Over the last several years Neem (Azadirachta indica) has exploded onto the world market. In it’s native regions, places such as tropical areas of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and the southern islands of Iran, it has been a cultivated and valued for thousands of years. In these places people have known about and used the tree for it’s amazing medicinal, insecticidal, and fungicidal benefits.
Neem is an evergreen tree that can grown as tall as 50 feet. It is extremely hardy and can tolerate conditions such as drought to salty wet soil. It is fast growing (up to 10 feet per year!) and there are few, if any, pests that bother it. The neem flowers are beautiful and fragrant.
Because Neem requires a tropical to sub-tropical climate, it can only be grown to maturity outdoors in a few regions of the US (zone 10), such as the southern areas of California, Arizona, Texas and Florida. It can however do well in a contained plantings and can be moved in for winter and out for summer in more temperate areas. In places where temperatures do get to freezing or even down to as low as 25 degrees Fahrenheit it can survive outdoors but will die back every year. With good mulching and care you might be able to grow “neem bushes” in this type of climate. In the US, neem is not commercially grown in any real capacity. The potential though is there.
Though all parts of the neem tree contain the bioactive compounds that are beneficial in medicinal and agricultural applications, it is the seed kernel that contains the oil that is most easily extracted and most commonly used. Traditionally in India, the dried kernels are crushed and ground into a powder, placed in a cloth bag, which boiling water is then poured over. The crude extract is then collected.
Uses for Neem:
As a medicinal neem is used for its anti-malarial, antiseptic, antibacterial, anti-fungal, anti-parasitic, anti-inflammatory and anti-ulcer properties. It is used to treat skin diseases, and has been used to treat high blood sugar. Seriously, there is a ton of info out there about all the wonderful uses of this plant in Ayurvedic and Unani medicine medicine.
As an insecticidal, neem is sprayed on leaves to deter chewing insects. Sprayed on the insects themselves it will disrupt their growth and inhibit reproduction.
As a fungicidal it can be sprayed on roses and fruit trees to eradicate powdery mildew, rose rust and black spot.
As a vegetable, neem flowers and tender shoots are eaten in some traditional Indian dishes.
Neem is also used in cosmetics, soaps, mouth care products, and more…It is really a SUPER plant!
US seed sources:
more information: http://www.ncnhdistrict.org/aom/neem.html
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