Neem (Azadirachta indica) is a popular ayurvedic herb historically used to treat various ailments. Neem is so ubiquitous in India that it grows on every street, and people gather in the mornings to cut their toothbrush (“datun”) from its branches. Local herb-lore claims neem is so powerful that chewing neem leaves will make you immune to snake bites! While that may be a far-fetched claim, scientific research has given some backing to various health benefits of neem. What has been proven, is that it’s effective in treating dandruff, acne, gingivitis, and it may be beneficial to cancer patients. Additionally, studies have shown that neem has antimalarial, antifungal, antiseptic, antimicrobial, and antibacterial properties.
Historical and Traditional Uses
Ayurvedic uses for neem are extensive, ranging from a salve for wounds to ridding the body of intestinal worms. Ancient Sanskrit texts dating back centuries describe many of the traditional uses for neem. Ayurveda claims neem has a cooling effect on the body and is adept at detoxifying the respiratory system as well as healing skin infections. All parts of the plant can be used, and they all have different traditional applications. The leaves and bark can be dried, powdered and utilized for internal and external use. The seed of the neem tree is often made into a potent oil, used topically. Twigs of neem trees are used like eco-friendly disposable toothbrushes, a practice dating back to time immemorial. In short, the whole plant is a herbal pharmacy of sorts, and has been used extensively before the dawn of modern medicine.
Although limited scientific research has been done on neem, there has been enough research to support some Ayurvedic claims, particularly those pertaining to skin diseases, blood-sugar control, immune-support, and dental health.
Some ways you can utilize this wonder herb are:
- Dental Hygiene: While you can buy neem datun sticks online, if you don’t feel like chewing on a stick, don’t worry! There are neem powders as well as toothpastes that will keep your mouth feeling fresh and clean.
- Shampoo: Want long and silky locks while keeping your scalp dandruff-free? Neem shampoos are the way to go. Neem shampoos are also an effective means to treat lice.
- Anti-acne treatment: A simple paste made of water and neem leaf powder can be applied to your skin as a face mask. You can also use a few drops of neem oil on your face as a skin-clearing moisturizer (please do a test patch first to check for allergies!).
- Immune-Booster: Neem’s proven antibacterial and antimicrobial properties make it a good choice for a natural immune boosting supplement. You can take neem capsules for this purpose.
- Healing Scars: Neem oil is rich in vitamin E and can be applied to scars to reduce or heal them.
Neem has been historically utilized as an abortificant, and studies have shown it can induce abortions in animals, so please avoid neem if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or trying to become pregnant. Neem is not suitable for infants or children. Neem is not recommended for people with diabetes, as it can lower blood sugar. Please consult your physician before taking neem.
Get more like this—Sign up for our daily inspirational newsletter for exclusive content!
Photo: Jessi Ferguson