Quick facts for kidsAzadirachta indica
|Azadirachta indica, flowers and leaves|
Neem is a tree in the mahogany family Meliaceae. It is native to India, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Pakistan. It grows in tropical and semi-tropical regions. It was also the state tree of Hyderabad Deccan.
Neem is a fast-growing tree that can reach a height of 15–20 metres (49–66 ft), and rarely 35–40 metres (115–131 ft). It is evergreen, but in severe drought it may shed most of its leaves or nearly all leaves. The branches are wide and spreading. The fairly dense crown is roundish and may reach a diameter of 20–25 metres (66–82 ft). The neem tree is very similar in appearance to its relative, the Chinaberry (Melia azedarach).
The opposite, pinnate leaves are 20–40 centimetres (7.9–15.7 in) long, with 20 to 31 medium to dark green leaflets about 3–8 centimetres (1.2–3.1 in) long. The terminal leaflet often is missing. The petioles are short.
The (white and fragrant) flowers are arranged in more-or-less drooping axillary panicles which are up to 25 centimetres (9.8 in) long. The inflorescences, which branch up to the third degree, bear from 250 to 300 flowers. An individual flower is 5–6 millimetres (0.20–0.24 in) long and 8–11 millimetres (0.31–0.43 in) wide. Protandrous, bisexual flowers and male flowers exist on the same individual tree.
The fruit is a smooth (glabrous), olive-like drupe which varies in shape from elongate oval to nearly roundish, and when ripe is 1.4–2.8 centimetres (0.55–1.10 in) by 1.0–1.5 centimetres (0.39–0.59 in). The fruit skin (exocarp) is thin and the bitter-sweet pulp (mesocarp) is yellowish-white and very fibrous. The mesocarp is 0.3–0.5 centimetres (0.12–0.20 in) thick. The white, hard inner shell (endocarp) of the fruit encloses one, rarely two, or three, elongated seeds (kernels) having a brown seed coat.
The neem tree is often confused with a similar looking tree called bakain. Bakain also has toothed leaflets and similar looking fruit. One difference is that neem leaves are pinnate but bakain leaves are twice- and thrice-pinnate. Its fruit are shaped like miniature apples.
Neem leaves are dried in India and placed in cupboards to prevent insects eating the clothes, and also in tins where rice is stored. These flowers are also used in many Indian festivals like Ugadi. See below: #Association with Hindu festivals in India. As an ayurvedic herb, neem is also used in baths.
As a vegetable
The tender shoots and flowers of the neem tree are eaten as a vegetable in India. A souplike dish called Veppampoo charu (Tamil) (translated as "neem flower rasam") made of the flower of neem is prepared in Tamil Nadu. In Bengal, young neem leaves are fried in oil with tiny pieces of eggplant (brinjal). The dish is called nim begun and is the first item during a Bengali meal that acts as an appetizer. It is eaten with rice.
Neem is used in parts of mainland Southeast Asia, particularly in Cambodia aka sdov—ស្ដៅវ, Laos (where it is called kadao), Thailand (where it is known as sadao or sdao), Myanmar (where it is known as tamar) and Vietnam (where it is known as sầu đâu and is used to cook the salad gỏi sầu đâu). Even lightly cooked, the flavour is quite bitter and the food is not enjoyed by all inhabitants of these nations, though it is believed to be good for one's health. Neem gum is a rich source of protein. In Myanmar, young neem leaves and flower buds are boiled with tamarind fruit to soften its bitterness and eaten as a vegetable. Pickled neem leaves are also eaten with tomato and fish paste sauce in Myanmar.
Traditional medicinal use
Products made from neem trees have been used in India for over two millennia for their medicinal properties. Neem products are believed by Siddha and Ayurvedic practitioners to be anthelmintic, antifungal, antidiabetic, antibacterial, antiviral, contraceptive, and sedative. It is considered a major component in siddha medicine and Ayurvedic and Unani medicine and is particularly prescribed for skin diseases. Neem oil is also used for healthy hair, to improve liver function, detoxify the blood, and balance blood sugar levels. Neem leaves have also been used to treat skin diseases like eczema, psoriasis, etc.
Insufficient research has been done to assess the purported benefits of neem, however. In adults, short-term use of neem is safe, while long-term use may harm the kidneys or liver; in small children, neem oil is toxic and can lead to death. Neem may also cause miscarriages, infertility, and low blood sugar.
Neem oil can cause some forms of toxic encephalopathy and ophthalmopathy if consumed in large quantities.
Pest and disease control
Neem (Ineem) is a key ingredient in non-pesticidal management (NPM), providing a natural alternative to synthetic pesticides. Neem seeds are ground into a powder that is soaked overnight in water and sprayed onto the crop. To be effective, it must be applied repeatedly, at least every ten days. Neem does not directly kill insects on the crop. It acts as an anti-feedant, repellent, and egg-laying deterrent, protecting the crop from damage. The insects starve and die within a few days. Neem also suppresses the hatching of pest insects from their eggs. Neem-based fertilizeres have been effective against the pest southern armyworm. Neem cake is often sold as a fertilizer.
Neem oil has been shown to avert termite attack as an ecofriendly and economical agent.
Neem oil for polymeric resins
Applications of neem oil in the preparation of polymeric resins have been documented in the recent reports. The synthesis of various alkyd resins from neem oil is reported using a monoglyceride (MG) route and their utilization for the preparation of PU coatings. The alkyds are prepared from reaction of conventional divalent acid materials like phthalic and maleic anhydrides with MG of neem oil.
The juice of this plant is a potent ingredient for a mixture of wall plaster, according to the Samarāṅgaṇa Sūtradhāra, which is a Sanskrit treatise dealing with Śilpaśāstra (Hindu science of art and construction).
- Hair Comb: Wood of neem tree is used to handcraft hair combs and it is believed that regular use can control hair loss, dandruff and other scalp problems.
- Toiletries: Neem oil is used for preparing cosmetics such as soap, shampoo, balms, and creams as well as toothpaste
- Animal Treatment: Used to treat sweet itch and mud fever in horses
- Toothbrush: Traditionally, slender neem twigs (called datun) are first chewed as a toothbrush and then split as a tongue cleaner. This practice has been in use in India, Africa, and the Middle East for centuries. It is still used in India's rural areas. Neem twigs are still collected and sold in rural markets for this use. It has been found to be as effective as a toothbrush in reducing plaque and gingival inflammation.
- Tree: Besides its use in traditional Indian medicine, the neem tree is of great importance for its anti-desertification properties and possibly as a good carbon dioxide sink.
- Neem gum is used as a bulking agent and for the preparation of special purpose foods.
- Neem blossoms are used in Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and Karnataka to prepare Ugadi pachhadi. A mixture of neem flowers and jaggery (or unrefined brown sugar) is prepared and offered to friends and relatives, symbolic of sweet and bitter events in the upcoming new year, Ugadi. "Bevina hoovina gojju" (a type of curry prepared with neem blossoms) is common in Karnataka throughout the year. Dried blossoms are used when fresh blossoms are not available. In Tamil Nadu, a rasam (veppam poo rasam) made with neem blossoms is a culinary specialty.
- Cosmetics: Neem is perceived in India as a beauty aid. Powdered leaves are a major component of at least one widely used facial cream. Purified neem oil is also used in nail polish and other cosmetics.
- Bird repellent: Neem leaf boiled in water can be used as a very cost-effective bird repellent, especially for sparrows.
- Lubricant: Neem oil is non-drying and it resists degradation better than most vegetable oils. In rural India, it is commonly used to grease cart wheels.
- Fertilizer: Neem extract is added to fertilizers (urea) as a nitrification inhibitor.
- Plant protectant: In Karnataka, people grow the tree mainly for its green leaves and twigs, which they puddle into flooded rice fields before the rice seedlings are transplanted.
- Resin: An exudate can be tapped from the trunk by wounding the bark. This high protein material is not a substitute for polysaccharide gum, such as gum arabic. It may, however, have a potential as a food additive, and it is widely used in South Asia as "Neem glue".
- Bark: Neem bark contains 14% tannin, an amount similar to that in conventional tannin-yielding trees (such as Acacia decurrens). Moreover, it yields a strong, coarse fibre commonly woven into ropes in the villages of India.
- Honey: In parts of Asia neem honey commands premium prices, and people promote apiculture by planting neem trees.
- Soap: 80% of India's supply of neem oil now is used by neem oil soap manufacturers. Although much of it goes to small-scale speciality soaps, often using cold-pressed oil, large-scale producers also use it, mainly because it is cheap. Additionally it is antibacterial and antifungal, soothing, and moisturising. It can be made with up to 40% neem oil. Generally, the crude oil is used to produce coarse laundry soaps.
- Animal feed: Neem leaves can be occasionally used as forage for ruminants and rabbits.
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Neem Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.