My son Amir has been missing preschool for more than a week due to chicken pox. Sigh, it's heartbreaking to see him in such discomfort and covered in awful sores. But he' such a trooper, and hasn't complained once. When my mother-in-law came to visit us last week, she mentioned that people in the old days used to use daun semambu (which I later discovered were neem leaves) to treat chicken pox and other skin problems. Fortunately, she identified a tree in our apartment compound as a pokok semambu (neem tree)! We've lived here for almost seven years and we never knew!
A plate of freshly plucked neem leaves.
Although Amir's been having chicken pox for over a week, we decided to make use of the neem leaves in the hopes that it'll help him heal faster. My mum took some, washed them and boiled them up in a pot. She then used the cooled neem water to bathe my son. I read on the Internet, however, that boiling actually reduces the effectiveness of neem leaves, I'm not sure if this is true. So this morning, I just shredded them up and put them in his bath water. This evening, I want to try soaking the neem leaves in a pail of water overnight, and use that to bathe my son tomorrow morning.
I found out that the little Indian girl that lives in my apartment block also has chicken pox, and so her family has hung a bunch of neem leaves on their front gate.
Excited to learn that a medicinal tree is growing a stone's throw from my house, I started Googling the uses of neem. I found out that various parts of the plant can be used (fruits, seeds, oil, leaves, roots and bark) and that due to its antibacterial, anti-fungal, antiviral and anti-allergic and anti-inflammatory properties, it has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years.
Apparently, it is a remedy for a whole lot of things like (bear with me, it's a long list!): lice, worms, diabetes, piles, dysentery, jaundice, vomiting, wounds, eye disease, blood disorders, paraplegia, female genital diseases, fevers, dandruff, hair loss, eczema, psoriasis, leprosy, herpes, warts, athlete's foot, acne, chicken pox, ringworm, scabies, wounds, skin rashes, pale or brittle nails, dental plaque, tooth decay, gum disease, chronic fatigue, arthritis, rheumatism, circulatory, digestive and urinary problems, diabetes and heart disease. Phew!
My neighbour also soaked some neem leaves in a pail of water and added turmeric to it. They placed the pail on their front step so that visitors can wash and disinfect their hands before entering or leaving the house. Cool idea!
I also read that you can use neem as a health tonic and to detox (Hmm, I've got to learn how to use it for this purpose, but I must be able to overcome its apparently bitter taste first!) and that neem oil, which is derived form its seeds, is a natural, non-toxic insect repellent. It is also believed that if you grew a neem tree near your house, it'll keep mosquitoes at bay. Well, I suppose the tree's not near enough to my house because we do have mozzies! I also happen to know that people used to put neem leaves in old Malay manuscripts to keep bugs at bay.
Now that I've discovered the goodness of neem, I'm becoming really interested in other forms of herbal remedies too. What other curative wonders lurk amidst our urban jungle? As urbanites, we've pretty much lost the traditional know-how that our parents and grandparents possess. Perhaps it's time to rediscover natural remedies and use them.
The neem tree that grows in our apartment compound as seen from my living room.
PS: I'll be taking a page from my neighbour's book and I'll be adding turmeric to my son's bathwater. Get well soon Amir!