View Full Version : What’s in a neem? German is expert on Indian tree

December 4th, 2002, 12:34 PM
What’s in a neem? German is expert on Indian tree

MUMBAI: Given that its favoured hangout is a dusty UP village and its official name is ‘azadirachta indica’ or ‘the free tree of India’, one would expect the world expert on neem to be a Dr R.D. Shantaram or S. Vishwanathan. So, it comes as a bit of a surprise when the individual bearing the ‘most knowledgeable about neem in the world’ crown turns out to be a hearty German by the name of H. Schmutterer.

All it takes, however, is a brief chat to see that the septuagenarian deserves the title. Mr Schmutterer has spent more than three decades tracking the neem and its cousins in Asia, Africa and South America. The laboratory he developed in the University of Giessen is one of the key centres of neem research, while the 1,000-page tome he has written on the versatile evergreen is a storehouse of scientific information. Indeed, Mr Schmutterer is greatly responsible for the modern interest in neem—catapulting it from the realm of miracle cures and esoteric texts into the world of verifiable research and scientific publications.

In this interview, Mr Schmutterer, who was in Mumbai to attend the World Neem Conference, talks about the many ways in which India and the world can benefit from what is "perhaps the most useful tree in the world’’.

How did you, a resident of Germany, encounter this native of hot and arid lands?

In 1959, when I was working as an agricultural research officer in Sudan, there was an outbreak of locusts. I saw swarms settling on the neem trees, but they soon flew away. In spite of their voracious behaviour, the locusts didn’t feed on neem. After they departed, I noticed that while every other plant was completely defoliated, the neems were still green and unharmed. And, as an expert on tropical pests, I became curious.

Today, of course, we know that neem has an outstanding action against more than 500 species of insects. But the tree does more than just kill insects—it plays a part in public health, agriculture and much else.

How was the neem rediscovered in modern times?

Some time in the ‘60s, the Indian Agricultural Research Institute published what I believe was the first piece of modern research on this forgotten tree. It ground some neem seeds, mixed them with water and sprayed the mixture on crops to drive away insects. Unlike many synthetic pesticides, the neem was not toxic and didn’t pose any danger to the sheep and goats drinking water from the nearby pools.

Around this time, the most important active ingredient of neem, called azadirachtin, was isolated by researchers in the UK, and we too started our work in Germany. In the beginning we rode the wave of green agriculture, because that was the time that people were realising that synthetic pesticides are toxic and contaminate the soil.

We tested a number of plants in the early ‘70s, but it soon became obvious that neem was extraordinary. It had an outstanding action against harmful insects, but none against beneficial insects like the honey bee.

In 95 per cent of the cases, neem does exactly what we want it to—and that is the amazing part.

Many ancient Indian texts mention the medicinal properties of neem. Are these now being tapped?

Indians, especially in rural areas, still use the tree as a village pharmacy. But the remedies need to be studied, developed and scientifically understood.

If this is done, we will soon have effective drugs against malaria and many other illnesses.

I always get stomach trouble in Africa, so I carry a small amount of neem extract in alcohol. Whenever I feel something is wrong in my stomach, I take a few drops and in ten minutes the trouble is gone. Of course, Indians have known from the old days that neem is effective against bacteria and viruses in the stomach. I don’t understand why such simple cures are being ignored today.

There is another old method developed in India which involves eating neem seeds and doubling the number regularly. It is supposed to cure chronic illnesses. A student of mine had serious migraine for years, and went to many doctors but nobody had any cure. Then she started to eat neem seeds and after three or four weeks, the headaches vanished and have not recurred.

Have people in different parts of the world come up with innovative uses for neem?

Wherever I go, I ask people what they do with neem. In Madagascar, I asked some women who said, "We use it for skin disease, and for our hair, and, of course, it’s our anti-baby pill.’’

Farmers in Latin America treat their calves by feeding them neemseed extract with plastic bottles. It deworms the animals completely and they say it works much better than the expensive medicines in the market.

Similarly, in Central Sudan, watermelon crops were being destroyed by rats. So, as an experiment, the farmers crushed neem leaves, placed them near the seeds and succeeded in keeping the rats away.

Given its innumerable properties, why hasn’t India benefited commercially from neem?

Many Western governments are nervous about exports from India because of impurities like fungii. The neem oil you buy from the market could have come from seeds lying in heaps in a village backyard, pressed from old machines and mixed with all sorts of toxic things. There is an urgent need for an institute which checks neem products for toxicity, issues certificates and ensures standardisation. Otherwise India will lose out.

Another obstacle is the variation in the yields of azadirachtin. If researchers are able to double the yield of azadirachtin from neem trees, it will change the economy of neem products and make them more affordable and popular.

Why do you feel the neem hasn’t got the fame and fortune it deserves?

In the three decades that I have spent popularising the neem, I have encountered a lot of resistance. Some years ago, two Americans from the defence ministry published a paper declaring that not only was neem carcinogenic but that it caused genetic mutations. How had they arrived at these findings? By feeding numbers into the computer and getting these projections. It was easy to prove them wrong, of course. But what I have never understood is why so many people demonise this wonderful tree. German neem expert H. Schmutterer.

Source (http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/cms.dll/xml/uncomp/articleshow?artid=30300672)

December 4th, 2002, 01:16 PM
Originally posted by echarcha
Many Western governments are nervous about exports from India because of impurities like fungii. The neem oil you buy from the market could have come from seeds lying in heaps in a village backyard, pressed from old machines and mixed with all sorts of toxic things.

So is the story with rest of Ayurvedic stuff ...

There were no doctors where I grew up. We used neem for brushing our teeth. We drank water in which neem leaves were boiled for all sort of aches, pains and worms, even for fever. It has some great anti-biotic substances. During summer we used to sleep under neem tree to escape mozzies and other insects.

Neem tree was a cure all.

December 4th, 2002, 01:29 PM
It is true. Village women used to drink water in excess (boiled with neem tree leaves) to abort. I think it had to be during early stages or can result in serious compicastions for child born.

By the way here is a cure for all Baweesinchees ... eating
excess amount of papaw (papaya) can result in shrinking penis.
Blame Papaya for daiiinchees.

Wonder why no research done on penis shrinking qualities of Papaya ... Now if it increased the length, Papaw will be more expensive than gold ... no?