Neem: The Miraculous Tree
By Grace Samuel
The neem tree, also known as Azadirachta Indica, gained public attention amidst the COVID-19 pandemic for its potential to strengthen the immune system and combat the virus.
Prior to this, not much was known about this valuable plant that can be found in various regions worldwide.
For centuries, the neem tree has been recognized as a medicinal herb with a rich history in traditional remedies, dating back almost 2,000 years. Its numerous benefits have resulted in it being referred to as the miraculous tree in many parts of the world.
Environmentalists state that the tree was introduced to East Africa in the 19th Century by East Indian immigrants primarily for its medicinal qualities.
Currently, it can be found extensively cultivated in Ghana, Mauritania, Senegal, The Gambia, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Mali, Benin, Niger, Nigeria, Togo, Cameroon, Chad, Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania, and Mozambique. Despite being cultivated, it is highly adaptable and can flourish in various environments. Lmk
The neem tree is a resilient plant and can endure extremely high temperatures of up to 120 degrees Celsius. However, if the weather becomes cold and the temperature drops below 35 degrees Celsius for an extended period, the tree will shed its leaves. The neem tree cannot survive in colder temperatures, wet climates, or prolonged drought conditions.
Nevertheless, it is still possible to cultivate fresh neem tree seeds indoors by planting them in a pot containing high-quality potting soil that is well-drained.
Traditional beliefs hold that every part of the tree possesses healing properties. The seeds can yield an oil that serves as a natural bug repellent and is commonly found in shampoos, soaps, lotions, and other skincare items. Furthermore, the oil serves as an effective fungicide against afflictions like powdery mildew, black spot, and sooty mold.
The bacteria-fighting properties of the leaves make them effective in treating infections, boosting the immune system, and aiding in quick healing. In traditional customs, people often boil the leaves and consume the water or extract water from the leaves to use in bathing.
Additionally, some individuals opt to boil the leaves, pour the hot water into a bucket, and inhale the steam with a sheet covering their heads to capture the vapor. The flowers of this plant are highly regarded for their pleasant fragrance, which is particularly attractive to honeybees.
Kojo Odum Eduful, the President of the Traditional Medicines Practitioners Association, suggested using steam from boiled neem leaves to alleviate COVID-19 symptoms.
Eduful endorsed this practice, reasoning that neem leaves have been effective in treating various fevers and it is believed that the virus enters through the nose and lungs, which may not withstand high temperatures. Eduful advised boiling the leaves to a temperature of 100 degrees Celsius.
The neem tree, besides its medicinal uses, also serves as a means to combat erosion and address the issue of climate change. In the Savannah Ecological Zone, this tree is a prominent component of the ecosystem.
Nana Yaw Osei-Darkwa, an environmentalist and Convener of the Green Republic Project, explained that neem is a rapidly growing evergreen tree, making it a valuable option for reforestation efforts. Planting it on slopes and areas prone to landslides helps to prevent erosion, while the leaves that fall from the tree aid in neutralizing acidic soils.
In February 2020, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) revealed their intention to initiate a campaign aimed at safeguarding neem trees within the nation, as despite their numerous advantages, some individuals persist in felling them for firewood, charcoal, and farming purposes.
During an event held in Accra, the CEO of the EPA, Dr Henry Kokofu, announced that the agency would be presenting a proposal to the government advocating for a prohibition on the cutting down of neem trees.
Human activities have led to the depletion of approximately 6.6 million hectares of forest in Ghana, accounting for 80% of the country’s total land area.
The remaining forest cover, currently at 1.6 million hectares, is under threat from illegal mining, logging, and other human activities, exacerbating the effects of climate change on the country’s water bodies and rainfall patterns.
To address this issue and promote afforestation, it is crucial for the government and relevant agencies to prioritize the expansion of neem tree plantations, as they are well-suited to all regions of the country and can contribute significantly to combating climate change.