The tree is famous for its medicinal properties. The earliest archaeological reference available on neem is seen on pottery from the Indus Valley Civilization (2600-1800 BC) period.
In Sanskrit, neem is called “arista,” meaning “perfect, complete, and imperishable.” It is also referred to as “nimbati systhyadadati,” i.e., “giver of good health,” and as “Pinchumada,” or “destroyer of leprosy and healer of skin infections.” In Ayurveda, the tree is regarded as a “sarva roga nivarni,” i.e., a “universal reliever of all illness.”
The tree is mentioned in the Sushruta Samhita and the Charaka Samhita (dated in the 1st millennium BC). Kautilya, also called Chanakya, the famous statesman and political thinker from the 4th century BC, also mentions neem in his seminal work Arthasastra. Emperor Ashoka (3rd century BC) is said to have ordered that neem trees be planted in every village in his vast dominions encompassing the whole of South Asia—from modern-day Afghanistan down to peninsular South India.
Symbolic chewing of the bitter neem leaves followed by eating sweets is a New Year celebration ritual in many communities. Its diverse medicinal properties have led to the tree being christened “The Village Pharmacy.” The tree has a place in the Indian Pharmacopeia.
Neem is one of the most researched trees worldwide with over 2,000 clinical trials and studies. A wide range of its traditional medicinal properties have been validated through animal trials, including the anti-helminthic, anti-fungal, antibacterial, antiviral, anti-diabetic, antioxidant, anti-cancer, anti-malarial, wound healing, contraceptive, spermicidal, and sedative properties.
For more on this tree take a look at the section on Azadirachta indica here.