Neem: How to Use this Ayurvedic Wonder Herb
Neem is arguably one of the most powerful plants in Ayurvedic medicine. Not only has it been used for thousands of years, but entire books have been written expounding on neem’s healing properties. When I was in high school, neem was one of the first Ayurvedic herbs I became acquainted with when I was perusing the beauty section of our local health food store while my mom did the grocery shopping. Neem is versatile in its wide range of applications and it can be used both topically and internally. If it’s not there already, it definitely deserves a place in your herbal medicine cabinet.
What is Neem?
Neem is the common name of a tree native to the Indian subcontinent and has been recognized for possessing powerful properties for millennia. Neem trees are actually in the mahogany family of trees, and grow very rapidly, needing little water. Neem trees are very resilient, even in harsh climates. Oftentimes in Ayurveda, we see parallels between the resilience of an herb in nature and its ability to address deep seated issues that are difficult to treat.
Its use originated in ancient India and neighboring countries, where it has long been revered as one of the most versatile plants known. In Ayurveda, the neem tree is esteemed as the “village pharmacy” with every part of it being known to possess unique therapeutic qualities.
Health Benefits of Neem
Neem is perhaps most commonly used to address skin issues, but its benefits go further than skin deep.
Due to neem’s antibacterial and antimicrobial properties, it is considered to be a tonic for the immune system, helping to maintain the body’s natural defenses against microbes. It is effective in clearing ama, which roughly translates to “toxins” which result in the body as a result of improperly digested food.
Liver and Metabolism
Research conducted at the University of North Carolina shows that neem stimulates the liver, supporting its funcing in eliminating toxins.
Neem is celebrated for its beneficial effects on skin health and a clear complexion. The antibacterial nature of neem helps to treat existing and prevent future breakouts, while the antioxidants, fatty acids and high vitamin E content help minimize post-breakout marks and promote skin softness. Neem also has astringent properties which have a tonifying effect on the skin. In Ayurveda, many inflammatory skin issues are attributed to excess pitta dosha in the body. Neem, with its bitter taste, has an incredibly cooling effect on the body, reducing this excess pitta heat that result in skin issues.
Improves Digestive Health
Consuming neem has been directly connected with a reduction in inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract, which helps reduce ulcers and a wide range of other intestinal issues, such as constipation, bloating, and cramping. As a pitta-pacifying herb, neem reduces heat the GI tract, calming an overactive digestion.
Inhibits Fungal Infections
Studies have shown that neem contains antifungal properties. Neem powder, paste or oil can be applied topically to foot fungus and other skin fungal issues..
As shown in a study published in the Indian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology, there is a connection between a lower demand for insulin in the body and the consumption of neem. Its chemical components may help optimize insulin receptor function.
Natural Mosquito Repellent
Neem is natural insect repellent that is highly effective in repelling mosquitoes, although I have to warn that the strong smell of neem might also be people-repelling as well, so while it is effective, you may have to weigh the pros and cons of applying a large amount of neem oil to the body.
How to Use Neem
Neem can be used in a variety of forms, both internally and topically.
For internal use, neem is available in capsule form, powder form, tablet form, and as a liquid extract. Given neem’s strong bitter taste, the tablets or capsules also provide a good option for those who find the taste a deterrent to taking the herb.
Neem Seed Oil
For external application, neem seed oil is most commonly used. Neem seeds are composed of up to 50% oil. Neem seed oil is simply the pure oil extracted from neem seeds and is available at most health food stores and online.
Neem Leaf Paste
A neem paste can be made using neem leaf powder and a small amount of water. Apply paste to the affected skin or tissue. Let sit for about twenty minutes, until nearly dry and then rinse off.