Herb of the Month: Neem

Neem tree (azadirachta indica) - top viewYears ago, I was in a temple in India and was offered holy water after a religious ceremony. I remember the first time I saw the green leaf floating in the holy water. Little did I know at that time just how powerful that little green leaf actually was and the incredibly wide range of medicinal uses it has. Now, neem is one of my favorite herbal remedies both for my patients and myself.

Neem is an herb in its own category. I consider it a super-herb. It addresses a wide range of health problems, and Indian households have been using neem in their daily lives for thousands of years. It is used in cooking, lotions, shampoos, medicines, religious ceremonies, and as a natural pesticide. At one time, it was not uncommon to find the neem tree in a traditional Indian family’s backyard because of its range of everyday uses.

Neem is a tropical evergreen tree that grows from 50 to 130 feet tall found primarily in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. Also known as Indian lilac, the neem tree has offered relief to countless people over the ages. Its medicinal uses are only expanding as time goes by.  Neem is currently being researched in India for the treatment of cancer. Every part of the neem tree can be for used – it’s slender leaves, bark, roots, seeds, fruit, and fragrant flowers.

It is difficult to summarize all of the healing properties of the neem tree because of its versatility. Neem leaves have been used traditionally as a blood cleanser due to their antiviral, antifungal, anti-parasitic, and antiseptic qualities. Neem leaves are also used to treat many eye disorders such as conjunctivitis, skin conditions such as acne and rosacea, stomach ulcers, poor appetite, diabetes, gum disease, fever, liver disorders, and arthritis. It is also great for the heart and used to prevent blood clots. The leaf can also be used for birth control because it has spermicidal qualities. If you are pregnant, trying to become pregnant, or breastfeeding, you should not consume products with neem because it can result in abortions and toxicity to infants.

Neem oil is used in soaps, lotions, facemasks, shampoos, and toothpastes. It helps treat fungal infections, lice, dry scalp, dandruff, premature graying of the hair, gingivitis, and skin disorders. Neem oil relieves dry skin and soothes itchy, red, irritated skin. It has also been used for chicken pox to relieve the associated skin irritation caused by the chicken pox virus. Neem has the ability to improve overall skin health by fighting the bacteria that causes pimples and acne. Unlike antibiotics, neem fights bacteria without causing bacterial resistance over time. Neem oil can also be used to treat arthritis and musculoskeletal pain by massaging it directly into the skin.

Given all the possible uses of neem, how can you incorporate this into your daily routine? You are welcome to follow my example and select some of the ways that I use neem in my own home:

  • Each morning I brush my teeth using toothpaste that contains neem oil. It has kept my gums healthy and free of plaque build-up.
  • After washing my face, I use a lotion with neem oil. This not only hydrates my skin throughout the day, but it also kills any surface bacteria that can cause skin breakouts.  If I have any dry or irritated skin on my body, I’ll use some of the neem lotion there too. 
  • I use a neem facemask once a week to keep my skin glowing and healthy.
  • Every two weeks I spray my vegetable garden with a homemade, natural pesticide with neem oil.  This has been a wonderful way to avoid toxic chemicals in my vegetable garden.
  • Each year I do a one-month seasonal cleanse in spring that involves neem tablets to help remove any accumulated toxins in my body and remove any parasitic organisms.

As you can tell, I am clearly a big fan of the neem tree and continue to be in awe of its healing properties. Watch this space for my next blogs – I’ll be revealing a new ayurvedic herb every month as part of this blog series.