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Mahatma Gandhi


28. Neem Leaves and Tamarind

In answer to certain questions Dr. Aykroyd, Director of Nutrition Research, sends the following interesting replies:

"You ask about food values. Data on this point are being rapidly gathered here and elsewhere in India, and I hope that at no very distant period an authoritative book or pamphlet giving the chemical composition, vitamin potency, etc. of all common foods will become available for those interested in dietetics. I have little doubt that you are right in stating that in practice different vegetable fats and oils produce different physiological effects. This is probably due to their chemical make-up, but unfortunately we are not yet in a position to correlate chemical composition and dietary effect in this case. In all probability some research worker somewhere in the world will soon enlighten us.

"We have analysed neem leaves in the laboratory. As compared with a number of other green vegetables previously investigated, they have a high nutritive value. Both mature and tender leaves are rich in protein, calcium, iron and vitamin A activity and are superior in these respects to amaranth leaves, coriander leaves, and spinach. This perhaps explains the tradition of their high nutritive value. I believe that modern laboratory investigations in China have not infrequently demonstrated that herbs and other types of food recommended in ancient Chinese books are rich in vitamins, etc.

"With regard to vitamin content, tamarind and lemon are roughly similar, except that the latter is richer in the anti-scorbutic vitamin C. Tamarind pulp, unlike lemon, contains a good deal of tartaric acid - about 14 per cent, the chief acid in lemon is citric acid. Otherwise the two fruits resemble each other in food value. Tamarind is stated to contain a laxative principle. I can offer nothing in support of the popular belief that it induces fever and rheumatism."

The reader should know that I have been making extensive experiment in neem leaves and tamarind. Neem leaves have been taken with impunity by several. My difficulty has been to make them palatable. Taken in the form of chatni containing sufficient tamarind pulp and salt, or lemon and salt, it is least objectionable. Some take two to three tolas of whole leaves with relish. I am unable to say definitely what effect the taking of leaves produces on the system. I have been tempting volunteers to try them because of the high merit attributed in Ayurveda to them and because of their decidedly good effect on Shri Bhansali. Their common use would enable the poor people without extra cost to take the green leaves upon which modern diet experts lay much stress. That the use of the leaf produces no ill effect can be stated with perfect confidence.

Of the good effect of tamarind I can write with equal confidence. One ounce of pulp taken with meals has in several cases induced free movement of bowels. It can be mixed with vegetables or rice or dal. It can be eaten as jam when mixed with sufficient quantity of gur. I have used it with beneficial effect for reducing fevers by giving it in the form of tamarind water. In no case have I found it to have induced cold or rheumatism or boils as many people believe it does. There is hardly a man or woman in the south who does not eat tamarind in some shape or form. It is the base for its famousrasam.

Village workers will have to find out cheap, effective and harmless substitutes for the expensive yet useful articles one uses in cities and which one cannot get in the villages for love or money. Tamarind and neem leaf are such substitutes.

Harijan, 16-11-1935