The health benefits of Neem

neemFor centuries Ayurvedic practitioners have supported the use of Neem, including all its different parts, from its leaves, flowers and bark which they believe has huge health benefits.  Neem is used for a variety of conditions such as treating skin wounds and ulcers, strengthening hair and for cleaning teeth.  There is also some indication that it can boost the immune system and fight cancer.  Recently it showed some promise fighting Covid-19.

The Neem tree and all its parts are known as “nature’s pharmacy” in Ayurvedic medicine. The neem tree has played an integral role in traditional Indian medicines for at least 5000 years. A WAY long time before Juicy Stakes hit the market.   The plant’s scientific name is Azadirachta indica. In English it is referred to as Indian lilac and in Sanskrit, neemba. This plant is loaded with more than 130 biologically active compounds, many of which have antiviral and antibacterial attributes.

Ayurvedic treatments

For centuries Neem has been used in India for all sorts of things. Yoga and Ayurvedic expert, Bharti Raghav says “From its bark to leaves, flowers fruits, twigs, seeds and root, neem is full of health- giving properties.” For example, the twigs for cleaning teeth, the leaves would be chewed to boost immunity and the oil from neem applied to the hair.

Boiled neem placed in homes was also used to keep mosquitoes away. Raghav also adds “Ayurvedic texts describe how need treats skin disorders, hair problems, enhances appetite, boosts digestion, tackles diabetes, facilitates healing of wounds, relieves nausea and more.”

According to Vivek Acharya, yoga and Ayurveda expert based in Delhi, neem is packed full of antioxidants and therefore it may be very effective in managing cancer. He goes on to describe how “Dried and powdered neem has a good shelf life, which also makes it ideal for carrying along while travelling or in places where the tree doesn’t grow.  It can be preserved for months without spoilage.”

These trees grow primarily in the Indian subcontinent but owing to their therapeutic potential these trees are being cultivated in other places around the world where the climate is similar.

In 1992 a report from the US National Research Council spotlighted neem’s health benefits by stating “Neem: A tree for solving global problems.”   The report extols neem’s potential stating “Neem is a fascinating tree…it seems to be one of the most promising of all plants and may eventually benefit every person on the planet. Probably no other yields as many strange and varied products or has as many exploitable by-products.

Indeed, as foreseen by some scientists, this plant may usher in a new era in pest control, provide millions with inexpensive medicines, cut down the rate of human population growth, and perhaps even reduce erosion, deforestation, and the excessive temperature of an overheated globe.”

Ayurvedic medicine studies

Since that report in 1992, many more studies have been carried out looking at neem at its potential health benefits and its value in treating illnesses.

A study reported in the journal of Leukemia and Lymphoma in 2014 looked at neem leaf extract and its effect on chronic lymphocytic leukemia and found that it “demonstrates clinical efficacy, warranting further investigation as a potential therapy.”

More recently a study at the University of Colorado in the US and the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research Kolkata, reported that the extract from the bark of the neem tree may be effective in treating and reducing the proliferation of coronavirus.   This new study, which appeared in Virology, suggests that some components of neem bark may have the potential as an antiviral agent to fight new coronavirus variants that may arise.

The full list of all the different medicinal benefits of neem was recently published in Scholars International Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine.  It stated that neem has shown “anticancer, anti-fever, anti-inflammatory, antimalarial, antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, anti-parasitic, anti-hyperglycaemic and antioxidant properties.” It goes on to report that it is also effective in stimulating the immune system, promotes dental health and can protect the skin.

Fortunately, even in places where neem trees are not growing, it is possible to get neem supplements and remedies online and in stores providing natural foods and health products.

Components of the neem tree and their benefits

Twigs: Instead of toothbrush many Indians chew on neem twigs.  Raghav asserts that using neem twigs for cleaning teeth combats germs, maintains the correct alkaline levels in the saliva, prevents bacteria and inflammation of the gums.  It also whitens teeth, preventing plaque from forming and the formation of cavities.

Oil:   The oil that comes from the seeds of the neem is an ingredient that is used in cosmetics and all kinds of skin products.  It can also be used in soaps, face packs, hair and hand washes.  It is known to have anti-aging properties and therefore is highly a sought- after ingredient. It can be used to treat many skin diseases as well as treating the scalp for hair conditions.  As mentioned earlier it can also be used to repel mosquitoes.

Bark:   The bark of the neem tree treats a variety of conditions such as malaria, skin conditions, stomach ulcers and helps to relieve pain.  It is often also used to treat dental diseases.  Acharya says “It also helps heal wounds in the oral cavity due to its antiseptic and astringent properties and it supports digestive health and accelerates metabolism.”

Leaves:  Skin ulcers, diseases and wounds are treated in many parts of Asia with paste that is made from neem leaves. It is also used to repel mosquitoes.  A skin antiseptic can be made by boiling and straining the leaves and it is possible to store this for future use.  Powdered leaves – dried and then blended – can be ingested or applied to the skin to treat allergies.

Fruit:  Oil is extracted from the fruit and used to revitalize hair. It is also used to treat lice and dandruff.    It is also used as a mosquito repellent.  You will find this oil in many mass- produced room fresheners.

Flowers: These are delicate white flowers.  They are often described as having “cooling” qualities and it is for this reason that the flowers are often used in Indian summer dishes to reduce the tropical heat of summer.

Uaadi pachadi is a gruel or porridge that is made from the leaves and after the flowers are dried and blended into a powder form to make flower rice, lentil gruel or soup, lentil curries and other dishes.   Once dried they can also be used as a garnish.

There is always the possibility that some people may be allergic to Neem so it is always best to “Do a patch test by rubbing neem powder or oil on the inside of the elbows to check whether the herb works for you or not.”


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