One of the best-kept secrets in the U.S. seems to be a very special tree that can provide about 40 medicinal, antiseptic and agricultural products.
I faithfully read my Prevention, Web MD, several on line medical letters and herbal magazines. However, I never noticed anything about this special tree that has been producing all these products since Julius Caesar.
Neem, relatively new to the western world, is a cornerstone of Ayurveda, one of the world's oldest medical systems.
The Garden Club of Cape Coral made a little trip north to Brandon Fla., a week ago. We made two stops and had our picnic lunches at Eureka Springs State Park.
Our first stop was at the Neem Tree Farms. We had a special reservation to visit their greenhouses that day and become educated about this special tree.
They raise their trees by seed, and sell them via the Internet when they are about 3 feet tall. They are sold all over the U.S. without any problems as long as it is not to a freeze location.
Their trees are now available nearby at the ECHO Tropical Fruit Nursery on Durance Road, North Fort Myers. ECHO is a very interesting place to visit also. It is deeply involved in global hunger solutions, and has a lot of things to see and tour. Visitors may also bring a picnic lunch.
ECHO, of course, has been in on the neem tree secret - as well as the U.S. Postal Service, and government agencies that have many rules about shipping live horticulture in and out of the country.
A few knowledgeable people have known about this tree. In our group of about 20 members and friends, there were three women who have used some of the products produced from the tree, and one who actually has had a tree for several years. She loves it and recommends it for ease of care, shade and for use of its leaves. She is a new member so who knew that she knew?
In the Garden Club there are so many interesting plants, flowers, grasses, etc. We do not talk much about "magical trees."
After a short introduction, and a walk to a large greenhouse, owner Vicki Parsons, a vivacious and happy grower, enlightened us about the rows of bright green, bushy plants, all 2 feet tall.
It seems that size tree ships well and is not cost prohibitive. The tree can be planted easily with the enclosed instructions and will grow quickly, and is not picky about soil types. Full sun.
This is a big tall tree at maturity and has sweetly smelling glowers. The seeds are harvested in mid-summer after the flowers and berries are done.
The seeds are only viable for about 20 days and some years there is a very low crop yield. Neem Tree Farms sells the trees, and seeds online. They also sell many soaps, toothpaste, anti-itch lotions and creams. I do not have any room on my Cape Coral lot for a tree so had to be content with a small booklet and some hand soap.
We all received a sample of the itch cream. I have not needed to use that, however I have been using the soap, which is not sweetly scented but leaves the skin with a very nice clean scent.
I have not seen anything magical happen yet by using this soap but will continue to use it. It is hard as a brick so I expect it to last a long time.
I will be looking for some toothpaste soon. Very curious to try a brown toothpaste made from the bark of a tree.
It must work, my Garden Club friends say it does and in India they have been brushing their teeth with twigs from the tree, for a long long time.
So why do we not know much about the attributes of this magic tree?
The FDA says that any herb labeled to treat or prevent a disease must complete the same stringent tests that it requires for prescription pharmaceuticals.
This process can cost millions of dollars to patent extracts from a tree that grows almost anywhere in the tropics, and it would never be possible to recover the required investments.
One U.S. company is currently working with the EPA to label neem as a natural pesticide. You can make your own by soaking neem leaves in water and then straining the liquid and spraying it. The leaves can be placed under plants or in cupboards, to repel insects. They tell me it really works.
There are really thousands of neem products out there, such as lotions, creams, toothpaste, anti-itch solution, shampoo, and even neem for dogs and cats.
Teas are sold with cinnamon or peppermint flavoring, to improve the flavor. Take a look at the www.neemtreefarms.com site. It's very interesting.
Vicki told us when buying toothpaste, look for a brand made from actual neem bark and leaves. There is one very important bit of information about these products to remember. Even though neem products can be ingested, not everyone should do this.
Pregnant woman should not, it is a known contraceptive, and studies for use as a contraceptive appear successful. Harm during pregnancy is possible.
People who are taking immunosuppressive drugs, e.g. transplant patients, can not ingest neem because it will counteract their necessary drug program. Our group had two women with a transplant and it certainly was a good thing to be told, we could use the topical products but nothing internally.
All forms of neem are extraordinarily high in antioxidants. The ORAC test (oxygen radical absorbance capacity) shows that neem leaf scores at 357.00 and blueberries score 62.20.
Sounds like some magic potions for better health, to me. However remember to check with your doctor about using any herb. You should probably take in some literature for him to read. If it does not look like a pill, he may not know what you are talking about.
Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving. I saw my first poinsettia several days ago. That is a sure sign Christmas is around the corner. If you have poinsettias in the yard from last year, be sure and water them now.
The market place is full of annuals and full of people buying them. Geraniums, impatiens, and mari-golds are standard but there are plenty of others to plant.
There's still time to plant a cherry tomato plant, and some lettuce.
It is dry now so keep an eye on potted flowers and vines, especially hanging ones.Save some of the water you let drain down the kitchen sink, most of it can be used to water potted plants.
Happy gardening until we meet again.
H. Jean Shields is a past president of the Garden Club of Cape Coral.