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Neem is a primary herb for dealing with all manner of infection caused by bacteria, fungi and parasites


Azadirachta indica Meliaceae

There is no short supply of myths about the neem plant. The curative nature of the neem plant is said to have begun when a drop of nectar (amrita) fell onto it from the cup of immortality. If you’ve ever tasted neem you will remember how bitter it tastes; the bitter principles indicate the plants use in treating inflammations and infections of the skin and digestive tract.

Sustainability Status

Sustainability status

Not currently on risk lists but complete data may be missing on the status of the species. Read more about our sustainability guide.

Key benefits
  • Supports digestion
  • Skin inflammations
  • How does it feel?

    The neem tree is a robust and fast-growing plant that can live for up to 200 years. A mature tree can reach heights of 20m and spreads of 10m. The tree will produce yellow fruits after four years of growth and its flowers are white and have a wonderfully sweet scent. Its leaves are narrow and lanceolate in shape, compound and comprise of 15 leaflets arranged in alternate pairs. Neem thrives in well-drained soils all over India at altitudes of up to 1000m. All parts of this plant are highly regarded in medicine.

  • What can I use it for?

    Neem contains two chemical constituents known as azadiractin and nimbin which are responsible for the anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory activities of the plant. These constituents are fast-acting, potent and bitter enabling it to target and fight infections incredibly efficiently. Neem can alter the environment within which invading pathogens thrive, effectively fighting infection in the digestive system and in the skin. Its strong anti-inflammatory properties ensure a healthy inflammation response providing symptomatic relief to infection.

  • Into the heart of neem

    Neem is a primary herb for dealing with all manner of infection caused by bacteria, fungi and parasites. It can effectively treat inflammatory conditions that have become rooted within the body and require strong bactericides and fungicides.

    The strong medicinal activities of this plant are most prominent within the digestive tract and the skin, proving it invaluable for characteristic irritated, inflamed and infected conditions of both systems. Neem also provides protection for the delicate mucous membranes of the mouth, keeping it healthy and vital.

    Neem has the ability to fight infection and also encourage a strong and healthy inflammation response giving this plant the ability to fight infection but also provide symptomatic relief.

    Neem has cooling, drying and bitter qualities which have made it effective where cleansing and detoxification of the blood is indicated. Its purifying actions within the blood also ensure that the skin and digestive tract are supplied with a healthy flow of blood, encouraging a rejuvenating and rapid healing response in previously infected or damaged tissues and also preventing a recurrence.

    Skin: Neem is most effective in inflammatory skin conditions characterised by aggravated rakta and pitta with itching, oozing, burning and infection. Therefore it is indicated in eczema and psoriasis when active with auspitz sign, bleeding, acne, urticaria, ringworm, scabies and lice. The oil is especially effective with fungal and bacterial infections when used externally at 2–5% dilution. The constituent azadarachtin gives neem its intense bitterness and renowned anti-bacterial and fungicidal activity. These properties, plus its chlorophyll content, adds to its potential as a deodorant for putrid smelling sweat.

    GIT: Neem is used in intestinal inflammation and is specific for hyperacidity, ulcers, colitis and Crohn’s disease with high pitta and kapha. Neem also clears mucus and bleeding from the GIT and is useful in fissures, fistulas and haemorrhoids influenced by local congestion in the lower bowel. Neem is effective at fighting and clearing the intestines of parasites and worms and is very useful in chronic intestinal dysbiosis such as with Candida albanicans, protazoal infections and bacterial infestation.

    Lungs: The bitter and dry qualities of Neem are very useful for clearing kapha and pitta accumulations from the respiratory passages.

    Metabolic: Neem has an affinity for medavahasrotas and is utilised in Diabetes mellitus to support the system and regulate blood sugar levels. It clears kapha accumulations from the pancreas and activates medavdhatuagni which rectifies the compromised fat and water metabolism that is so common in diabetes.

    Mouth: Neem has a traditional usage for toothache, gingivitis and general oral hygiene. An infusion of the leaves can be used as a mouthwash and the young twigs are traditionally used as toothbrushes in India.

    Fevers: Neem is useful in high fevers from pitta and accumulations of ama; especially in the intermittent fevers of malaria-like diseases.

    Reproduction: As with many bitter herbs, Neem reduces shukra dhatu and lowers the sperm count. However, it does have an affinity for the uterus and can reduce any inflammatory disorders affecting the reproductive system.

  • Traditional actions

  • Traditional energetic actions

    Herbal energetics are the descriptions Herbalists have given to plants, mushrooms, lichens, foods, and some minerals based on the direct experience of how they taste, feel, and work in the body. All traditional health systems use these principles to explain how the environment we live in and absorb, impacts our health. Find out more about traditional energetic actions in our article “An introduction to herbal energetics“.

  • Did you know?

    In Indian traditions, the Neem tree is also known as the ‘toothbrush tree’ because its branches were traditionally used to clean the teeth and protect the mouth and gums from infection. Neem is also a very infective insecticide/fungicide in the garden; spray an infusion on to affected plants for excellent results.

Additional information

  • Dosage

    0.5–5g/day or 1–15ml/day of a 1:5 in 25% tincture

neem illustration
An ‘aromatic’ remedy, high in volatile essential oils, was most often associated with calming and sometimes ‘warming’ the digestion. Most kitchen spices and herbs have this quality: they were used both as flavouring and to ease the digestion of sometimes challenging pre-industrial foods. Many aromatics are classed as ‘carminatives’ and are used to reduce colic, bloating and agitated digestion. They also often feature in respiratory remedies for colds, chest and other airway infections. They are also classic calming inhalants and massage oils, and are the basis of aromatherapy for their mental benefits.
Astringent taste
The puckering taste you get with many plants (the most familiar is black tea after being stewed too long, or some red wines) is produced by complex polyphenols such as tannins. Tannins are used in concentrated form (eg from oak bark) to make leather from animal skins. The process of ‘tanning’ involves the coagulation of relatively fluid proteins in living tissues into tight clotted fibres (similar to the process of boiling an egg). Tannins in effect turn exposed surfaces on the body into leather. In the case of the lining of mouth and upper digestive tract this is only temporary as new mucosa are replenished, but in the meantime can calm inflamed or irritated surfaces. In the case of open wounds tannins can be a life-saver – when strong (as in the bark of broadleaved trees) they can seal a damaged surface. One group of tannins, the reddish-brown ‘condensed tannins’ are procyanidins, which can reduce inflammation and oxidative damage.
Bitters are a very complex group of phytochemicals that stimulate the bitter receptors in the mouth. They were some of the most valuable remedies in ancient medicine. They were experienced as stimulating appetite and switching on a wide range of key digestive functions, including increasing bile clearance from the liver (as bile is a key factor in bowel health this can be translated into improving bowel functions and the microbiome). Many of these reputations are being supported by new research on the role of bitter receptors in the mouth and elsewhere round the body. Bitters were also seen as ‘cooling’ reducing the intensity of some fevers and inflammatory diseases.
Blue-purple colouring
Any fruits with a blue-purple colouring contain high levels of the polyphenols known as anthocyanins. These work 1) on the walls of small blood vessels, helping to maintain capillary structure to reduce a key stage in inflammation, and improving the microcirculation to the tissues; 2) to improve retinal function and vision; 3) to support connective tissue repair around the body.
Traditional ‘cold’ or cooling’ remedies often contain bitter phytonutrients such a iridoids (gentian), sesiquterpenes (chamomile), anthraquinones (rhubarb root), mucilages (marshmallow), some alkaloids and flavonoids. They tend to influence the digestive system, liver and kidneys. Cooling herbs do just that; they diffuse, drain and clear heat from areas of inflammation, redness and irritation. Sweet, bitter and astringent herbs tend to be cooling.
Traditional ‘hot’ or ‘heating’ remedies, often containing spice ingredients like capsaicin, the gingerols (ginger), piperine (black or long pepper), curcumin (turmeric) or the sulfurous isothiocyanates from mustard, horseradich or wasabi, generate warmth when taken. In modern times this might translate as thermogenic and circulatory stimulant effects. There is evidence of improved tissue blood flow with such remedies: this would lead to a reduction in build-up of metabolites and tissue damage. Heating remedies were used to counter the impact of cold, reducing any symptoms made worse in the cold. .
Mucilages are complex carbohydrate based plant constituents with a slimy or ‘unctuous’ feel especially when chewed or macerated in water. Their effect is due simply to their physical coating exposed surfaces. From prehistory they were most often used as wound remedies for their soothing and healing effects on damaged tissues. Nowadays they are used more for these effects on the digestive lining, from the throat to the stomach, where they can relieve irritation and inflammation such as pharyngitis and gastritis. Some of the prominent mucilaginous remedies like slippery elm, aloe vera and the seaweeds can be used as physical buffers to reduce the harm and pain caused by reflux of excess stomach acid. Mucilages are also widely used to reduce dry coughing. Here the effect seems to be by reflex through embryonic nerve connections: reduced signals from the upper digestive wall appear to translate as reduced activity of airway muscles and increased activity of airway mucus cells. Some seed mucilages, such as in psyllium seed, flaxseed (linseed) or guar bean survive digestion to provide bulking laxative effects in the bowel. These can also reduce rate of absorption of sugar and cholesterol. .
New-mown hay aroma
The familiar country odour of haymaking, of drying grass and other plants, is largely produced by coumarins (originally isolated from tonka beans – in French coumarou) and widely used in perfumery. They are chemically categorised as benzopyrone lactones and are important phytochemicals, with strong antioxidant activity in the laboratory and likely effects in modulating inflammation. They were most often associated with the calming effect linked to their use in stuffing mattresses and pillows and plants, high In coumarins were commonly used for these properties.
Resins are most familiar as tacky discharges from pine trees (and as the substance in amber, and rosin for violin bows). They were most valued however as the basis of ancient commodities like frankincense and myrrh (two of the three gifts of the Three Wise Men to the baby Jesus) and getting access to their source was one benefit to Solomon for marrying the Queen of Sheba (now Ethiopia). Resins were the original antiseptic remedies, ground and applied as powders or pastes to wounds or inflamed tissues, and were also used for mummification. With alcohol distillation it was found that they could be dissolved in 90% alcohol and in this form they remain a most powerful mouthwash and gargle, for infected sore throats and gum disease. They never attracted much early research interest because they permanently coat expensive glassware! For use in the mouth, gums and throat hey are best combined with concentrated licorice extracts to keep the resins in suspension and add extra soothing properties. It appears that they work both as local antiseptics and by stimulating white blood cell activity under the mucosal surface. They feel extremely effective!
The salty flavour is immediately distinctive. A grain dropped onto the tongue is instantly moistening and a sprinkle on food enkindles digestion. This easily recognisable flavour has its receptors right at the front of the tongue. The salty flavor creates moisture and heat, a sinking and heavy effect which is very grounding for the nervous system and encourages stability. People who are solid and reliable become known as ‘the salt of the earth'.
The sharp taste of some fruits, and almost all unripe fruits, as well as vinegar and fermented foods, is produced by weak acids (the taste is generated by H+ ions from acids stimulating the sour taste buds). Sour taste buds are hard-wired to generate immediate reflex responses elsewhere in the body. Anyone who likes the refreshing taste of lemon or other citrus in the morning will know that one reflex effect is increased saliva production. Other effects are subjective rather than confirmed by research but there is a consistent view that they include increased digestive activity and contraction of the gallbladder.
In the days when most people never tasted sugar, ‘sweetness’ was associated with the taste of basic foods: that of cooked vegetables, cereals and meat. In other words sweet was the quality of nourishment, and ‘tonic’ remedies. Describing a remedy as sweet generally led to that remedy being used in convalescence or recovery from illness. Interestingly, the plant constituents most often found in classic tonics like licorice, ginseng are plant steroids including saponins, which also have a sweet taste.

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