The neem tree (Azadirachta indica) has been recognized as possessing powerful health promoting properties for millennia. In fact, there is evidence that as long as 4,500 years ago, neem was already being used to support healing.1 Its use originated in ancient India and neighboring countries, where it has long been revered as one of the most versatile plants known. Even today, the neem tree is esteemed as the “Village Dispensary”—every part of it known to possess unique therapeutic value.2 The neem tree belongs to the family meliaceae—the mahogany family—and is a fast-growing, evergreen tree well known for its drought resistance. The neem tree matures into a large shade tree with a dense, round canopy and can live for 150-200 years. And while neem is notorious for its strong unpleasant odor, its flowers have a delicious honey-like scent that can be smelled for miles. As a fast-growing tree that needs little water, neem is also a very renewable resource.
In Ayurveda, neem is typically used to balance pitta and kapha. Its cold, light, and dry qualities tend to aggravate vata. Neem is therefore often recommended in combination with other herbs that help subdue its vata-provoking nature. If you do not know your dosha, we recommend that you take our free Ayurvedic Profile™ quiz.
- Skin and Blood. Neem is famous and celebrated for promoting healthy skin and a clear complexion. Due in part to its bitter taste, it has an incredibly cooling effect on the body, reducing excess heat that can manifest as skin blemishes.*
- Immune System. Its detoxifying effects on the body make it a great immune booster, especially for the cleansing of ama from the body.*
- Blood Sugar. The purifying benefits neem has on the body’s blood and circulation also help support healthy blood sugar levels already in the normal range.*
- GI Tract. A healthy digestive environment is vital for health. Neem reduces unwanted heat and toxins in the GI tract.*
- Metabolism. Neem’s kapha-reducing properties encourage proper fat and water digestion and elimination, keeping water retention from accumulating in the body.*
- Lungs. Neem supports clear breathing and a healthy respiratory system.*
- Skin Moisture and Softness. Neem’s skin benefits work both internally and externally. As an external application, Neem oil or soap helps soothe and lubricate the skin.*
- Hair. For those with excess pitta and heat trapped in the scalp and hair follicles, neem is terrific for cooling the scalp and supporting the growth of lustrous, smooth hair.*
In very general terms, neem is known to have an affinity for the reproductive system, the GI tract, the urinary tract, the respiratory system, and the circulatory system.3 For thousands of years, various parts of the neem tree have been gathered for traditional health promoting as well as practical everyday uses. The leaves, fruits, bark, and seed oil offer a wealth of benefits to the skin, nails, scalp, teeth, and gums. Neem oil softens, moisturizes, and protects the skin and can also be used as a deodorant for malodorous sweat. Neem is highly effective in the maintenance of healthy teeth and gums and supports overall oral hygiene; it is revered for the capacity to evoke natural color and vibrant health in both skin and hair; and it also encourages strong digestion and metabolism, healthy blood, and bolsters the immune system.4
Neem and Ayurveda: Traditional Uses
Neem is quite bitter in taste, which gives it a powerful cooling energy (virya). This cooling principle, combined with its capacity to support healthy blood, helps to balance pitta—particularly when there is heat in rakta dhatu (the blood).3 Excess pitta can manifest in a number of ways; one prominent location is the skin. Neem pastes and oils have traditionally been applied to the skin as a means of soothing and lubricating it, calming irritated and heated sensations, maintaining comfortable body temperature, and supporting healthy skin and nails. Neem’s light and dry qualities give it the ability to counter kapha as well. Neem supports healthy digestion and kindles meda dhatu agni (the metabolic/digestive principle within adipose tissue), encouraging proper metabolism, and supporting blood sugar levels that are already in the normal range. It is often taken internally to foster a state of balance in the liver, pancreas, and digestive tract. Neem’s bitterness also improves taste, which is at the root of healthy digestion. Neem has a similar balancing effect on pitta and kapha in prana vaha srotas (the respiratory passages). On a broader scale, neem supports natural cleansing of the channels in the body as well as the rejuvenation of healthy tissues.5 Because neem is vata aggravating by itself, it is combined with other herbs depending on the desired effect. For example, Banyan offers the following, all made with certified organic herbs:
- Blood Cleanse: This formula combines neem with herbs including manjistha, turmeric, and guduchi to support healthy skin and blood.
- Healthy Skin: Neem is mixed with the herbs from Blood Cleanse, plus the added support of anantamul, brahmi, and bhumyamalaki for a formula targeted to glowing, radiant skin.
- Sweet Ease: Neem is combined with traditional herbs turmeric, shardunika (gurmar), and the antioxidant power of amalaki to support the pancreas, balance kapha, and support blood sugar levels that are already in a healthy range.
How to Use Neem
Neem is a very versatile herb, and what follows are some of its most common uses. Neem can be used externally in the form of an oil or a paste, and can be taken internally as a powder or tablet.
Banyan Botanicals makes neem available in a powder form, a tablet form, and as a liquid extract. Ayurveda traditionally recommends the powder form of herbs because tasting the herb starts the digestive process and sends signals to the body to initiate the body’s own supportive mechanisms. Buying the powder in bulk also provides a more economical option. The 100% USDA organic tablets provide a more convenient way to take neem, especially for those are frequently traveling or on the go. Given neem’s strong bitter taste, the tablets also provide a nice alternative for those who find the taste a deterrent to taking the herb. Banyan provides the herbs in tablet form (rather than a capsule) because it allows you to still get a small sample of the taste, again allowing the digestive process to get started and the body to receive healing signals. Liquid extract is also available and provides an alternative method of taking neem. It's convenient, easy to assimilate, and has a long shelf life.
How to Use Externally:
- Neem Leaf Paste
Make a paste using neem leaf powder and a small amount of water—just enough to create the desired consistency. Apply paste to the affected skin or tissue. Let sit for about twenty minutes, until nearly dry. Rinse and pat dry.
- Herbalized Neem Oil
This is a traditional preparation of neem leaves in a base oil. Herbalized oils are simpler to purchase than to make. See below for recommendations on how to use herbalized neem oil. Banyan’s neem oil is a traditional ayurvedic preparation in a sesame oil base; it can therefore be applied directly to the skin, scalp, hair, nails, teeth, and gums.
- Neem Seed Oil
Neem seeds are composed of up to 50% oil. Neem seed oil is simply this pure oil extracted from neem seeds. This preparation is quite potent and should be used appropriately. It is mentioned here for the sake of distinction from the traditional herbalized preparation in sesame oil.
Here are a few more ideas about how to experience the benefits neem has to offer:
For Healthy Skin, Nails, Hair, and Scalp
- Apply herbalized neem oil (see above) directly to the affected skin or nails, and either cover it loosely with a soft cloth, or let it breathe and absorb uncovered.
- Massage herbalized neem oil (see above) directly into the roots of the hair and scalp at least 60 minutes before bathing and rinse; or apply before bed and let sit overnight.
For Oral Hygiene:
- Use herbalized neem oil to promote healthy teeth and gums. Swish to cover teeth and gums and spit.
- Apply herbalized neem oil or neem paste (see above) directly to the affected teeth or gums.
For your convenience, Banyan offers the benefits of neem to you in a variety of ways that can be used externally, including neem leaf powder to make a paste, herbalized neem oil, neem soap, and Soothing Skin Balm—all made with 100% certified organic ingredients.
Modern Research on Neem
Modern scientists have described health promoting uses for all parts of the neem tree—especially the leaves. Astonishingly, more than 140 compounds have been isolated from various parts of the neem tree and many have been evaluated for therapeutic use.6 Numerous studies have affirmed a wide range of applications for neem, and while these broad strokes are beyond the scope of this article, we can highlight a few of the findings. Isolated compounds from neem have been shown to support the joints, the immune system, a healthy digestive system, appropriate temperature, and appropriate blood sugar. Various extracts of neem—many aqueous extracts similar to those obtained thru hot or cold infusions—have demonstrated similar support of the skin, immune system, blood-sugar levels, and the liver. Neem leaf extract has been evaluated for its calming effect on the nervous system. Clinical studies using dried neem leaf extracts, lotions derived from neem leaf, neem oil, and pastes made from neem and turmeric have also demonstrated neem’s effectiveness in promoting healthy skin.2 Scientific material regarding recent research on neem abounds, and some of it is available online. Below are three links that summarize recent findings:
- Current Science, 10 June 2002. “Biological Activities and Medicinal Properties of Neem (Azadirachta indica).” http://repository.ias.ac.in/5193/1/305.pdf
- Pubmed Abstract. Mar 2005. “Medicinal Properties of Neem Leaves: A Review.” http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15777222
- Natural Standard Professional Monograph. “Neem (Azadirachta indica).” http://naturalstandard.com/databases/herbssupplements/neem.asp
Neem Side Effects
Neem can act as a refrigerant and can reduce the temperature of a specific tissue or even the entire body.3 Use caution if cold is a key player in any given condition. Discontinue use and consult your health care practitioner if there are any signs of nausea, vomiting, loose stools, or excess hunger. While neem has certainly stood the test of time and has been deemed safe with appropriate and moderate use, it remains a powerful herb and should be treated with respect, particularly when taken internally. Because herb/drug interactions have not been researched extensively, exercise caution when combining neem with prescription drugs.
- Some data suggests to avoid the use of neem while taking acetaminophen.
- Neem may intensify the effect of medications aimed at lowering blood pressure or blood sugar, causing blood sugar and blood pressure to drop.1
Neem seeds and neem seed oil should not be taken internally as they can cause toxicity—especially in children. In addition, neem should not be taken by any of the following persons:
- Pregnant women, infants, or children
- Anyone trying to conceive—male or female
- Those with allergies to any plants in the mahogany family1
- Anyone exhibiting extremely elevated vata, wasting (such as with bone loss), or debility3
You can find neem in a number of Banyan products:
- Neem Soap
- Neem Oil
- Neem Tablets
- Neem Powder
- Neem liquid extract
- Sweet Ease
- Healthy Skin
- Blood Cleanse
- Kapha Massage Oil
- Mahanarayan Oil
- Soothing Skin Balm
When purchasing neem, there are a number of questions to consider that will help you to evaluate the quality of the herb, the values upheld by the company that produced it, and the price of the product in relation to its quality.
Is the supplier able to trace the ingredients of their product back to the fields in which they were grown?
Traceability of the herbs from field to shelf allows the supplier to know where and how the herbs were grown and when they were harvested. Banyan knows exactly where each ingredient was grown and can trace them back from your medicine cabinet to the field.
Is the neem grown in optimal locations?
Location does play a role in quality. Like the grapes in wine, herbs tend to vary in quality and taste depending on the conditions in which they are grown. Banyan sources neem from areas where the trees thrive naturally.
Are the ingredients sustainably harvested?
Neem is relatively abundant in many parts of India. Where and how it is harvested makes a big difference in sustainability. Neem can be harvested on private farms where sustainability can be managed, or it may be wild-harvested from the forest legally. Sometimes, it is wild-harvested illegally, threatening long-term sustainability. Banyan ensures sustainability by sourcing the neem used in its products from privately owned farms where it has been cultivated. The ingredients are harvested at optimal times, using environmentally sustainable practices that are sensitive to the long-term health of the plants and their surrounding ecosystems.
Are the farmers looked after for their labor?
Harvesting and processing neem is labor intensive. Banyan strongly believes in maintaining socially responsible relationships with farmers and is committed to following fair trade principles which include paying above-market wages, investing in the education of the farmers, and giving back to their communities.
Are the ingredients organic?
This is an especially important consideration when choosing an herb for medicinal benefits. When an herb contains genetic alterations or toxic residues from chemical pesticides, the very substance that was intended to support health and healing can be harmful. Buying organic herbs is the safest way to protect your body from these potentially dangerous toxins. The neem in all of Banyan’s neem products is USDA certified organic. Banyan is able to ensure that organic farming practices are adhered to because we receive the ingredients from trusted sources whose methods have been verified and monitored. You can rest assured that neem sourced through Banyan Botanicals will be free of pesticides and other harmful chemicals.