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Tuesday, June 7, 2016

(Heavenly Organics) Neem Honey, Central India

Neem (Azadirachta indica), also known as Nimtree and Indian Lilac, is a drought  and heat resistant tree in the mahogany family (Meliacaea) that is native to tropical and semi-tropical regions. It grows in India, Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Iran, among other places. It can become a large tree (heights up to 40 meters) and one of a few shade-giving trees that thrive in drought-prone areas (e.g. southern districts of India and Pakistan). As a result, it is commonly planted for shade along streets, around temples and in other public places in India. It was exported to other dry areas as a shade tree (e.g. Australia) and has become invasive in some non-native areas. As a result, it has sometimes been classified as a weed. In Australia, for instance, it is illegal to buy, sell or transport Neem plants or seeds, and its spread is actively being controlled.

Neem flowers
The Neem tree has white, fragrant flowers that produce an olive like fruit, which when ripe is half and inch to an inch long and about half an inch wide. The fruit skin is mostly bitter and fibrous, but each fruit contains 2-3 seeds that are the source of Neem oil.

One of the most important uses of neem is as a bio-pesticide. Neem seeds are ground into powder, soaked in water, and sprayed on crops. The neem spray acts as an anti-feedant (substance that adversely affects insects that eat it), insect repellent and egg-laying deterrent. It also suppresses the hatching of insect eggs. In 1962 it was successfully used to protect crops against migratory desert locusts. The anti-insect properties are also found in neem leaves. In India, neem leaves are dried and used as an insect repellent in cupboards and between the folds of clothes, or burnt to keep away mosquitoes.

Neem fruit

Neem has other uses as well. Neem oil has been used in cosmetics, soaps, balms and creams, and as a lubricant. Neem gum is used as a bulking agent in foods. In parts of India, Africa and the Middle East neem twigs (called datum) are used as toothbrushes: if the ends of the twig are chewed they turn into soft bristles that can then be used to clean teeth. Neem cake is used to fertilize crops and protect plant roots from nematodes and white ants. Neem bark is a source of tannin and yields a coarse fiber that is used to make rope.

You can also eat neem (the tender, new shoots and flowers), but it is bitter. Consuming or otherwise using neem leaf, bark and/or flowers is associated with many Hindu festivals. Furthermore, Siddha and Ayurvedic practitioners use neem products medicinally.  In fact, in Sanskrit the word for neem, “Arishtha” means “reliever of sickness.” And there is evidence that neem has medicinal uses. In 1993, a Neem Foundation was established to better understand how Neem might be used. Be aware, though, if consumed in large quantities, neem oil can be toxic.

Neem flowers are also a source of honey. My neem honey is packaged and distributed by Heavenly Organics. Heavenly Organics neem honey comes from the forests of northern and central India and parts of the Himalayan Mountains (e.g. Kashmir, Uttarakhand). It is “wild” honey collected by honey hunters who then sell it to Heavenly Organics. As a result the honey is chemical-free, organic, raw and unheated, maximizing its taste, and enzymatic, vitamin and mineral properties.

wild honey hive
Heavenly Organics is the brain child of Amit Hooda. In 2004, after Mr. Hooda completed his Master’s degree in computer science from the Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa, he collaborated with his father and Edward Malloy to create a worker-owned cooperative to foster long-term partnerships that mutually benefit both farmers and consumers. Heavenly Organics is part of the authentic fair trade movement. Mr. Hooda's father, Dr. Ishwar Singh Hooda, is an agronomist and former teacher at Haryana Agriculture University in India. Dr. Hooda has promoted sustainable organic farming methods and sustainable, bee-friendly methods of harvesting wild honey, in rural communities in India for over 35 years. Edward Malloy, the mayor of Fairfield, Iowa, is the US Director of the operation. Currently the cooperative supports nearly 600 family farmers (hoping to expand to 5,000) and produces honey, cane sugar and a variety of different kinds of chocolate honey patties.

Heavenly Organics neem honey
My neem honey has already crystallized in fairly large crystals. It has a caramel, toffee, maple syrup smell about it, and is a warm, toffee color. It has a rich, subtly spicy taste (gingerbread spicy) with hints of caramel, maple syrup and floral tones, and has a slight bitter, smoky after taste. It is a warm, robust tasting honey and would be good on buttered toast, in black tea, baked goods or hot cereal. I got mine at my local Whole Foods supermarket. The Heavenly Organics website has a store locator to help you find it locally as well.

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