Neem and Neem!

We all are aware of importance of the Noble tree Neem. Today we will get acquainted to two tree species which, though closely resembles Neem, are in no way related to it.

The Curry Leaf (Bergera Koenigii/कढीनिंब, कढीपत्ता) is a small evergreen tree which is a fast grower. It is known so because it has the 'leaf that is used to make curry' and it is present in almost all the dishes of Tamil Nadu state. In other states of India also, the leaves are a must and are absolutely necessary for the authentic flavour!

It is also known as Sweet Neem since the appearance of the leaves is similar to the unrelated medicinal Neem tree. Similarly in Gujarati, it is known as Meetho Leemdo (means Sweet neem). The leaves are highly aromatic. It is a good source of vitamin A, Calcium & Iron. The leaves primarily used in providing a flavour in Indian food. The flowers are small, white & fragrant. The small black shiny berries are edible and are very nutritious.

The Curry leaves are highly valued as seasoning or a natural flavouring agent in southern and west-coast Indian cooking, and especially in curries, though can be used in many other dishes to add spice like chutneys, soups, pickles, vegetables, buttermilk preparations etc.

The leaves and fruits are also used as a herb in Ayurvedic medicine. Their properties include much value as an anti-diabetic, antioxidant, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, hepato-protective, anti-hyper-cholesterolemic and many more. It can help in reducing blood sugar level. Curry leaves are cool, stimulant and also known to be good for hair, for keeping it healthy and long. It also helps prevent premature hair greying. A volatile oil extracted from leaves is used as a fixative for soap perfume. This plant is quite ornamental due to its compound leaves. It can, therefore, be used as a hedge and as an ornamental species. It is also known for its soil-binding ability, hence prevents soil-erosion.

Curry Leaf tree does not require much maintenance or care. The tree is easily propagated from its numerous root-suckers or seeds.

The other species which is frequently confused with Neem tree is Bead tree or Persian Lilac (Melia Azedarach/बकाणनिंब). It is a moderately-sized, fast-growing tree. Locally, it is also known as Bakain.

The tree appears very beautiful due its bright green foliage. It produces dense, shady and well rounded canopy. In landscapes, it is usually pruned to form an umbrella shape.
Bead tree is a tough survivor and is usually grown in gardens or as a street tree where it provides cool shade on hot summer days. The tree produces bright and lush green foliage in spring followed by beautiful clusters of tiny, pale-purple or lilac blooms that draw attention to their presence by their delightful fragrance. The cherry-like green fruits grown abundantly.

Like Neem, it is naturally resistant to pests, termites and fungal infection. Extract from the bark and fruit has pharmacological properties and is used to kill parasitic roundworms. It is well known for its medicinal uses. Its various parts have antihelmintic, antimalarial, cathartic, emetic properties and are also used to treat skin diseases. Seed-oil is used in rheumatism. Leaves and fruits are insect repellent. Dried ripe fruit is used as an external parasiticide.

The hardy tree is drought-tolerant and is easily propagated by seeds. It also withstand coppicing and lopping as for fodder and leaves are highly nutritious. It also gives good quality charcoal. Fruit stones make ideal beads and are used in making necklaces & rosaries.

Bead tree is a well-known ornamental avenue tree, for its scented flowers and shady, spreading crown. But it is also widely used as a shade tree in coffee plantations or as windbreak. It also provide abundant green manure.

It seems, its best to have these Neems! :-)