To look at a neem tree (Azadirachta indica) in the landscape, one might not find it particularly enticing, but rather unassuming and just your run-of-the-mill evergreen tropical. It would certainly be hard to imagine this one tree holding so many mysterious medicinal powers.
Many trees have medicinal qualities, but few trees hold medicinal qualities in their leaves, bark, flowers, seed and seed oil — nearly every part of the plant.
The neem trees in Camana Bay are located to the north of the cinema parking lot. Neatly planted as a group, these trees provide welcome shade to the sometimes brutal Cayman Islands sun as they sway gently in the ocean breezes from the North Sound and Caribbean Sea. Over the summer months, their small white flowers are inconspicuous, but heavily fragrant.
Native to the Indian subcontinent (India, Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives) and widely planted on islands of the tropics and sub-tropics, Azadirachta indica has many medicinal qualities that have been used for centuries. The leaves are used for a large number of purposes including relief of a variety of skin conditions and treatment of cardiovascular disease, stomach upset, pain and fever. The flowers are used to remedy eye disorders, and diabetes, while their seeds and oil can be used to make toothpaste, and even organic insecticides. The bark of the tree is also beneficial for skin conditions, and can be helpful in healing wounds.
Other valuable uses of the neem tree in our region consist of harvesting/gathering leaves to be dried and burned to keep mosquitoes away, and the leaves are also known to have other insect repelling qualities such as keeping nuisance critters out of cupboards.
Neem trees thrive in bright, full sun, and like spaces that allow them to spread out their dense canopies. They are fast-growing trees, and can reach heights of 50 to 60 feet. Flowering in the summer, neem trees bear fruit — which can be harvested for their powerful seeds and seed oil shortly thereafter.
As with any medicinal plant, it is best to consult a physician or professional before attempting to harness a plant’s medicinal qualities. There are many processes, which if performed improperly, can result in harmful substances rather than helpful substances.