In Indian mythology, neem has a divine origin. When the elixir of immortality was being carried to heaven by divine beings, drops fell on the neem tree, which led to its miraculous healing properties. Found throughout the Indian subcontinent, Ayurvedic medicine practitioners have used the bark, leaves, flowers, seeds, and fruits of the neem tree (Azadirachta indica) for centuries.
Neem comes in many forms, from oil to tea to honey. Neem benefits your skin, hair, immune system, and more. You can grow it in your flower garden and put it to use as a natural, chemical-free insect repellant and herbicide. Here's everything you need to know about neem oil benefits and uses.
What Is Neem Oil?
Known as the Indian lilac tree, practitioners of Ayurvedic and Siddha medicine throughout India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Pakistan, and the Maldives have relied on the neem tree throughout the ages to promote health. In Sanskrit, people call the neem tree arista (which means "perfection, happiness, secure") as well as nimba, which means "to give good health." It turns out neem oil contains quercetin, a flavonoid plant pigment that acts as a strong antioxidant with well-documented health properties. Neem oil contains several other active compounds, including nimbi, salannin, azadirachtin, and several fatty acids.
Neem oil is made either by cold-pressing seeds or soaking crushed seed kernels and extracting using hexane. Cold-pressing is ideal since heating removes active compounds, and hexane may add unwanted chemicals. Hexane extraction is usually used to make soaps.
7 Health Benefits of Neem Oil
Various parts of the neem tree, including seeds, leaves, flowers, and bark, contain a host of nutrients and plant compounds with health-enhancing properties. Over the past thousand years, natural health practitioners have prescribed its use for a variety of ailments such as snake bites, malaria, and even constipation. Here are some of the most well-known health-related uses for neem and products made from it.
1. Supports Digestive Health
Neem has long been used to help promote gut health and digestion. In the Ayurvedic tradition, the tree's bark is used to help different stomach ailments, including gas and bloating. Modern research has verified that neem extract has gastroprotective properties: a 2004 study demonstrated that 30-60 mg of the extract, taken twice a day, had a positive impact on stomach ulcers.
2. Aids Cleansing & Detoxification
Neem's support for digestive health extends one step further than just helping your digestion. It turns out the tree's bark may help defend against intestinal invaders. Neem offers significant activity against various types of harmful organisms, especially those that affect the digestive system. By promoting good bacteria (probiotics) while deterring harmful ones, neem supports a healthy and happy gut.
3. Encourages Healthy-Looking Skin
Neem essential oil is also known for its skin-enhancing benefits. Practitioners of Siddha medicine, a traditional practice from Southern India and Sri Lanka, added neem oil to herbal concoctions or made neem soap to help skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, ringworm, and even leprosy. You may find neem oil listed as an ingredient in many natural cosmetic, soap, and anti-aging products. Neem's fatty acids, vitamins, and powerful antioxidants are the perfect trifecta to help rejuvenate the skin by diminishing the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines.
4. Promotes Healthier Hair
Neem's benefits also extend to your hair, helping to make it stronger and fuller. Using a shampoo with neem oil helps improve scalp health through its anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties. You'll see healthier hair follicles as a result. Those same properties curb dandruff by providing nourishment across the entire scalp and deter Candida, a fungus known to cause those pesky skin flakes. Neem can also help you rid yourself of every parent's nightmare: lice. Topical lice products with neem seed extracts have been shown to eradicate the adult lice in a single treatment — but not the nits (eggs), which you will still have to remove manually.
5. Boosts Oral Health
Before you could buy toothbrushes on store shelves, Ayurvedic practitioners recommended their patients use neem twigs to clean their teeth, relieve painful toothaches, and prevent gum disease. Perhaps it's no surprise to learn that, today, neem bark is an active ingredient in several natural oral health products, from toothpaste to mouthwash. Neem's anti-bacterial properties help limit bacterial growth in the mouth, reducing the risk of swollen gums (gingivitis), bad breath (halitosis), and even more serious dental issues like plaque buildup and tooth decay.
6. May Act as a Natural Birth Control
Research suggests that neem may have anti-fertility effects, acting as a natural birth control. A study found that neem leaf extract has spermicidal (sperm-killing) action, reducing human sperm motility to near zero at a 3mg dose. Studies showed that applying neem oil intravaginally before sex prevented conception in rhesus monkeys, rats, and rabbits. Neem oil may prevent the implantation of a fertilized egg in humans, as well as lab animals. The anti-conception effects were completely reversed after its use stopped in studies. We don't recommend relying on neem for birth control; always consult your healthcare provider.
7. Acts as an Antioxidant
Neem's impressive health-related properties don't stop there. Scientists have found the strong antioxidant plant pigment called quercetin in neem. This and other compounds act as free radical scavengers, picking up harmful reactive oxygen species (ROS) throughout the body. Neem also reduced premature cell death (apoptosis) of healthy cells, while helping to destroy harmful cells. Researchers have found neem can be an effective tool for promoting good health. It's easy to see why neem is known as a "wonder tree."
Forms of Neem
Different forms of neem supplements and applications are available, ranging from:
- Neem Bark: Neem bark is often ground to a powder. This neem powder is then used to protect the gastrointestinal tract, to repel harmful intestinal invaders, as well as an insecticide.
- Neem Leaves: Neem leaves can be used as a poultice or steeped into a tea to reduce stomach upset or fever, and to help promote heart health.
- Neem Oil: Neem oil is made from the seeds of the neem tree. It can be used to help promote clear, healthy skin, for gut health, as a birth control, and for natural pest control. You can buy neem oil spray or straight oil that can be diluted as needed.
- Neem Tea: Neem tea is made from whole or ground leaves. It is bitter on its own, so is usually combined with blends of other herbs and spices, like green tea, licorice root, fennel seed, or orange peel.
- Neem Honey: Neem honey is collected from beehives that are placed near groves of neem trees. The honey can be used to help settle the stomach. It also has strong antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties
Neem Oil Uses
There are many ways to use neem, both health-oriented and otherwise. Neem has so many health-promoting properties that it's commonly used in personal hygiene, from improving your breath to reducing wrinkles. In addition to helping your health, neem can be used in your garden and for your pets!
To use neem's wrinkle-smoothing and skin-health-boosting properties, look for complexion bars, lotion, facial oil, body polish, body wash, and facial cleansers. Because of neem's therapeutic properties, you can also buy ointments, chapsticks for your lips, or just pure neem oil for various uses. Neem oil is an excellent natural remedy for psoriasis, eczema, and dry skin.
How to Use: To soothe acne, dab undiluted neem oil directly to the spot using a cotton swab. For larger patches of dry skin from psoriasis or eczema, add ten drops of neem oil into a carrier like almond, jojoba, or coconut oil in a glass storage bottle. If you don't like the scent, you can add a few drops of lavender or your favorite essential oil. Once mixed, you can apply some to your hands, then rub over the affected area. If you prefer a less-oily option, add the neem oil to aloe vera gel instead. Don't apply pure neem oil if you have sensitive skin, as it can irritate. Instead, mix pure neem oil with any of the carriers mentioned above or aloe vera to dilute its concentration down to 3 to 25 percent.
Because of neem's ability to deter harmful organisms, people have used it for oral health for centuries. While we don't use neem twigs the way they used to in ancient India, today you can find neem-containing mouthwash or toothpaste, as well as tooth and gum powder.
How to Use: To spiff up your oral care routine try these tricks. Spread a dab of neem oil along the length of your dental floss and floss as you normally do. This gets the neem into your gums and in crevices that you may not get to with your toothbrush alone. You can also add a couple of drops of neem oil to your toothpaste, or rub a drop or two along your gum line.
Neem promotes healthy hair and scalp, reducing dandruff and keeping your locks lustrous. Products for hair include dandruff-fighting shampoo and conditioner, and you can apply neem oil — diluted in a carrier like almond oil — directly on the scalp for dandruff or lice. Because neem is gentle for children, there are also baby care shampoos and care items.
How to Use: If you want to use your own hair care products but get the benefits of neem, add ten drops of neem oil into three tablespoons of your favorite shampoo or lotion. Pure neem oil has a strong garlicky odor, which is why many products combine it with other oils, like lavender oil or eucalyptus oil.
You can safely use neem oil on food crops to keep aphids, mites and other plant-killing insects at bay. It can also protect you from unwanted attention from ants, mosquitoes, and other flying pests while gardening, or when outside. Some use neem oil to keep bed bugs away from their home. The oil also has anti-fungal properties, resisting mildew and root rot in plants.
How to Use: You can create homemade pesticide. In a spray bottle, add one teaspoon high-quality neem oil to a quart of water. Add in 1/8 teaspoon liquid soap to help the mixture stick to plants and surfaces. You can spray this concoction directly onto the leaves of the plant. Consult a local natural gardening center to help determine how much and how often to use the spray.
Neem's insecticidal properties can also help keep your pets healthy. When applied topically (to the skin), the oil can help dogs avoid the vexing bites of fleas, midges, mites and other biting insects — the very ones that may carry worms or disease. Always dilute the oil to prevent irritation. Neem oil, when diluted, can soothe itchy, inflamed skin.
Neem oil should never be taken internally by pets since ingestion can be dangerous for them. There are some neem products available at specialty veterinary stores, but you can easily make neem products at home. Neem can interfere with certain medications, so discuss your use of this supplement with your veterinarian to make sure it's safe before using it on your pet.
How to Use: To make an insecticidal shampoo, add 25 mL of high-quality neem oil to 400 mL of your favorite pet shampoo. Alternatively, if you prefer a daily topical spray, you can add one cup of neem leaf to one liter of water. After simmering for five minutes, add the water to a spray bottle to use as needed.
Side Effects & Safety of Neem
For the most part, neem is safe and well-tolerated in adults when used externally. People with sensitive skin should always dilute neem oil with a carrier oil. Internal use of neem oil may cause loose stools or vomiting, so exercise caution before consuming it internally. Based on animal studies, a safe serving of 0.2 mL/kg neem oil has been suggested for adults. Always choose the purest, highest-quality supplements or oils because some may otherwise be contaminated.
Neem may temporarily reduce male and female fertility, so avoid it if you are actively trying to get pregnant or might try to conceive within a few months. The studies do indicate that its anti-fertility effects are quickly reversible after discontinuing its use.
Some studies suggest that excessive amounts of neem oil might be toxic and negatively affect the brain, kidney, and liver. Neem is known to interact with a variety of different drugs, including common diabetes medications. As with all supplements and medications, talk to your healthcare provider before taking neem to make sure it's appropriate for you.
Points to Remember
There's good reason why neem has a long history of use by natural medicine practitioners. It offers many impressive health benefits including aiding cleansing and detoxification, promoting digestive health, acting as a natural birth control, and deterring harmful organisms in the body as well as the home and garden.
Neem contains quercetin, a strong antioxidant, as well as other plant pigments, fatty acids, and nutrients that work together to promote the impressive health benefits that are increasingly backed up by science.
Neem is generally safe for use, but may interact with some medications, and has anti-fertility effects, so it should not be used if you are trying to conceive a child. Consult with a healthcare professional to know how much neem is right for you.
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†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.