Friday, 6 July 2012

8. THE WONDER THAT IS NEEM



The miraculous medicinal properties of Neem were not lost to the ancient Indians who called it the “Sarva Roga Nivarini”. In Indian ancient scriptures, the story goes that, at the time of the Samudra Manthan (Churning of the Oceans) Lord Indra sprinkled ‘Amrita’ (the Nectar of Immortality) on earth, and wherever the droplets fell, there grew a Neem Tree. The ‘Charaka- Samhita’ and ‘Susruta-Samhita’, the foundation books of Ayurveda, list innumerable qualities of the Neem herb. 

Excavations at Mohen-jo-Daro, one of centers of the Indus Valley Civilization, reveal that Neem was extensively in use even then. In the 2nd century BC, Emperor Ashoka is known to have had Neem Trees planted in every village of his empire and all the main travel routes of his empire.Today the Neem tree has been crowned as the “Future of Pesticides” for its extremely low toxicity. It has even caught the attention of the United Nations which has declared the Neem Tree, as the “Tree of the 21st Century”. The chemical Azadirachtin, extracted from the Neem tree earns more than 2.5 billion US dollars annually for India.

In rural India, the medicinal properties of this “Kalpavriksha” are still remembered, and the Neem is extensively used in the daily routine. Neem twigs or ‘danton’ are commonly used for brushing teeth. In the US, Neem Tree is now therefore also known as the “toothbrush-tree”! Neem oil is used for relief from fungal and other microbial infections. It is also used as a de-worming agent for children. Neem leaves are added to the feed of milch cattle to protect them from infections, and to fruit & vegetable when packing, to increase their shelf life.

Neem leaves are laid on the floor of the room particularly under the bed of a person affected by measles, mumps or chicken pox. Neem leaves are hung on the doorway to announce goddess Sitala’s presence in the house. Some may dismiss this as rural superstition but the reasons are not unscientific - far from it.The Neem Tree has active bio-chemical compounds such as ‘Nimbin’ which is a known anti-fungal and anti-allergen. ‘Nimbidin’, another chemical found in Neem, has anti-bacterial properties and gives relief from ulcers. Its other component, ‘Gedunin’ is effective against Malaria and ‘Quercetin’ is an anti-oxidant. Cumulatively, all these properties make the Neem extract a general immunity boosting potion.

There is a scramble today for research on the anti-malarial properties of extract of Neem leaves, as the Malarial parasite is now becoming resistant to some of the commonly prescribed Malaria drugs such as Chloroquine and Artemisinin. There are more than 500 reports on Neem based research on the National Institute of Health website which shows the positive results of Neem from diseases ranging from AIIDS to Arthritis to Cancer. 

Results from research undertaken by the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute, India in 1996 indicated that Neem Tree has a very high rate of Carbon Dioxide Fixation and is therefore the most suitable species for checking urban pollution in industrial locations. It also provides effective shield from other pollutants like Sulphur Dioxide.

The use of Neem in Cosmetic & Toiletry industry started way back in the 1960s when, Margo, the first Neem based Indian soap was exported to the United States. But it is only now that Neem extract has reached a wonder-herb status, though a majority of people in the Western world still think of Neem as only an approved non-toxic pesticide.Taking a leaf out of Indian Ayurveda, many international brands have incorporated Neem (and other Ayurvedic herbs) in their product-lines. And many celebrities swear by their positive results. Supermodel Christy Turlington, who first turned towards Ayurveda and Yoga in the 1980s, launched her own Ayurveda & Neem based cosmetic & toiletry line in 1998.Though Cosmetic giants maybe fighting for their share of the Neem-product market, while governments and pharmaceutical companies fight for Neem patent rights, the common man or women in India can enjoy, as they have for centuries, the benefits of this commonly available products.
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