The Neem tree is an evergreen native to India and other parts of Southeast Asia. For centuries in these countries, Neem has been called “the village pharmacy”, because its leaves, bark, seeds and oil are used as a mainstay of traditional healing and Ayurvedic treatments. More than 150 bioactive substances have been identified in different parts of the Neem plant, many of them offering antiseptic and astringent qualities.
Because Neem has long been such an important presence in the culture of India, Gandhi often held his prayer-meetings beneath the generous, spreading canopy of a Neem tree, and also ate Neem-leaf chutney daily.
Neem is still a vital part of Indian culture, used to address health concerns ranging from bad breath to preventing malaria. Today, Neem is also being discovered and embraced by modern health-enthusiasts in the west, as an ingredient in invigorating teas.
Although the clustered white flowers of the Neem tree are sweetly fragrant, the flavor of Neem tea is very, very bitter, one of the six tastes recognized in the Ayurvedic palette. In this system, taste is important in order to understand the properties and functions of an herb or botanical.
The goal of integrating Neem, whether as a tea or in another preparation, is to balance the energies for greater health. In this system, bitterness is not to be avoided, and in fact is viewed as corrective, purifying, and tonifying, or tonic, to the liver. A real-life analogy might be a craving for a salad of crisp, sharply-bitter, dark greens—dandelion and endive—after snacking on leftover Halloween candy. Too much sweet calls for correction, with a bit of the bitter.
In the Ayurvedic tradition Neem is associated with the dosha known as Vata. Vata is characterized as cooling, drying, reducing, dispersing. A traditional image for Vata is wind moving through space, offsetting the heavy moisture of the Kapha dosha, and the excessive fire or heat of Pitta. With this reasoning, many practitioners of Ayurveda use Neem tea and other Neem preparations as a digestive before meals, and as a slimming aid to reduce fat.
Neem adds a vibrant and detoxifying note to Art of Tea blends “Feel Better Blend” and “Tea For Him”. To balance out the acrid bitterness which defines Neem, “Feel Better Blend” adds Organic Chili Pepper, Cinnamon, Licorice Root, Fennel and Green Rooibos, among other choice botanicals, for a brew which releases stagnation.
Manly “Tea for Him” blends Neem with Organic Orange Peel, Vetiver Root and Assam Black Tea in a malty, yet earthy infusion with a musky-sweet finish reminiscent of sandalwood, ideal for re-energizing after intense exercise and exertion.
Considered the “coldest” of the six tastes in the Ayurvedic palette, Tikta, or bitterness, is also felt to inspire introspection. It is linked with winter, and the beginning of the new year. For any season, the instructive bitterness of Neem is an acquired taste worth acquiring.
- Victoria Thomas