Persian Lilac is a small to medium sized tree in the Meliaceae family. It is a close relative of neem (Azadirachta indica).
M. azedarach is native to the subtropical and tropical regions of Asia and parts of Australia. It has now naturalized in many other parts of the world including regions of South America, Africa, the Middle East, the Philippines, and the United States of America.
I’ve been enamored with Melia since I first encountered a small flowering tree a few years ago, growing out of a crack in the sidewalk near downtown Vilcabamba. I noticed the small purple flowers and when I leaned in to examine them, I was delighted to find that they smell like lilacs, one of my favorite Northern springtime flowers that doesn’t grow here in Ecuador.
It should be noted that M. azedarach fruits are poisonous to some animals and humans. Poisoning can cause negative gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, respiratory, or neurological effects, and in some severe cases, death (Phua et al., 2008).
Melia has a wide range of uses. It is utilized for timber, as it has high quality wood that dries well and is fairly resistant to fungal issues. The seeds have been used as beads for various craft projects. The trees are also planted for shade and ornamental value.
In Indian folk medicine, the plant is used for leprosy, inflammation, pain relief, and cardiac disorders (Ahmed et al., 2012).
In other traditional cultures, all parts of the plant are utilized. The juice of the leaves is used for intestinal worms, to stimulate menstruation, and as an expectorant. The seed oil is used for various skin issues (Sultana et al., 2014).
The leaf extract has long been utilized for its anti-fertility effects. An animal study found that M. azedarach seed extract decreased overall ability to conceive and caused an increased loss of embryos both before and after conception (Mandal & Dahliwal, 2007).
Extracts of the fruit are used as an insecticide that kills both eggs and larvae (Ahmed et al., 2012). One study found that M. azedarach extract killed lice quicker than 1 % permethrin, a topical insecticidal medication that is commonly used to treat lice (Rutkauskis et al., 2015).
M. azedarach has also been shown to have anthelmintic properties, meaning it can be used for infestations of parasitic worms (Sultana et al., 2014).
Research has found that M. azedarach has antibacterial effects against various pathogens, including E. coli. It also has anti-fungal properties. While all the preparations evaluated in the study showed significant anti-microbial activity, an alcohol extract of the leaves was most effective against all types of microorganisms (Sen and Batra, 2012). Studies have also indicated that M. azedarach has antiviral properties (Sultana et al., 2014).
An in vitro study showed anti-cancer effects (Jeba et al., 2020). Research has indicated that M. azedarach has hepatoprotective effects on liver damage in rats (Ahmed et al., 2012).
Another animal study showed M. azedarach leaf extract has potential to help improve wound healing (Venga et al., 2012).
Melia has long been utilized by traditional cultures for a number of applications. Today, modern research indicates potential for several more uses.
Ahmed, M.F., Rao, A.S., Ahemad, S.R., and Ibrahim, M. (2012). Phytochemical Studies and Hepatoprotective activity of Melia azedarach Linn, against CCl4 induced Hepatotoxicity in rats. Journal of Pharmacy Research, 5(5): 2664-2667. https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Rasheed-Shaik-4/publication/284029353_Phytochemical_studies_and_Hepatoprotective_activity_of_Melia_azedarach_Linn_against_CCl4_induced_Hepatotoxicity_in_Rats/links/610310ac1ca20f6f86e995ec/Phytochemical-studies-and-Hepatoprotective-activity-of-Melia-azedarach-Linn-against-CCl4-induced-Hepatotoxicity-in-Rats.pdf
Jeba Malar, T.R.J., Antonyswamy, J., Vijayaraghavan, P., Kim, Y.O., Al-Ghamdi, A.A., Elshikh, M.S., […], Kim, H.J. (2020). In-vitro phytochemical and pharmacological bio-efficacy studies on Azadirachta indica A. Juss and Melia azedarach Linn for anticancer activity. Saudi Journal of Biological Sciences, 27(2): 682-688. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sjbs.2019.11.024
Mandal, R. and Dahliwal, P.K. (2007). Antifertility effect of Melia azedarach Linn. (dharek) seed extract in female albino rat. Indian Journal of Experimental Biology, 45(10): 863-860. http://nopr.niscair.res.in/handle/123456789/5524
Melia azedarach. (2022). Plants of the World Online. Facilitated by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Published on the Internet; https://powo.science.kew.org/taxon/urn:lsid:ipni.org:names:578949-1. Retrieved 31 May 2022.
Phua, D.H., Tsai, W.J., Ger, J., Deng, J.F. & Yang, C.C. (2008) Human Melia azedarach poisoning, Clinical Toxicology, 46:10, 1067-1070, DOI: 10.1080/15563650802310929
Rutkauskis, J.R., Jacomini, D., Temponi, L.G. Sarragiotto, M.H., Alves da Silva, E.A. & Jorge, T.C.M. (2015). Pediculicidal treatment using ethanol and Melia azedarach L. Parasitology Research 114, 2085–2091. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00436-015-4394-2
Sen, A. and Batra, A. (2012). An Evaluation of Antimicrobial Activity of Different Solvent Extracts of Medicinal Plant: Melia azedarach. International Journal of Current Pharmaceutical Research, 4(2):67-73. https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Dharmendra-Arya/post/what_is_the_best_method_to_extract_and_evalute_the_antimicrobien_activity_for_calotropis_procera/attachment/5bbcf9153843b006753d80db/AS%3A679895759851521%401539111189704/download/EVALUATION+OF+ANTIMICROBIAL+ACTIVITY+OF+DIFFERENT+SOLVENT+EXTRACTS+OF+MEDICINAL+PLANT+MELIA+AZEDARACH+L..pdf
Sultana, S., Asif, H.M., Akhtar, N., Waqas, M., and Rehman, S.U. (2014). Comprehensive Review on Ethanobotanical Uses, Phytochemistry, and Pharmalogical Properties of Melia azedarach. Asian Journal of Pharmaceutical Research & Health Care, 6(1):26-32. http://jprhc.in/index.php/ajprhc/article/download/157/125
Venga, V.T., Srinivasan, D., and Sengottuvelu, S. (2012). Wound Hwaling Potential of Melia azedarach L. leaves in Alloxan Induced Diabetic Rats. Global Journal of Research on Medicinal Plants & Indigenous Medicine, 1(7): 265-271. https://www.proquest.com/openview/5f2e2e1bbeb168ca7f59faec420648a2/1?pq-origsite=gscholar&cbl=2026661