Neem – The Effects Of Bark, Leaves, And Oil

The neem tree is one of the most important medicinal plants in Ayurveda medicine and has been used as a panacea by humans, animals, and even plants for thousands of years. Due to its diverse effects, neem (or neem) is also known as the village pharmacy. Whether skin or dental diseases, stomach ulcers, or cancer: There is hardly any ailment that the neem could not take on. Learn from us how the bark, seeds, leaves, and neem oil can be used and what needs to be considered.

Neem – A godsend

The majestic neem tree (Azadirachta indica) – also known as neem or neem – belongs to the mahogany family. It is particularly insensitive to drought and can grow up to 40 meters high and up to 200 years old.

The neem tree originally comes from the Indian subcontinent, where it has been revered for thousands of years as a source of health for plants, animals, and humans. In India and neighboring countries such as Pakistan, the various parts of the plant are still used in numerous religious ceremonies.

Many Hindus bathe in a leaf decoction (decoction of the leaves of the neem tree) on Indian New Year’s Day to symbolically cleanse the body and soul. Neem is also considered a lucky charm. In some areas, it is customary to tie garlands from the neem leaves, which are used to decorate the entire festival site on special occasions such as weddings.

In old Sanskrit writings, neem is described as a gift from heaven, since an extraordinary healing power lies dormant in the leaves, in the trunk, and in the bark as well as in the seeds and fruits. This is also indicated by the Sanskrit word “Nimbu”, which translated means “the disease reliever”.

From South Asia, the neem tree only reached Africa in the 20th century, where it can now be found in more than 30 countries (e.g. Ghana), as well as in the south of the USA and in Central and South America. In the meantime, more and more people in Europe are interested in the extensive healing powers of neem.

Neem: The areas of application

In traditional medicine (especially in Ayurveda), the various plant parts of the neem tree are used for the following topics:

  • skin diseases
  • head lice
  • Dental and oral hygiene
  • Mental illness
  • anemia
  • high blood pressure
  • hepatitis
  • ulcers
  • thyroid disorders
  • indigestion
  • High cholesterol
  • diabetes
  • inflammation
  • Cancer
  • prevention

That the neem has gained so much popularity all over the world and has been able to make a name for itself in many countries as a “village pharmacy” says more than any study could prove. Nevertheless, research is in full swing to decipher the active principles.

Neem: More than 100 active ingredients

Although neem has been scientifically studied for decades now, most of its active ingredients are still not fully understood. Key ingredients include the antioxidant quercetin, as well as the antiviral limonoids nimbin, nimbidin, and azadirachtin, which are responsible for the extremely bitter taste.

The substance azadirachtin was first isolated from the seeds of the tree in 1968. It is the main ingredient in neem oil. It took 22 years of research before British scientists from the University of Cambridge managed to synthesize the complex substance. Azadirachtin protects the neem tree from infestation with harmful insects and is therefore also important as a biological insecticide.

According to estimates, however, the neem tree contains far more than 100 different active ingredients, which are present in different combinations depending on the respective part of the plant.

Neem: The parts of the plant and their uses

All parts of the neem tree are important in human and veterinary medicine as well as in agriculture.

Neem bark

The neem bark is a component of numerous medicines (e.g. extracts) that serve to strengthen the body. The bark is also used to prevent and heal gum disease.

Studies have shown that neem bark contains a large number of catechins (radical scavengers) and other highly effective ingredients that stimulate the immune system. In Ayurveda, the bark of the neem tree is equated with the neem leaves in terms of its healing properties.

Neem leaves

Neem leaves are great to use to make an extract or infusion as most of the bitter compounds are soluble in alcohol and water. Even Mahatma Gandhi is said to have drunk a cup of neem leaf tea every day to strengthen himself.

In India, the leaves are also chewed – fresh or dried – or ground into a fine powder, from which tinctures and teas are prepared. It should be noted that the water should not boil, as some ingredients can be damaged by heat. According to an Ayurvedic recipe, 1 pinch of neem leaf powder per cup is steeped in 75-degree hot water for 10 minutes.

Steam inhalations can be used for respiratory problems such as coughs, bronchial asthma, and colds, while neem leaf baths are recommended for skin problems (e.g. acne). The leaves are first soaked in water for 24 hours and then added to the bath water together with the soaking water.

In addition, the powder can be applied externally in the form of cosmetic preparations, e.g. B. for face masks or envelopes.

Neem Fruits and Neem Seeds

Wherever the neem tree grows, people also use its seeds, which are found in olive-like drupes. The fruits are not used as food because they taste very bitter.

In India, however, medicines are made from fruits and pulp, which z. B. be used against diabetes. It is also common to eat a neem seed or two after meals to aid in digestion and kill harmful bacteria in the mouth.

First and foremost, however, the seeds are used to obtain the coveted neem oil.

Neem Oil – An all-rounder

The neem oil is pressed from the dried and ground seeds, which contain up to 40 percent oil.

In Ayurveda, neem oil is used both internally and externally, e.g. B. recommended for chronic skin diseases, ulcers, worm infestation, rheumatism, fever, leprosy, and for contraception.

Neem Oil in Agriculture

Neem oil is also occasionally used in agriculture, since plants z. B. protects against lice and spider mites, i.e. in particular against sucking and biting pests, since only these absorb the neem oil in significant concentrations.

Hobby gardeners can use the neem oil as follows:

You will need 5ml of neem oil and 1ml of rimulgan. Rimulgan is a beneficial plant-based emulsifier that makes neem oil water-soluble.

Now all you have to do is stir these two ingredients together, mix them with 1 liter of water, and pour them into a water atomizer. You can spray the neem solution on the affected parts of the plant once or twice a day.

In addition, the so-called press cakes (press residues from oil production) are used as mulch material in agriculture in the Neem countries of origin. In this way, the soil is enriched with nitrogen and other nutrients and at the same time kept free of nematodes.

Neem oil keeps parasites away

Scientists have proven that neem oil not only keeps plants parasite-free but also humans and animals. Applied externally, it can therefore be freed from annoying parasites such as e.g. B. Get rid of mites or lice.

It is advantageous that ticks are also deterred by the garlic-like and bitter taste of neem oil.

In India, there are numerous Ayurvedic preparations for this purpose. Some can now also be purchased from us. You can also make these home remedies yourself.

Neem oil is simply added to shampoo in amounts of about 3 to 5 percent, with which the fur of the animal (or the head of the human head, e.g. in the case of lice) can be washed. It is important that you let the washing solution work for 5 to 10 minutes before rinsing it out well with the shower.

Neem works against bacteria

Around 100 trillion bacteria live in humans. Among them are absolutely harmless and helpful companions, but also pathogens. Once pathogenic bacteria have entered the body and triggered an infection, conventional medicine usually prescribes antibiotics.

The fatal thing is that antibiotics not only kill the harmful but also the beneficial bacteria and can also become ineffective over time due to the development of resistance in some bacteria.

In the meantime, the antibacterial effect of neem products has been proven in many studies. For example, neem works well against the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus, which can cause skin inflammation, muscle disorders, or pneumonia.

Indian researchers from Andhra University have found in laboratory experiments that various neem extracts against 14 bacterial strains. B. Klebsiella pneumonia, a bacterium that can sometimes cause urinary tract infections.

Since many of the bacterial strains studied are already resistant to antibiotics, neem preparations could represent an important alternative.

Does neem damage the intestinal flora?

First, however, it must be examined whether neem kills only the harmful bacteria or also the beneficial ones. An interesting animal study from 2017 suggests that neem does not harm beneficial gut bacteria—in fact, taking 3mL of neem extract daily for two weeks had a positive impact on the gut health of chicks.

The amount of E. Coli bacteria in the intestine was reduced by taking neem – significantly more than in the control group who received an antibiotic. While the amount of beneficial lactic acid bacteria also decreased in the antibiotic group, it increased in the neem group.

The intestinal villi of the chicks were also significantly longer and wider after the two weeks than in the control group. Intestinal villi are protuberances in the intestinal mucosa and serve to absorb nutrients.

Unfortunately, there are no studies that have examined the influence of neem on the human intestinal flora. For this reason, neem should only be taken as a precautionary measure and not long-term.

Neem for dental health

The bacterium Streptococcus mutants are responsible for tooth decay. There are also bacteria that can cause periodontitis.

To prevent these problems, countless people in India and Africa use small branches of the neem tree to keep their teeth healthy simply by chewing on the branches for a few minutes. After the end of a twig is chewed, the wood fibers lay bare and resemble a brush. This can then be used like a disposable toothbrush.

The tooth-protecting effect of the neem tree has now also been scientifically confirmed. It is also known that a neem solution can achieve the same antibacterial effect as chlorhexidine (CHX), which is so popular in dentistry.

Unlike chlorhexidine, which can come with some side effects, such as B. with brownish tooth discoloration and a disturbance of the sense of taste, no such phenomena are known in neem.

Further research has shown that toothpaste and mouthwashes containing neem oil are effective against plaque and gingivitis.

The main reason why disease-causing bacteria take over is an imbalanced immune system. Since neem strengthens the immune system, the healing tree helps here in two ways.

Neem heals ulcers

The number of ulcers is constantly increasing, not least because of the unhealthy lifestyle. In Germany alone, 800,000 people suffer from a stomach ulcer, and around one in ten people will develop a duodenal ulcer in the course of their life.

In a study at the Indian Institute of Chemical Biology in Calcutta, researchers came to the conclusion that bark extract can reduce or even completely heal reflux symptoms (heartburn) and stomach ulcers. The patients were treated with 30 mg of aqueous neem bark extract twice a day for 10 days. After just 10 days, a drastic reduction in gastric acid was observed.

Duodenal ulcers could also be significantly improved. The subjects received 30 to 60 mg of the neem extract twice a day for 10 weeks. In addition, patients with ulcers in the esophagus could also be completely cured.

Stomach and duodenal ulcers in particular are often associated with the gastric bacterium Helicobacter pylori. For example, since neem is so good at fighting bacteria, its success in treating the aforementioned ulcers might stem from its ability to fight Helicobacter pylori so well.

Treating ulcers is highly recommended, as otherwise, they can also lead to cancer. But even with cancer, the neem tree can be helpful.

Neem in cancer research

Regarding tumors, neem not only acts preventively but also therapeutically.

Complex neem-typical mechanisms of action are responsible for this. Because the neem works on very different levels:

  • It regulates the immune system
  • fights free radicals,
  • neutralizes carcinogenic substances,
  • repairs DNA damage,
  • has an anti-inflammatory effect,
  • inhibits tumor growth
  • prevents the formation of metastases and
  • also has a deadly effect directly on the cancer cells.

In addition, some studies have shown that neem extracts (compared to chemotherapy drugs) do not cause any side effects and can reduce their side effects when used in combination with chemotherapy.

In this context, a research team has shown that neem extract could drastically reduce the kidney damage that normally occurs when the chemotherapy drug cisplatin is administered.

Neem for skin ailments

However, the most important application of neem at the moment is on the skin.
Many skin diseases are caused by viruses, fungi, and bacteria and are associated with inflammation. Consequently, the anti-inflammatory and antibacterial effective neem tree is an excellent remedy for skin problems.

Whether acne, neurodermatitis, psoriasis, eczema, scabies, herpes, or skin cancer: there is hardly a skin ailment that cannot be alleviated or even completely cured with the help of the neem tree.

So e.g. For example, American scientists from the Western University of Health Sciences demonstrate that neem bark extract is effective against herpes viruses.

An Indian research team from Banaras Hindu University has shown that the simultaneous use of neem oil and the ancient Ayurvedic medicine Haridra Khand can even heal chronic wounds.

Neem – internal use

Whether neem oil, neem extract, neem capsules, neem tea, or neem toothpaste: numerous neem preparations can now also be bought in Europe.

However, before use, always bear in mind that herbal remedies – especially those that are as powerful as the neem tree – can also have side effects if they are intolerant or used incorrectly (e.g. overdose).

Many studies have shown that taking neem oil or neem extract orally in limited doses for shorter periods of time (about 2 weeks) is medically safe.

Compared to neem extracts, neem leaves are of course dosed much lower than an extract and therefore a longer intake is conceivable. However, since neem tea tastes very bitter and the leaves are difficult to dose, extracts are usually recommended for therapies.

Some people also react to internal ingestion with nausea and general discomfort. In this case, one should start with small doses and then slowly increase the dose.

The intake recommendations of the manufacturer should not be exceeded under any circumstances, as 20 to 50 ml of neem oil can lead to an overdose in adults and 5 ml in children.

Neem products should not be used at all in children under the age of 4.

Women and men who want to have children should also avoid neem because of its somewhat contraceptive effect. Pregnant women should not take neem supplements as they can lead to premature birth or miscarriage.

Since neem is a powerful healing agent and the dosage depends on the respective ailments, it would be advisable to consult a naturopath or herbalist before oral use.

Neem – external use

Allergic reactions have occasionally been reported when neem products are used externally. Before you use neem for the first time, you should test it on a small area of ​​skin to be sure whether you tolerate it. If an unpleasant reaction occurs on the skin within 5 to 10 minutes (e.g. reddening, itching, burning), it is better not to use it directly.

Neem extract

An alcohol-based neem extract should only be used externally when it comes to disinfecting small wounds. If you want to use it for rubbing or as a poultice, it should be diluted with water.

Neem oil

Neem oil can be combined with vegetable oil – e.g. B. olive oil or almond oil – can be diluted or used in the preparation of an ointment. In children, the neem oil content should be a maximum of 1 to 2 percent and in adults 3 percent.

However, if z. B. Treating skin eczema or removing skin parasites (e.g. itch mites), the neem oil content should be about 25 percent.

Vegetable oils and ointments enriched with neem oil are used e.g. B. applied very sparingly to dry skin and when treating (open) wounds or cold sores.

However, if bruises, bruises, haemorrhoids, or joint pain are treated, the application is more extensive and not quite as economical, but don’t forget: Here too, only diluted with a base oil (olive oil, almond oil, etc.).

Neem Oil: Buying Tip

If you now want to buy neem oil, then make sure that it is a high-quality, cold-pressed, organic neem oil, as inferior products e.g. B. with aflatoxins (fungal toxins) can be contaminated. Such contamination can occur if the neem seeds have been stored improperly.

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Written by Bella Adams

I'm a professionally-trained, executive chef with over ten years in Restaurant Culinary and hospitality management. Experienced in specialized diets, including Vegetarian, Vegan, Raw foods, whole food, plant-based, allergy-friendly, farm-to-table, and more. Outside of the kitchen, I write about lifestyle factors that impact well-being.

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