Driving along Chuka Kanwa road to Kathwana, the headquarters of Tharaka-Nithi County, is torturous. The road is rough and dusty...and there is River Kagiri.
There is no bridge across River Kagiri and whether you are walking, riding or even driving, you have to “swim” across. Some say it is an act of cleansing as you enter one region from another.
We are headed to Muunguni Hill View Resort and after 30km drive, there is change of weather. A scorching sun and herds of goats welcome us.
The heat in the semi-arid region is intolerable but on arrival at Muunguni Hill View Resort, it miraculously melts away and a cool breeze greets us.
At the resort, neem trees stand everywhere and some have formed canopies where customers sit under enjoying the region’s delicacies and the comforting gentle wind. The hotel is simply a small forest in the ‘desert’.
“I started planting neem trees around the hotel early 2012 after realising that the scorching sun was a hindrance to the comfort of my customers,” Eric Murungi the resort owner.
“Neem is such a hardy tree that will grow even in the poorest soils. It grows rather slowly in the first year but gains momentum and reaches maturity within the first three to five years. The tree can reach a maximum height of 15-20 metres and it is evergreen. It is a shade giving tree and thrives in drought prone areas. The tree requires warmth and lots of sunlight and can do with very little water but later develops a huge root system with its taproot reaching far to mine the deep layers of soil for nutrients. One keeps on pruning the plant to attain a manageable desired size,” Murungi explains.
So what else makes neem the wonder tree everyone is talking about?
Neem tree is a popular medicinal herb that has been part of the traditional remedies is considered to have making it a one stop pharmacy tree.
Each part of the neem tree be it roots, bark, leaves twigs, seeds fruits or flowers is used in traditional treatment of numerous issues from inflammation, fever infection, skin conditions and dental disorder.
Abounding with antibacterial, anti-carcinogenic, anti – inflammatory, antioxidant, antiseptic, anti-malarial and anti-microbial and anti-viral properties, it makes it a remedy for almost all health concerns.
When it comes to farming, Murungi uses neem water acquired after boiling the leaves and sprinkles it on the soil to keep away unwanted pests.
He also says dried neem leaves are also crushed into a powder and mixed with manure to also help keep unwanted pests.
According to Murungi, the neem leaves have antibacterial properties and are believed to work wonders on infections, burns and any kind of skin infection by destroying the bacteria that cause infection and strengthens the immune system and encourages rapid healing.
Most parts of the neem tree are bitter, with the exception of the flowers which have a sweet scent. The flowers which can be used fresh, dried, roasted or in powdered form can be used to cook a number of dishes and sprinkled on top of dishes to garnish. The flowers are also used to treat anorexia, nausea, belching and intestinal worms.
Murungi says neem also treats acne. “When Neem paste is applied on the face, it works as an excellent exfoliant and can shrink the pole size thus preventing development of blemishes and pimples. The paste is known to eliminate much of grease and bacteria that can intensify the condition and also helping prevent future break outs with the antioxidants minimising scarring thus keeping the skin looking fresh and clean. The paste also reduces the chances of skin sagging, wrinkles and aging due to the fatty acids found in neem oil,” he explains.
Neem is also known to reduce dandruff. Washing your hair with boiled neem water helps fight dandruff, as it cleanses and helps keep the skin hydrated while strengthening the hair and improving the health of the hair follicles, a thing that makes neem popular in shampoos and scalp cleansers due to its antifungal and antibacterial properties.
Due to its antioxidant nature, it is used in traditional medicine to stimulate hair growth and prevent male pattern baldness.
When taken orally, the antibacterial qualities in neem makes it ideal in eliminating the bacteria beneath the gums that cause periodontal diseases and bad breadth.
Neem twigs act as a make do toothbrush, fighting germs while maintaining the alkaline levels in the saliva. It treats swollen gums and gives one whiter teeth.
The bristles also destroy and prevent plague giving one a shiny pearly white teeth.
Boiling neem leaves and using it to wash your eyes can be good for the eyes as it is said to improve one’s vision and treat any kind of irritation, tiredness or redness.
When neem oil is applied to aching joints and muscles due to arthritis it significantly reduces pain and discomfort and increases flexibility if consistently used.
Neem is also used as a natural spermicide and birth control agent as it is likely to reduce the chances of conception for both men and women as it lowers the fertility levels without impacting libido. It also treats sexually transmitted diseases.
David Mugambi, a lecturer in natural resources management at Chuka University emphasizes on the importance of tree planting, saying that trees are known to reduce the greenhouse gases, provide construction materials, provide material for manufacture of organic pesticides, provide feeds for the livestock and shade, conserve soil, control wind and rain intensity, among other benefits.