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Neem:
The Wonder Tree

By Dr. Rahman

The neem tree (Azadirachta indica) is regarded as one of mother nature's gift to the world. In India, it is commonly found in house compounds in both villages and cities.

Green twigs are used as toothbrushes to combat teeth decay. Its extracts have a powerful pesticidal activity and are used by both households and farmers to control a wide variety of pests (insects, fungi, bacteria, viruses, nematodes, rodents etc.). These extracts have considerable antiseptic affects and are used as a skin care agent in soaps and shampoos. The leaves are often mixed with rice and consumed as a cure all and prophylactic against bacterial and helminthic infections. Neem leaf pastes are used to repair scarred skins arising from the effects of chickenpox.

The pesticidal and medicinal properties of extracts from the neem tree have been exploited for at least the last 2500 years.

Neem extracts
Sanskrit texts dating back to the sixth century BC, document the microbicidal and prophylactic effects of neem extracts. Charaka in the 6th Century BC recommended the oral consumption of neem extracts to ward off pimples, leprosy and edema.

Neem extracts have also been shown to be effective against nematode pests. Neem cake, the by product from neem seed processing appears to be effective on nematodes, snails and certain fungi. The neem tree and its extracts surprisingly appear to be benign to bees and other nectar feeding insects. Seed extracts are not known to have any toxic effect on plants, mammals and birds and in fact in studies by the US EPA, no LD-501 could be established even at high doses.

Neem-leaf smoke
Sushruta in the 5th century BC recommended the use of neem-leaf smoke for fumigation and maintenance of general hygiene. He also recommended it as a "krimihara", an agent effective against insects, grubs and maggots and detailed the ability of neem leaves to cure gangrenous and otherwise difficult to cure wounds.

Biochemical factory
The neem tree appears to be a biochemical factory producing a mixture of over 135 biologically active compounds. As a pesticide, the oil from neem seeds are believed to break the life cycle of pests and deters them from feeding and hatching. Studies have shown that active compounds in the oil inhibited the secretion of hormones into the blood inhibiting the molting and reproductive function in insects.

Neem oil
Neem oil is known to be active on over 400 insect pests. It has for example been found to be effective against fleas, head lice, ticks, termites, plague locusts, mosquitoes and sheep blow flies. It is believed to be particularly active against chewing and sucking insects such as caterpillars and beetle larvae.

These remarkable properties have attracted considerable interest from both researchers and pharmaceutical companies. This renewed interest in neem created no more than amusement in India where the beneficial properties of neem have been known for countless generations.

Patent's and Trademark's
Grace Horticultural Products, a unit of Grace Specialty Chemicals (USA) acquired the patent and trademark rights to produce and sell insecticidal neem extracts. Their product, Margosan-O Concentrate, is protected under US patent No. 5124349.

Not a new invention
In 1995, a group led by Mr. Jeremy Rifkin, president of the Foundation of Economic Trends in the US, Dr. Vandana Shiva of the Research Foundation for Science Technology and Natural Resource Policy and Professor, Nanjundaswamy of the Karnataka Rajya Ryot Sangha in India contested the decision of the US Patent and Trademark Office. They claim that the neem product has long been used as a pesticide in India and is not a new invention as claimed under the patent. They claim that Grace's patent does not satisfy the criterion that the invention must not be obvious to one of ordinary skill in the art. They assert that the Grace process only slightly differs from that used by farmers in India.

Grace on the other hand claims that its patent relates to a formulation based on neem-seed extract. They assert their formulation overcomes the problems associated with the instability of azadirachtin, the primary active pesticidal ingredient from the plant, in traditionally used water or alcohol based emulsions. Further the awarding of patents based on the purification or modification of naturally occurring substances is not new. For example, in 1979, the US Court of Customs and Patent Appeals reversed a decision by the Patent and Trademark Office to award a patent for a compound purified from strawberries. In fact, more than 40 patents have already been award for inventions relating to a compound found in neem seeds alone.

Reproduced with permission Mr. Milan Mehta

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LD50
1. An LD50 value is the amount of a solid or liquid material that it takes to kill 50% of test animals in one dose.


Neem Advice

Neem should not be taken by anyone (male or female) who is pregnant or trying to conceive.

It also contains compounds similar to those in aspirin and should not be used to treat children with fevers.

While people in some countries use neem oil internally, we definitely do not recommended taking neem oil in this manner.

Within those limitations, neem is generally considered to be one of the safest medicinal herbs available.

The FDA
The FDA's Office of Special Nutritionals maintains an extensive database of adverse affects from herbal medications which does not include any references to neem that would indicate potential problems.

U.S. Environmental Protection
Even the Extension Toxicology Network documentation for using neem as a pesticide shows that it is "relatively non-toxic" and caused no significant problems even at the extraordinary high dosages fed to laboratory rats as part of the approval process required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.




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