(Azadiracta indica, Melia azadirachta)
Other Names: Azad Dirakht, Kharolimdo, Limdo, Margosa tree, Neeb, Nim, Nimba, Vempu, Kohomba, Paraiso
Neem is a fast growing tree that can reach a height of 15-20 m. It is evergreen but under severe drought it may shed most or nearly all of its leaves. The branches are wide spread. The fairly dense crown is roundish or oval and may reach the diameter of 15-20 m in old, free-standing specimens. The trunk is relatively short and straight. The bark is hard, fissured or scaly and grey. The sapwood is light grey and the heartwood reddish when first exposed to the air becoming reddish-brown after exposure. The root system consists of a strong taproot and well developed lateral roots.The alternate, pinnate leaves are 20-40 cm long, with 20 to 30 dark green leaflets 3 - 8 cm long. The terminal leaflet is often missing. The petioles are short. Very young leaves are reddish to purplish in colour.The flowers (white and fragrant) are arranged axillary, normally drooping and are up to 25 cm long. The inflorescences bear 150-250 flowers. An individual flower is 5-6 mm long and about 10 mm wide. Protandric and bisexual flowers and male flowers exist on the same tree (polygamous).The fruit is a glabrous olive-like drupe which varies in shape from elongate oval to nearly round. When ripe the fruit is yellow and approx 1.5 cm by 1 cm. The fruit skin (exocarp) is thin and the bitter-sweet pulp (mesocarp) is yellowish-white and very fibrous. The mesocarp is less than 0.5 cm thick. The white, hard inner shell (endocarp) of the fruit encloses typically one elongated seed.
Neem is mainly grown and used for its health and medicinal properties however the tender shoots of the neem tree are sometimes eaten as a vegetable. The flavour is quite bitter and therefore not enjoyed by many. The flowers are also eaten raw but mainly for its medicinal effects not for nourishment or pleasure. The pulp of the fruit is sometimes consumed by children.
Neem has been used for many medicinal benefits for over three thousand years. Neem flowers, fruits, seeds, oil, leaves, bark and roots have such uses as general antiseptics, antimicrobials, treatment of urinary disorders, diarrhoea, fever and bronchitis, skin diseases, septic sores, infected burns, hypertension and inflammatory diseases.
Neem requires a warm, sunny climate however, it is draught tolerant and can even survive extended periods without any light. Once established, it is very easy to maintain in any climate.
In its native India neem grows in all types of soil which has good drainage.
Neem is grown from seed which remain viable for about 30 days after removal from the plant. It grows relativily easily in its native India but it is notoriously difficult to grow in the UK. Ideal conditions are warmth and lots of sunlight.