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The Medicinal Plant Nursery- "Just Neem It!"

Written on: Wednesday May 7th, 2008

A journal entry from: North America in our Camper Van!

Tuesday started at 5:30 am in the morning. As we were going to be working outside in the Medicinal Plant nursery, we wanted to get some hours in before it got too hot in the day. We had three other volunteers join Rob, my mother and I. Sergio, Analise and Sam were from Spain and had been volunteering in a nearby community as Peace Observers. They had met Peter the week before and eagerly volunteered to help with this project.

So what is the project? Well, several years ago, Schools for Chiapas started investigating the benefits of the Neem Tree. It is a plant native to India and has been used there for thousands of years. It has proven medicinal properties including anthelmintic (a drug that expels parasitic worms), antifungal, antidiabetic, antibacterial, antiviral, anti-infertility, and sedative. The practice of using Neem twigs for dental cleaning in India is thought to be one of the earliest and most effective methods of dental care. I could write a whole blog of the benefits of this amazing natural plant, but instead will refer you to the Schools for Chiapas website, which is loaded with tons of great information and references. As you can see, this plant has huge potential to benefit the indigenous communities in the Chiapas, both from a health and income perspective. A year and a half ago Schools for Chiapas was given a small plot of land near the community of Santa Cruz to start an experimental Neem tree plantation. They planted over 280 seedlings using different methods and have been monitoring the progress and growth.

Now, as this is jungle the underbrush grows like mad. Peter and Susan had not returned to the site in over 8 months and so our mission was to see how many of these little Neem saplings had survived? but first we had to find them in the thicket of vines, grasses and weeds. Using a machete, one had to carefully look and then swack away the unwanted plants. Although the Neem leaf is distinct, many of the saplings were still quite small, perhaps comparable to the size of a pen. Considering that in some places the undergrowth was as high as our waists, finding the little neem, or Neem-itos (as we began to refer to them) was quite the task. However, the Neem treasure hunt turned out to be quite fun, and there was always a great rush of excitement and sense of accomplishment when you found a Neem-ito, rescued it from the suffocating vines and cleared some room for it to grow. The 8 of us worked from 7 am to 11:30, slashing, pulling, clearing, with the occasional gleeful ?I found one!? resonating across the plot. Finally the sun and the heat were too much, and we retreated to the nearby river for a very refreshing soak. Afterwards we headed back to the Caracol to relax and lounge around in hammocks for the rest of the day.

Wednesday we returned to the Neem plantation, this time to catalogue, continue clearing and better identify the trees for the next go around. We counted approximately 100 Neem-itos, which we decided was a very impressive survival rate considering the competition with the jungle plants and the vicious vine that we found choking many of the survivors. We also suspected that a few poor little unsuspecting plants had been consumed by the neighbor?s goats. My mother suggested that we try protecting the little plants by wrapping them with bright red marker tape. When Peter returned from the hardware store with the construction tape, my mother got busy planting stakes around a few chosen Neem-itos and then encircling the stakes to form a plastic barrier around the tree. ?If we can?t stop the goats from eating the plants it will at least give them a bit of indigestion!? my mother laughed. I myself, wasn?t so convinced. Having heard stories of goats eating even metal, I suspected that the bright red tape would be a bright red ?eat me? signal. Although, who knows, if goats can read spanish, the ?PELIGRO? (aka Danger) bold letters printed across the tape may deter them.

Other than twice coming across ferocious fire ant nests while trying to locate little Neem-itos, I really enjoyed contributing to this project and learning so much about Neem. The theme for the rest of the trip became ?Just Neem it?, as everytime someone came up with an ailment we pulled out the Neem oil. Rob developed an odd rash and found the Neem oil to reduce the pain significantly. I treated my crazy-itchy fire ant bites with Neem oil and felt immediate relief. My mother started using Neem oil as a mosquito repellant and found it to work as well as Deet 30. Rob and I are super disappointed that it will not grow in our home climate, but you can be sure that we will be sourcing out a supplier of Neem oil upon our return to Calgary. This little medicinal plant remedy is a definite must-have for our natural home-medicine kit.

 

From Annette on Jun 3rd, 2008

What a wonderful title for this blog! I've been following your blog faithfully for months and admiring all of your adventures.. this time it's really special to say wow.. I was there and shared this wonderful experience and discovery of this amazing tree. It was great fun to work on that project and I for one, am going to trust that those zapatista goats can read! To "Susannah Neem".. I look forward to walking through that neem forest someday and remembering our efforts in May of 2008.. continued success with this amazing project. Grow Neem-itos Grow!