Neem: Nature’s pharmacy
THE medicinal properties of neem have been known to Indians since time immemorial. The earliest ayurvedic literature refers to the benefits of all parts of this majestic tree — fruit, leaf, bark, flower and root. Its scientific name, azadirachta indica, has been derived from the Persian word azadiracht-e-hind which means a freely growing tree of India. Due to its immense utility to mankind, today the saga of neem has spread to the far corners of the globe.
Ayurvedic texts describe neem as tikta and kashaya ( bitter and astringent) in taste and laghu and sheet a ( light and cold) in effect. It allays kapha and pitta but aggravates vata. Modern studies have resulted in finding various alkaloids, volatile oils, tannin and traces of calcium, potassium and iron in it. Neem seeds yield a non-volatile oil which is of high medicinal value.
Bhava Mishra, the ancient ayurvedic scholar, has attributed different properties to the various parts of the neem tree. While , in general, neem has been described as an anti-pyretic, an anthelmenthic and a blood purifier, its bark is cool, astringent and the healer of wounds.
Neem leaves are carminative, anti-bacterial and anti-diabetic. Its fruits are bitter and have purgative, anti-haemorrhodal and anthelmenthic properties whereas the flowers and seeds are an antacid and a blood purifier respectively. The use of neem oil is indicated in a wide range of skin disorders.
Neem has also fascinated the exponents of modern medicine and it has become a subject of scientific research in many parts of the world. Although it has proved to be an excellent upkeeper of the environment, an effective pesticide and a useful element in veterinary medicine, modern studies have come close to the findings of ayurvedic seers regarding its benefits for human health. The use of neem is indicated in a number of diseases ranging from fever, skin troubles, acidity, piles and liver diseases to conjunctivitis, alopecia and certain fungal and viral afflictions. Since neem also has spermicidal properties, experiments are being carried out to use it as dependable contraceptive.
Neem has been an indispensable part of our home remedies for ages. Here are some simple ways to use it in everyday life.
Boil neem leaves in water and add it to the bathing water along with rose water for relief for itching, excessive perspiration etc.
Use pure neem oil mixed with coconut and sandalwood oil for treating hairfall, premature greying, lice infestation, dandruff and other scalp infections. For acne, pimples and skin infections, apply neem leaf powder mixed with water to the affected area.
Chewing four or five neem leaves regularly helps in cases of hyperacidity and diabetes. In jaundice, taking on an empty stomach 10 to 20 ml of juice of neem leaves along with one teaspoonful of honey for seven days is beneficial.
While in the sophisticated market the use of the active principles and extracts of neem in soaps, shampoos and tooth pastes is not new, one can see persons regularly using simple neem twigs living a very healthy life. Classical ayurvedic literature mentions a large number of neem formulations. Apart from the famous Nimbadi Churna, there is another formulation known as Panchnimb Churna which contains all the five parts of the tree.
An Introduction to Neem Rasayana
Neem, also known as nimba or margosa, is regarded by the ancients and modern science alike as a powerful healing herb with diverse applications. Described in the Ayurvedic texts as sarva roga nivarini—that which keeps all diseases at bay or arishtha—reliever of disease—Neem has been used in the Ayurvedic tradition for thousands of years to maintain health. The roots, bark, gum, leaves, fruit, seed kernels and seed oil are all used in therapeutic preparations for both internal and topical use.
Specific benefits of Neem
Neem is regarded as a powerful supporter of the body’s natural defense mechanisms. Thus it helps support natural immunity, and helps protect the body from free radical damage. Free radicals have been implicated in a number of diseases as well as premature aging.
Because it offers the bitter and astringent tastes, Neem is especially helpful for balancing Pitta and Kapha doshas.
Neem leaves are regarded by Ayurvedic healers as an effective internal cleanser. Neem leaves have a powerful purifying effect on the blood and help cleanse the liver and skin of toxins. Neem leaf tea with a dash of honey can help soothe a dry irritated throat.
Neem bark is cooling and astringent, and is particularly helpful when taken internally for Pitta-related issues such as excess stomach acid and premature thinning and graying of the hair. It is also helpful in alleviating tiredness and helps maintain oral health, including healthy gums. Externally, Neem bark has been used for centuries by people in India to clean the teeth and gums. It helps maintain oral health and purifies the breath because of its anti-bacterial property.
Neem’s anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties have been well known for centuries and find extensive application today in soaps, shampoos and other skin formulations.
Neem is regarded as a twacha rasayana in the Ayurvedic literature—an herb that is excellent for the skin. Neem has a purifying and clarifying effect, drawing out excess oil and smoothing out blemishes, so it’s wonderful for persons with Kapha (earth or water predominant) skin. It is also soothing for dry, irritated skin when combined with Aloe Vera or rose water. Because its cooling nature, Neem is also helpful for Pitta-related skin inflammation.
Neem also helps maintain healthy nails. Neem oil can help restore damaged cuticles or brittle or yellowed nails with regular use. Taking Neem internally also helps keep skin, hair and nails healthy. In addition to maintaining the color and strength of hair, Neem can also help with a dry, flaky scalp and lice. Mix a few drops of pure Neem oil with a base oil such as coconut for Pitta and sesame for Kapha and apply comfortably warm oil to the scalp, covering the hair strands as well. Wrap your hair in a warm towel and leave on overnight or for as long as you can before you shampoo.
Neem is also regarded as chakshushya—an herb that is good for the eyes.
With so many therapeutic applications, little wonder that Neem has been called “the village pharmacy” in India and is gaining increasing attention from researchers all over the world.
– Shreelata Suresh
November 7, 2004
Disclaimer: The above article is educational in nature, and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. If you have a medical condition, please consult your physician.
Shreelata Suresh is a yoga instructor from the Bay Area, and she writes on yoga and Ayurveda for different publications.