Botanical Therapeutics: The Neem Tree

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Botanical Therapeutics: The Neem Tree

In the plant and animal (human) symbiotic relationship, its coevolution may have been influenced by desires satisfied by both species that have utilized the human ability to conquer and reproduce effectively in the natural world. Pollan (2001) has already discussed some of these desires on the human side: intoxication, beauty, sweetness and control. On the other hand, human desires such as sweetness facilitate plant propagation. Moreover, plants can also be considered to satisfy human’s desires for a healthy life. This desire is fulfilled by plants that bear nutritious fruits and seeds or healing properties of leaves, stems and seeds. Herein, a discussion is presented to elucidate on the properties of plants to satisfy the human need for the power to heal ailments.

To begin with, the human world’s search for medical drugs that will alleviate diseases is driving the current age of new plant domestication. Various incurable and pandemic diseases such as Ebola, AIDS and Cancer profoundly affect the human population (Ji, Li & Zhang, 2009). This has evolved from the time when people first discovered that nutrients and vitamins found in plant fruits promote good health. The discovery of the healing properties of plants is as old as the onset of human civilization. It began by collecting simple herbs that could alleviate headaches. Thereafter, came the age of discoveries such as the Neem tree, and the need to produce medical drugs derived from these plants in large scale. The Neem tree is special to the human desire for healing due to its ability to cure a wide variety of diseases.

In ancient human civilizations, some places in Africa and Europe were rich in wild forests where these medicinal herbs could be accessed. During this period, humans chewed and wrapped leaves around wounds to ease pain and heal. Plants parts such as the Neem tree bark, leaves and even the stem had the potential to cure over forty ailments (“7 Medicinals Neem,”1992). As a result of these enormous healing properties, the Neem tree has so far seen human efforts towards its domestication (Kundu & Luukkanen, 2003).

Domestication only began when people discovered the importance of growing medical plants in large scale, especially in association with plants that healed common and recurrent diseases such as Malaria in Africa (Singh, 2009, p. 29). Domestication can be traced back to the Egyptian times dating 1550 BC. For instance, ancient Egyptians had discovered and domesticated Aloe, Frankincense and castor for their various medicinal purposes. The domestication of the Neem requires technical knowledge of plant control procedures such as grafting and tree seedling rearing.  

As a result of this inclination towards medical plant domestication, the modern farmers can now focus on the plant-human relationship to grow economically viable medical plants with healing powers such as the Neem tree. Consequently, based on the ideas as presented by Pollan (2001), the demand for medical drugs, and thus, the need to grow medicinal plants, is fast making plants with the ability to satisfy this desire to outcompete with even formerly domesticated tree plants meant to give sweet fruits such as apple. For instance, despite the fact that the Neem tree heals a wide variety of human diseases, the ability of it to grow in various areas of the world (say Canada) depends on its ease and survivability in the local climate in Canada (MacKinnon, 2009). For economic prosperity, a farmer may consider another medical plant. This desire for medical plants such as the Neem tree to satisfy the human desire for economic prosperity is supporting the Neem tree growth and research on its suitability to grow in particular areas. This is the same case with apples as explained by Pollan since these trees grow in particular climates such as those of Europe.

Thus, according to Pollan and the theories of coevolution as postulated by Darwin, natural or wild plants (such as the Neem tree) may soon compete with the apple tree in the natural game of reproduction. Pollan (2001) mentions that the desire to satisfy the human need for food saw the grass (corn and wheat) compete with trees. Using this virtue, they were able to manipulate people into clearing vast tracks of forest land in order to plant them. In the concept of control as presented, people may seek to genetically modify this newly domesticated Neem plant to increase its potency, ability to grow fast and even produce more than one medicinal trait. In the case of the Neem tree, increased speed of growth as well as the ability to be easily used in the generation of botanical therapeutics can be sought.

However, it is fundamental to note that this adaptation to produce medicinal traits in plants such as the Neem tree may not have had a purposeful evolutionary purpose and may be a mere coincidence of the trial and error associated with natural selection. Such traits and the consequent compounds are so vast that the natural plant world, of which the Neem tree once formed a part, is receiving conservation efforts. This is because research on the current chemical compounds has given a clue to the importance of mixing different traits of plant derived medicinal compounds from plants such as the Neem tree to achieve varied healing properties of the developed drug. For example, the Neem tree therapeutic derivatives can be used to make potent medical cocktails with other medical plant therapeutics to increase its efficacy and satisfy the human need for botanical therapeutics that heal more than one disease. Moreover, naturally, and considering that plants evolutionary adapted to synthesizing food from raw materials such as the sun and soil, they possess an ingrained ability to engineer the biggest and clever biosynthetic compounds known to heal human diseases. These plants, such as the Neem tree, form the central part in the development of modern pharmaceuticals, and thus, their domestication can be warranted as fundamental.

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