Staying healthy is not a daunting task if one regularly eats neem dishes
A collaboration of geneticists, chemical engineers, pharmacists, agronomists and dieticians could not have produced a more valuable tree than neem (Azadirachta indica) . For many people worldwide, neem is priceless due to its numerous medicinal properties. It is such a cherished tree that in Sanskrit it has 31 epithets. In Orissa there is a popular saying: " Ruchu na ruchu kha pita. Bujh na bujh padha Gita. " This means: it may or may not be palatable, but consume neem. Understand it or not, but read the Gita.
On Mahavisubha Sankranti, celebrated every year on 13-14 April, each member of an Oriya household is supposed to chew young neem leaves along with those of bel and tulsi to keep oneself healthy for the whole year.
Literally, every part of the tree is useful. Neem twigs are used as tooth brushes since they provide protection against gum diseases. Neem oil, which is extracted from the seed kernel, has excellent healing properties and is used for making creams, lotions and soaps. It is also known to have insect repellent properties; in recent years, these and its growth hormone regulating properties have prompted considerable research. Neem oil is also an effective fungicide. Many traditional healers use neem leaves to treat fever, headache, smallpox, chickenpox, skin allergies, cough, parasite worm attacks, piles, leprosy, diabetes, ulcers, gonorrhoea, syphilis, loss of appetite, gynaecological disorders, greying of hair, baldness, snake bites, scabies and eye irritation. The tree is planted in public places, as it is believed that wind passing through neem keeps humans and animals free from infections.
Arttabandhu Mishra is reader at the School of Life Sciences, Sambalpur University, Orissa
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