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A Medicine Chest Hidden in the Neem Tree

Mukesh Khosla

The story goes back to the mythic past, when Bhardwaj Rishi, one of the most learned men in the entire cosmos, descended down from the heavens along with his disciple, Charaka, to rid mankind of pain and illness.
Thus was born the science of ayurveda, the Hindu stream of medicine which eons later, today, is finding recognition in leading western countries as well.

Charaka spent his life at his Guru’s feet and wrote Charakasamhita, which is considered the most exhaustive encyclopedia of Indian medicine containing names of a large number of plants and herbs which form the basis of ayurveda. Of these, there is one that stands out — neem (Azadirachta indica) which has a multitude of medicinal advantages and forms the basis of the ayurvedic pharmacy. In fact, the Sanskrit name of the neem tree is arishtha which means ‘reliever of sickness’.

Though centuries have passed, the neem tree has not lost its medicinal appeal. In fact, it is again a star among medical researchers and is discussed in seminars in the West even as modern science discovers its abundant curative qualities which the Indians knew millenniums ago. Neem finds mention in a number of pauranic and vedic texts which all deal with its superior healing powers.

Life Giving Qualities
Ayurveda practitioners have known all along that neem contains a treasure trove of life-giving qualities. It aids longevity, guards against heart disease, high blood pressure and arthritis.

Besides, it lowers cholesterol, clears arteries of fat and reduces the risk of tumour growth. It is also used to combat intestinal parasites, fungal infection and inflammatory diseases.

The extract of neem’s seed called margosa oil is used as a traditional medicine by Indians and in many other South Asian countries. The oil has amazing antiseptic properties and is used in the manufacture of anti-deratatic soaps and toothpastes. These soaps have natural anti dandruff qualities and give a shine to hair.

A section of the research believes that neem oil is an antidote to diabetes and reduces the body’s insulin requirement by half without altering blood glucose levels. It is said to be a great cure for obesity and the ancient Vaids usually recommended a bitter paste of neem leaves and margosa oil for those who wanted to lose weight. Its cosmetic values too are time-tested - it is a proven skin conditioner and banishes dandruff.

Effective Insecticide
One of the amazing uses of neem is in farming as it has superb pesticidal qualities. The Azadirachton  compound found in it is an effective repellant. Neem also contains salanin, a potent pest controller which is far more effective than any synthetically produced one. Neem leaves are biologically selective, not harming the useful pest predators but keeping almost 250 harmful types at bay.

Neem cake has been traditionally put into rice fields as a fertiliser and scientists recommend coating urea with neem cake to kill nitrifying bacteria.

Even water management with neem to control vectors of Japanese encephalitis has shown the triumph of neem over DDT. It is not surprising to see many farmers use its leaves and its kernel as an effective pesticide when growing food for their own consumption.

“Look at the damage these pesticides are doing to us,” says Dr. Y. S. Sarangi, a retired scientist, “many of these chemicals travel as far as six feet below the surface of the earth and do not stay in one place. They usually travel for miles and infiltrate neighbouring ponds, roots and ground water. They have the lethal power to affect crops, cattle and fish miles away from the source of contamination. It is vital that science comes out with a method to use neem as an insecticide in a big way.”
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