaf is yellowish green, which is what makes it soothing to the eyes.

Flowers are small, strongly smelling like sweet honey and clustered in a much branched elongated stock of the inflorescence. The sweet smell is particularly strong during nights and windy weathers. Flowering is seasonal, occurring once a year and generally in the month of March-May, during summer and almost as a harbinger of spring. Fruits ripen by June-August. ‘The tender fruits are green.

When ripe they become yellow, slippery, shining, ovoid, sweet and pulpy. A white milk like fluid oozes out when an unripe fruit is pressed; fruit will however turn sweet, fibrous,colourless and half viscous on ripening and becomes edible. The seed is usually single for a fruit, rarely two and resembles a ptsta seed.

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