Medical Reviewer: Dr Surabhi Rawat
The neem tree, scientifically known as Azadirachta Indica is an ancient Indian medicinal tree whose references appear in numerous Hindu scriptures as old as 5000 BC. It is described in many Ayurvedic texts as ‘Nimba’ (giver of good health) and ‘Sarva roga nivarini’ (the universal healer of all ailments).
Neem is said to originate on earth after the Devas threw a few drops of Amrita or elixir of immortality on Earth. It is believed that neem is an incarnation of the Mother Goddess and is thus called Neemari Devi.
The neem plant is called Arista in Sanskrit which means perfect and imperishable. It is referred to as the Indian lilac in English.
Thirumular Thirumantiram-Ennayiram, an ancient Tamil text makes a reference to this tree. It writes:
“Oh, Damsel of flowing tresses and slender forehead!
Hear you a miracle this!
In this water hidden in the body
Mix pepper, alma, turmeric and neem
Soft will your body be;
And dark thin hair on the head”
The great ancient Indian Ayurveda practitioners – Charaka and Sushruta also write about the healing properties of neem in their books.
Plant Physiology And Distribution
The Indian lilac or the neem tree belongs to the mahogany family. The tree is indigenous to the Indian subcontinent, distributed in tropical and semi-tropical regions of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and the Maldives. The sparse population of Neem is also found in islands in south Iran.
Neem is a fast-growing evergreen tree and can reach up to the height of 15 to 20 m or even 35 to 40 m. The leaves are pinnate in shape and the branches hold the beautiful white and fragrant flowers. The fruits can be oval or round with a yellowish-white bittersweet pulp. The tree looks like the bakain tree (chinaberry). However, there is one difference to distinguish neem from Bakain; Neem leaves are only single pinnate whereas Bakain leaves can be double or triple pinnate.
Chemical & Ayurvedic Properties
It has various medicinal properties as mentioned below:
- Anti mutagenic
According to Ayurveda, its health benefits include:
- Agnikrut – improves digestion
- Sheeta – has cooling properties
- Kasahara – helps in relieving cough
- Jwarhara – provides relief from chronic fevers
- Vranahara – heals wounds quickly
- Shramahara – relieves tiredness
- Grahi – absorbs excess moisture from the intestine and dries up ulcers
- Aruchihara – cures anorexia
- Chardi hrillasa hara – relieves vomiting and nausea
- Mehanut – can provide relief from urinary tract disorders as well as diabetes
- Krushtahara – has the ability to cure a number of skin disorders
Ayurvedic Properties or Gunadharma
- Physical property (Guna) – light and dry
- Taste (Rasa) – astringent and bitter
- Potency (Veerya) – shita or cool
- Conversion after digestion (Vipaka) – pungent after digestion
- Effect on doshas – it balances Pitta and Kapha dosha
Common Uses Of Azadirachta Indica
As A Contraceptive
Neem is a natural contraceptive. It has spermicidal properties and helps in reducing the chances of conception thus acting as a birth control agent. Not only this, but it is also helpful in preventing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.
Ancient medicine systems like Unani, Siddha and Ayurveda mention neem’s ability to cure a number of diseases.
As A Vegetable
The shoots and flowers of the neem tree are eaten throughout India as a vegetable. Veppampoo charu is a Tamilian dish made of the flowers of the tree. In some other parts, it is used as a spice to make the gravies and curries tastier.
Pest Management And Fertilizer
Neem provides an alternative to the chemical pesticides which often lead to the degradation of soil. The neem seeds are dried, powdered and soaked in water and this mixture is then sprayed on the crops to save them from pests. Neem is also used as a fertilizer to improve the nutrition content of the soil.
Apart from those mentioned above, this miracle tree has a number of other uses. It is used in the manufacturing of numerous products like toothpaste, combs, cosmetics etc. It is also used as an animal feed.
Benefits Of Neem
Neem For Boosting The Immune System
Neem is known to be rich in antimicrobial and antiviral properties which are also proven in a research published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine journal. Neem is also rich in antioxidants which protect the body against damage caused by free radicals. Merely chewing neem leaves regularly can improve the body’s efficiency to fight different infections. The antiviral action of neem saves the body against the recurrence of common flu and numerous other viral diseases. It also has an anti-fungal nature and hence applying neem paste externally on the affected area can help cure fungus related conditions like Athlete’s foot.
Efficient For The Digestive System
Since neem has strong antimicrobial properties, it safeguards the digestive system against numerous diseases like infection caused by the bacteria E coli. It helps in maintaining the health of the colon by not letting build-up of bacteria in the colon region. Neem is also useful in reducing inflammation caused by peptic ulcers in the gastrointestinal tract. It improves the digestive process protecting the body against bloating, cramping and constipation.
Neem For Supple Skin
The book ‘Ayurveda For All: Effective Ayurvedic Self Cure for Common and Chronic Ailments’ by Dr Murali Manohar, states the effectiveness of Neem in maintaining healthy skin. This ability of neem is attributed to its quality of purifying the blood. Since it helps in detoxification of the blood, its effects are clearly seen on the skin by the disappearance of blemishes and pigmentation. The antibacterial properties too are quite helpful for better skin health as it helps in curing infections and wounds.
It is an excellent cure for acne as acne are normally aggravated due to the buildup of bacteria and applying neem paste ensures that the affected area remains free of microbes. Resplendent with antioxidants and Vitamin E, consuming neem can help maintain the fresh look of the skin. The astringent properties save the skin against ageing effects like sagging and premature wrinkles.
Suggested Remedy: Neem and turmeric paste can be externally applied on areas of skin affected with insect bites or conditions like ringworm and eczema.
DIY Neem Face Mask: How To Use Neem Powder For Face?
Applying a neem face mask daily can help one rid of many types of skin problems. An easy to make do it yourself facemask is as given below:
- Neem leaves
- Turmeric powder
- Lemon Juice
- Dry the leaves and convert them into a powder with the help of a grinder.
- Create a mixture of powdered neem leaves, yoghurt and turmeric powder.
- After this add honey and lemon juice and mix properly.
- Apply the mixture on your face and let it sit for about fifteen minutes before you wash it off.
If you have very dry skin, add some oil like almond oil or coconut oil. In case of oily skin, replace the honey with Multani mitti (fuller’s earth)
Cures Eye Problems
Neem is very beneficial in case you are looking out for something to improve your vision. One can either chew the leaves on a daily basis or wash their eyes regularly with water boiled with the leaves. It not only helps in improving eyesight but also in curing many eye problems.
For A Good Oral Health
In India, neem twigs have been used since time immemorial to brush their teeth. These teeth cleaning twig is often referred to as daatun and is known for the immense benefits it brings not only for the teeth but for enhancing overall oral health. The herb maintains the alkalinity of the saliva to an appropriate level and its antibacterial properties help in fighting oral infections. Chewing the leaves can help one get rid of bad breath, gum infections and yellow teeth.
Neem Leaves For Hair Health & Dandruff
No one has been spared of the menace caused by dandruff. Once affected, it becomes nearly impossible to get rid of it. However here too neem comes to the rescue. Washing the hair with water boiled with the leaves helps in maintaining a hydrated and supple scalp protecting the scalp against dandruff. The anti-microbial properties of neem further save the scalp against viral and fungal infections. Being rich in antioxidants, it can help in easing the oxidative stress of the scalp by eliminating free radicals. This results in better health of the hair follicles and in turn better, stronger and healthier hair. Neem has also proven to be effective in curing premature male baldness.
How to use neem powder for hair?
- Take some fresh neem leaves and dry them completely in the sun.
- Take a blender and make a powder of the dried leaves. You can store the powder for a few months in a cool, dry and dark place. You can also purchase a premade powder from Amazon.
- Make a paste of 1tbsp of the powder with lemon juice or yoghurt.
- Apply about 30 minutes before you take a bath and rinse off without applying shampoo.
- Repeat this at least twice a week for great results.
Detoxification Of The Body
Neem’s strong antimicrobial and antioxidant properties ensure that the blood is free of toxins. However, there is one more special property of the herb which makes it a strong antitoxin. Consuming it helps in stimulating the liver, according to research published in Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics journal. A healthy functioning liver ensures quicker and more efficient removal of toxins.
Neem Has Anticancer Properties
It is rich in powerful antioxidants like flavonoids helps in freeing the body of free radicals which are often responsible for the creation of malignant tumours. Consuming neem helps in eliminating the buildup of carcinogenic agents in the body thereby reducing the risk posed by cancer.
Research published in the Indian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology tells about the relationship between insulin demand and neem consumption. Consuming this herb on a daily basis ensures that an appropriate amount of insulin is released, thus protecting the body against symptoms of diabetes. Patients who are already suffering from diabetes can consume neem for greater relief and lesser reliance on antibiotics.
Neem As A Remedy For Malaria
Neem works as a mosquito repellant and many Indian homes plant neem to keep mosquitoes at bay. The work of the herb doesn’t just end here but it is also helpful when affected by malaria, a disease caused due to the bite of infected mosquitoes. Consuming neem helps in alleviating the symptoms making the disease less severe.
Neem Leaves Side Effects And Precautions
Though it is considered as an all-rounder medicinal plant, yet it can affect different body types differently. Therefore it can have a few side effects and precautions must be taken accordingly.
- Neem leaves is an immunomodulatory agent that is it boosts the activity of the immune system. Hence people suffering from autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis, lupus etc must be careful.
- Since the herb affects the production of insulin in the body, diabetes patients are not recommended to consume neem along with their prescribed medicines. A doctor’s consultation in such a case is a must.
- Since it lowers blood sugar levels, its intake must be stopped at least two weeks prior to surgery.
- If consumed in very large doses, neem can prove to be harmful to the kidney and liver functioning.
- Pregnant and lactating women must not consume neem as it can cause miscarriage. It can also lower fertility and reduce sperm count.
- Children should not be given large doses of neem as it can cause nausea, vomiting and severe diarrhoea.
- People who have had an organ transplant must not consume the herb as it reduces the effectiveness of medicines taken to prevent organ rejection in the body.