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The neem tree is one of the most versatile of Indias plants.

Valued for centuries throughout tropical Asia for its multitude of

medicinal and other uses, it has recently attracted attention in the United States as an effective botanical insecticide.
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The umbrella-shaped neem, a member of the mahogany family (Meliaceae), grows to about 50 feet tall. It is generally evergreen,
though in some areas it may be briefly deciduous. Its foot-long leaves are divided into 8 to 18 toothed leaflets which measure 1 to 4
inches long by 1/2 to 1 1/2 inches wide. Fragrant white flowers about 1/2 inch broad in branching groups crowd in the leaf axils. The
thin-fleshed, egg-shaped yellow fruits measure about 3/4 inch long and contain a single seed.
The common name neem is derived from nimba, the Sanskrit word for this tree. Botanists know it as Azadirachta indica, the generic
name coming from Persian words meaning free or noble tree and the species name being Latin for Indian.
Neem is native to India and much of tropical Asia, and is widely cultivated in the tropics and subtropics, particularly in arid regions.
It has been introduced in much of Africa, and it is grown as a shade tree in the Middle East, especially Saudi Arabia. It is planted as a
street tree in Haiti and is also cultivated in Guatemala, Cuba, and Nicaragua. It grows in Hawaii and Florida but rarely flowers in the
latter state. In areas where temperatures dip below freezing, neem must be grown in a greenhouse or in pots which can be brought
indoors during cold weather.
The neem tree thrives in most soils, even saline and alkaline ones, but it does better on dry, poor, rocky soils than on wet ground.
The roots can penetrate a hard clay pan, which tends to increase soil fertility and helps to neutralize acidic soils.
Is there a part of the neem tree that hasnt been found useful? The wood, durable and resistant to insect attacks, has been used for
everything from furniture to boat oars, from agricultural implements to drums and carved images. Like its relative mahogany, it
takes on a good polish.
The young, tender branches have been widely used in India and other countries as chewing sticks to keep the teeth and gums clean
and healthy. Commercial toothpastes containing neem extracts are now available in India, Europe, and the United States. Limited
clinical trials have shown neem toothpaste to be a potential treatment for gingivitis. Neem branches are also placed in stored grain to
repel insects.
The bitter leaves and flowers are eaten as a potherb, and the fruit is also edible. In Indian folk medicine, the leaves are prescribed for
many ailments, including intestinal parasites, swollen glands, bruises, sprains, and malaria. Leaf extracts have been shown to have
antiviral activity and delay blood clotting (confirming their efficacy as traditional snakebite treatments), and the leaf essential oil has
strong antibacterial and antifungal activity. Research on neems potential against malaria is now under way in Africa.