One of the most discussed plants in the world, with
applications in various fields such as medicine, pest control, wellness and
beauty is our topic of discussion for this column. Azadirachta indica or Neem
tree has received so many alternative names in different cultures over Asia that
they are proof of its prolific use and effectiveness. This plant has been called
the Sacred Tree, Nature’s Drugstore, Village Pharmacy and Panacea for all
diseases, just to name a few.
Products made from Neem trees have been used for over two millennia for their
medicinal properties. Neem products are believed to be anthelmintic(drive out
worms and nematode), antifungal (helps against fungal infections, mainly
exterior), anti-diabetic, antibacterial, antiviral and contraceptive. It is
considered a major component in Ayurveda and Unani medicine and in these
traditions is particularly prescribed for fungal and bacterial related skin
disease treatment. All parts of the tree, seeds, leaves, flowers, bark and roots
are said to have medicinal properties and are each used for preparing a wide
variety of disease specific medical preparations.
Neem is a key ingredient in non-pesticide management or NPM, providing a natural
alternative to synthetic pesticides for which one of the key applications can be
found in natural, organic and permaculture farming. Neem seeds are ground into a
powder that is soaked overnight in water and then sprayed onto the crop. To be
effective it is necessary to apply repeatedly with intervals of 2 weeks on
average. Neem does not directly kill insects on the crops but acts as a feeding
inhibitor, a repellent, and a reproduction deterrent, protecting the crop from
damage. The insects either scurry or starve and die within a few days, the eggs
are prevented from hatching at the same time, and so with every repeat cycle,
both eggs and existing or newly arrived individuals in the fields are treated.
Neem oil is also used for preparing cosmetics such as soap, shampoo, balms and
creams as well as many oral health products. Traditionally, slender Neem
branches have been chewed to clean one’s teeth. Neem twigs are still collected
and sold in markets for this use, and in India one often sees youngsters in the
streets chewing on Neem twigs for the great effects it has on dental hygiene. It
certainly isn’t chewed for the taste, as it is one of the bitterest herbs in the
Let us take a further look at some more specific information about the medicinal
properties of Neem. An extract of Neem leaves is thought to be helpful as a
malaria prophylaxis despite the fact that comprehensive clinical studies are
still being conducted. In several cases though, private initiatives were
successful in preventing malaria.
Neem has proved effective against certain fungi that infect the human body. Such
fungi are an increasing problem and have been difficult to control by synthetic
fungicides. We are talking about both external fungal infections as well as
internal ones, far more dangerous and harder to treat. It is due time for more
clinical research to be done on this plant so big organizations and NGO’s can
adopt the use of these preparations.
In trials Neem oil has suppressed several species of pathogenic bacteria
including Staphylococcus & Salmonella spp. There is also much interesting
information about the antiviral activity of Neem. Its efficacy particularly
against pox viruses is strong and astonishing, with daily evidence coming out of
the research field. Small pox and chicken pox have traditionally been treated
with a paste of Neem leaves, usually rubbed directly on to the infected skin.
It is also used to clear out infestations with dermatological insects. Applying
Neem oil to the hair to kill head lice have shown to be very successful. Neem
seed oil and leaf extracts may be the wonder cure for psoriasis. It relieves the
itching and pain while reducing the scale and redness of the patchy lesions.
Neem may also be a ready source of low cost analgesic (pain relieving), or
antipyretic (fever reducing) compounds. In trials, positive results have been
obtained for significant analgesic, antipyretic & anti-inflammatory effects.
Contraceptive Agents : Indian scientists from the Defense Institute of
Physiology & Allied Sciences (DIPAS) have applied for patents on chemicals
isolated from the Neem oil which have proved to be promising contraceptive
agents. If administered orally it can cause abortion after implantation has
There are 2 varieties found in the market. One is the traditional green one. I
recently purchased the red variety, with even higher beneficial properties. Let’
s wait for it to bloom and for the seeds to spread for the benefit of all
mankind, especially now we have to continue after the apocalypse turned out to
be a disappointment.