Azadirachta indica is a tree of about 20 metres’ height, known as margosa, or neem, the anglicised version of the Bengali ‘nim’.
Its olive-like fruit contains a seed from which the famous neem oil is extracted. But according to Ayurvedic medicine, all the other parts of the tree can also be used: the bark, roots and leaves.
Neem has a particularly wide range of applications. In India, its flowers and leaves are used in cooking. For example, you can fry its leaves with aubergines or other vegetables to make a typical Indian starter.
In Cambodian cooking, it’s used raw in various recipes: sauces, curries, salads, etc. Neem’s strong, bitter taste is very popular in the extreme heat of May, just before the rainy season.
Back in India, neem leaves are left in cupboards to repel insects that eat clothes, or that lay their eggs in food supplies.
Neem is also used as an ingredient in cosmetic preparations. Its oil (not the culinary kind but one for external use only) helps relieve skin problems including a dry scalp. It’s also used in treatments for headlice.
Gardeners use neem for getting rid of parasites naturally. Incidentally, this compound was the subject of biopiracy in the 1990s, when a multinational corporation called WR Grace appropriated its use by filing 70 patents. In doing so, they deprived the indigenous population of the right to freely use the resources of this tree, even though it had been christened ‘the people’s pharmacy’ by the Indians.
In the end, after a hard-fought, 10-year battle, the patents were revoked as the properties of the neem tree had been known for more than 2000 years. You cannot claim exclusive use of a plant if you yourself have not discovered an effect for it.
Neem consists of 15% tannin, proteins, fatty acids and polysaccharides. It also contains other substances at various concentrations depending on the part of the plant :
Once ingested (in the various forms described below), neem helps to support the body’s natural defences (1). It’s particularly beneficial for digestive health (2) and the skin (3).
In addition, neem leaves support healthy eye function (4) and sugar metabolism(5). Its bark has antioxidant and anti-pyretic properties(6) - it helps lower temperature in the case of a fever. Finally, neem bark has displayed beneficial effects on the liver(7), an organ vital for multiple functions.
Firstly, neem can be consumed as a herbal tea, using either the leaves or the bark, although the latter is harder to find. To make a tea, infuse a teaspoon of dried neem in a cup of hot water for around 10 minutes. For optimal efficacy, drink 2-3 cups a day.
To increase your intake of neem, you can also ingest an extract in the form of a dietary supplement, such as Neem Extract. Neem extract capsules are quick and easy to take when you’re out and about, and do not require any special preparation. In terms of dosage, we recommend 1500mg a day (that’s three capsules) for active support of your immune system. It should be noted, however, that neem extract is not recommended for pregnant women. If in doubt, seek advice from your doctor.
As for topical use, poultices made from powdered neem leaf or bark mixed with a little water can be applied to the skin to relieve common problems : redness, acne, etc. Neem oil can also be applied daily to the skin, nails and hair in the form of a mask.
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