Native to Burma in India, the Neem tree, known in botanical terms as Azadirachta indica derives its name from Azad meaning free, Dirakht denoting a tree, iHind means of Indian origin. Hence, Neem is known as ‘The Free Tree of India.” Popularly known as Margosa the Neem related to the mahogany tree belongs to the botanical family of Meliaceae. An evergreen magical tree each part of the tree, such as the leaves, fruits, flowers and bark have been used for centuries in pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, toiletries, agriculture, insect repellents and medicinal cures.
Neem in Hindu Mythology
A revered tree in the Indian tradition the Neem is believed to be an embodiment of Sitala, a folk goddess, seen suspended on a branch protecting against smallpox. Well-known for its antiseptic and disinfectant properties, the therapeutic properties of Neem is said to be due to a few drops of heavenly nectar that fell upon it.
Neem has rightly been called Sarvaroghari. Modern scientists have isolated more than 140 compounds from various parts of the Neem tree that have been evaluated for curative powers. Claimed to be a ‘Village dispensary’ the following properties found in Neem, make it one of the best herbal medicines.
- vitamin C
- oxalic acid.
|Nimbin||anti-inflammatory, anti-pyretic, anti-histamine, anti-fungal|
|Nimbidin:||anti-bacterial, anti-ulcer, analgesic, anti-arrhythmic, anti-fungal|
|Ninbidol||anti-tubercular, anti-protozoan, anti-pyretic|
|Gedunin||vasodilator, anti-malarial, anti-fungal|
|Sodium nimbinate||diuretic, spermicide, anti-arthritic|
|Azadirachtin||insect repellent, anti-feedant, anti-hormonal|
Other chemicals that form its therapeutic value are:
- Terpenoids and steroids
- Fatty acid derivatives like margosinone and margosinolone
- Coumarins like scopoletin, dihydrosocoumarins
- Hydrocarbons like docosane, pentacosane, hetacosane, octacosane etc.
- Sulphur compounds
The highest concentrations of the active ingredients are found in the neem seed and neem oil, however the active ingredients are also found in fewer amounts in the bark and the leaves.
Panacea for All Diseases
The uses of Neem as a medicine dates back to 4500 years, where the benefits of Neem’s fruits, seeds, oil, leaves, roots and bark have been mentioned in the earliest Sanskrit medical writings. Each of these has been used in the Indian Ayurvedic and Unani systems of medicine since Neem provides an answer to many lethal diseases.
Uses and Benefits of Neem Tree
Benefits of Neem Leaves
An easily available resource, Neem leaves are evergreen, available throughout the year. Neem leaves enhance biological functions by strengthening the immune system, boosting respiratory functions, improves digestive health, and supports the liver by getting rid of the unwanted toxins in the blood.
Powdered Neem leaves mixed with water to a paste and applied on the eyes relieves eye problems.
In India Neem has been used as a tradition to treat various viral diseases. According to physicians, as a preventive measure a paste made with Neem leaves rubbed on the infected area is said to be very effective for treating warts, chicken pox and small pox. This is because Neem effectively absorbs the viruses protecting them from entering the unaffected cells.
According to Research conducted in Germany, Neem extracts, toxic to herpes virus accelerate healing.
Tests in the U.S. show Neem hampers the DNA polymerase virus that causes hepatitis B.
Due to its antiviral activity in certain countries, the leaves are infused in boiling water for bathing those suffering from skin ailments. This provides respite to conditions such as eczema warts and cold sores, soothing inflammation improving itching and irritation.
Neem acts as a deworming agent and helps eliminate intestinal worms, restoring healthy functioning of the intestines.
Since the leaves are known to be an effective blood cleanser, drinking water infused with Neem leaves control high blood sugar. With large doses of antihistamine compounds, Neem leaves help dilate blood vessels impeding blood coagulation, decrease elevated heart rates, relax erratic heartbeats thus plummeting high blood pressure levels.
A natural pesticide dried Neem leaves placed in cupboards prevent insects eating the clothes and protect rice from insects while stored in tins.
Neem leaves are dried and burnt to keep away mosquitoes.
According to research, Neem is effective against certain fungal diseases that infect the human body. These include fungus that causes infections of the bronchi, lungs, and mucous membranes. Athlete’s foot, fungus of the intestinal tract and a fungus that is part of the normal mucous flora can get out of control leading to lesions in mouth (thrush), vagina, skin, hands and lungs. Besides these, Neem is also effective against fungus that infects hair, skin and nails including a ringworm that invades both skin and nails of the feet.
Neem juice administered to a woman during labour helps normal contraction of the uterus preventing any sort of inflammation. Vagina douched with a lukewarm Neem leaves concoction disinfects the passage and heals any lesions during childbirth.
The leaves moisturize the skin keeping it soft and supple. They are effective for lightening scars and pigmentation caused by scabies and acne.
Although Neem is a very powerful herb, it is advisable not to take Neem internally for prolonged periods without consulting a qualified herbalist.
Uses of Neem Seeds and Fruits
Resembling an olive, the fleshy fruit of the Neem tree encloses a few elongated seeds (kernels) having a brown seed coat. The fruits and seeds are the main source for extracting oil. Neem oil is non-culinary vegetable oil produced by pressing the seeds and fruit of the Neem plant. Neem seed oil is also an ingredient in many skin care products. In India most of the Neem oil is used in Neem soap, but there are also Neem shampoos, lotions, creams etc.
Neem oil is a natural antiseptic, antifungal, wound healing agent, and has been used for treating skin conditions ranging from ringworm acne, psoriasis, eczema dry skin and irritation.
Applied to hair, it improves the health of hair and prevents greying and hair loss. (Also read how to grow hair faster naturally?)
Eye and Ear Infections
The antibacterial activity of Neem seeds extracts against bacterial pathogens associated with eye and ear infections Researchers indicate that extracts of Neem seed could be used in the manufacture of eye and eardrops or ointment for the treatment of common problems caused by germs. (Read Taking care of your eyes)
A tea made from the leaves and mature seeds are still a popular remedy today for treating bladder, kidney and prostate ailments. This brewed tea added to a base cream may be used as a healing, soothing treatment for hemorrhoids.
In Ayurvedic medicine system, Neem is used to treat malarial fevers. Recent experiments have shown that one of the Neem’s components, gedunin (a limonoid), is as effective as quinine against malaria. According to scientists at the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology in New Delhi, mosquitoes exposure to odours of crushed Neem seeds and unaltered Neem oil, results in suppression of egg laying.
Neem acts as an excellent birth control agent for both men and women. Various experiments prove that Neem has the ability to make sperm infertile in men, without altering sperm count. Neem oil used as a lubricant in the vagina prevents pregnancy in women effectively. Therefore, it is very important for people who are planning to have a child and expecting mothers to stay clear of Neem.
Neem oil is an effective repellent of a wide variety of common garden bugs, including caterpillars, nematodes, locusts, aphids, Japanese beetles and mites. In the home, Neem oil can combat ant, cockroach, fly, termite, mosquito and bedbug infestations.
Neem oil is very popular with organic gardeners. Neem seeds are ground into a powder that is soaked overnight in water and sprayed onto the crop. It acts as an anti-feedant, repellent, and egg-laying deterrent, protecting the crop from damage. The insects starve and die within a few days. Neem also suppresses the hatching of pest insects from their eggs.
Neem helps pets, too! Lightly rubbing Neem oil into cat or dog fur will improve the shine of the coat and repel fleas. It will also not harm your pet should he or she attempt to lick it off.
The seed oil can be toxic and should not be taken internally
Uses of Neem Bark
The bark contains a higher concentration of active ingredients than the leaves, and is especially high in ingredients with antiseptic and anti-inflammatory action.
From time immemorial Neem twigs have made excellent substitutes for toothbrushes. When rubbed over the teeth in bark or twig form, it improves dental health. Not only will it make teeth whiter, but cleaning the teeth regularly with Neem branches containing fine fibres releases its antibiotic extracts offers protection from gum diseases, toothache, decay, removes bad odour and prevents various infections of the mouth.
The bark of the Neem tree can be used in natural form, or as a powder. Ingested as powder, it reduces fever.
The use of 3 grams of the inner bark of nem with 6 grams of jaggery every morning, is very effective in treating piles.
Uses of Neem Flowers
The white intricate large clusters of blossoms in white have a heavenly fragrance felt miles away while flowering.
Neem flowers, when dried and powdered, also have many uses. Flowers can be ingested in any form or be applied to the skin as a paste. They are said to particularly improve digestive, intestinal, and blood conditions. The flower is used for reducing bile, controlling phlegm, and treating intestinal worms.
The flowers are used in the preparation of special foods for diabetics.
The flower oil is also used in aromatherapy and has a calming and restorative effect
In the Indian states of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, Neem flowers are very popular for their use in ‘Ugadi Pachhadi’ (soup-like pickle), which is made on Ugadi day.
Other Medical Benefits of Neem Tree
Neem bark leaves and seed oil contain Polysaccharides and limonoids, which are beneficial for alleviating cancers and tumours without side effects.
Certain properties of Neem leaf seed, or bark naturally cures arthritis, reducing pain and swelling in joints. A massage using Neem oil is effective in relieving muscle aches and joints and helps alleviate rheumatism, Osteoarthritis, and lower back pain.
Thus, the Miracle tree Neem is undoubtedly Mother Nature’s greatest gift to Mankind.