Neem oil comes from the seed kernel of the Neem tree. It has many therapeutic effects for human illnesses and has earned a reputation as the “wonder tree”. Its medicinal characteristics are laid out in the earliest Sanskrit writings and its use in Hindu medicine dates back to distant times. Today, Indians call the Neem tree their “village pharmacy” and it has a reputation as Friend and Protector in their villages.
At the time of the Roman Empire, Indian medical practitioners had already been studying and recording the effects of hundreds of botanicals for more than 2,500 years. It was 4,500 years ago that neem was used for medical treatment. This was discovered when neem leaves were found with several therapeutic compounds in the ruins at Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro in northwestern and western India. The Harappa was one of the great civilizations of the ancient world.
The Caraka-Samhita and Susruta Samhita, ancient books, are the foundation of the Indian system of natural healing, Ayurveda. Neem is mentioned almost 100 times in these ancient texts.
Neem was so much a part of Indian life it gave “birth to death” health care. Most people weren’t even aware of the impact it had on their lives.
The Neem Tree
The neem tree is an evergreen tree belonging to the mahogany family, Meliaceae. Its botanical name is Azadirachta indica. It’s also known as Margosa, Nimba, Sarva Roga, and Nivarini. It has a straight trunk and spreading branches. The tree starts bearing fruit in three or five years. In ten years it becomes fully productive and can produce up to 110 pounds of fruit annually. These trees live to be more than 200 years oil. The neem tree has small flowers that are cream or yellowish white and possess a sweet jasmine-like scent. The fruit it bears is an olive-like drupe with a fleshy outer part surrounding a pit. The fruit is edible.
The neem tree closely resembles the Chinaberry or Persian Lilac in appearance, another tree belonging to the mahogany family. Every part of this species is extremely poisonous, whereas every part of the neem is known to be useful: roots, bark, leaves, flowers and seed oil.
Neem trees have many unique compounds. Some of these compounds have been identified and others have not. Here are the more common compounds and their use –
Nimbin – anti-inflammatory, antipyretic, antihistamine, and antifungal
Nimbidin – antibacterial, anti-ulcer, analgesic, anti-arrhythmic, and antifungal
Nimbidol – antitubercular, antiprotozoan, and antipyretic
Gedunin – vasodilator, antimalaria, antifungal
Sodium nimbinate – diuretic, spermicide, and anti-arthritic
Guercetin – antiprotozoal, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial
Salannin – repellant
Azadirachtin – repellent, antifeedant, and antihormone
Neem oil comes from the seed kernel, but the leaves have healing properties too!
Neem Leaves Constituents
20% fiber50% carbohydrates15% proteins5% fat8% ash2% calciumEssential amino acids
o 1.2% alanine
o 3.4% aspargine
o 2.7% aspartic
o 3.3% cystine
o 3.1% glutamic acid
o 1.0% isoleucine
o 3.2% phenylaline
o 2.1% proline
o 2.4% threonine
o 1.4 % tyyptophan
o 0.7% taurine
o 2.9% valin
It’s also been reported to contain carotene and ascorbic acid (vitamin C). The neem leaf has most of the active compounds, but in a lesser amount then the seed and neem oil.
Neem Gum Constituents
ProteinAmino acids(parts per thousand)
o 44 lysine
o 17 histidine
o 27 arginine
o 138 aspartic acid
o 66 threonine
o 75 serine
o 78 glutamic acid
o 73 proline
o 73 glycine
o 53 alanine
o 18 cystine
o 75 valine
o 3 methionine
o 51 isoleucine
o 84 leucine
o 30 tyrosine
o 57 phenylalanine
o 38 glucosamine
Women in Saris in Front of the Facade of the Palace of the Winds (Hawa Mahal), Jaipur, India
Neem Bark Constituents
The bark contains large numbers of catechins and powerful immunomodulatory and immunostimulating compounds.
3.43% protein0.68% alkaloids4.16% mineralsamino acids
o 0.125 % arginine
o 0.375 % aspargine
o 0.280 % aspartic acids
o 0.500 % cystine
o 0.239 % glutamic acid
o 0.057 % isoleucine
o 0.125 % methionine
o 0.138 % norleucine
o 0.088 % phenylaline
o 0.300 % proline
o 0.456 % trytophan
Other reported compounds:
NimbinNimbininNimbidinNimbosterolMargosine bitter principal
Neem Oil Constituents
The neem seed kernel is very rich in fatty acids often up to 50 percent of the kernel’s weight. It contains vitamin E and other essential fatty acids. This is the part of the neem tree that produces neem oil.
52.5 % oleic acid21.4 % stearic acid2.6 % palmitic acid2.1 % linoleic acid
The percentage varies from sample to sample depending on the place and time of collection of the seeds.
Extracting Quality Oil
In order to obtain quality
care must be taken from the picking to the storage. If the seed is not dried and stored properly and hygiene used in extracting the oil from the seeds the oil will end up very dark with a very, bad odor and may actually contain dangerous contaminants.
There are three
methods of extraction of neem oil
: the mechanical press, steam and high pressure extraction, and solvent extraction.
Different parts of the tree are used for different ailments. Sometimes the leaf is used, other times the neem oil. Powdered neem and neem leaf tea are used. Neem oil can be used for sprains and bruises, earaches, genital herpes, birth control in women, vitiligo, dry skin, wrinkles, mosquito protection, diabetes, cancer, and bronchitis.
Is Neem Safe?
Safety is something that is an issue when you go to use a product. Neem has a long safety record. It’s been used extensively in India for the last four thousand years by human and animals.
• The leaves are eaten by animals for forage.
• The fruit is eaten by humans and birds.
• Seed kernels and leaves are used as a bitter spice in hotter Indian foods.
• Many people eat one or two seed kernels after a meal to aid digestion and kill mouth bacteria.
• Neem oil is used by mothers for illness similar to castor oil was in the US.(this may not be safe for infants and small children per studies)
• Bathing with Neem leaves in hot water is done routinely in India.
• Neem oil or leaf is applied to just about any skin problem in India.
• Neem oil taken orally and vaginally after intercourse has been found to possess anti-implantation and abortifacient effects.
As far as toxicology studies go it was determined that the leaf and bark are very low in toxicity. Large amounts have caused some side effects in animals tested so it should not be consumed in large quantities or for long periods of time.
Tests with neem oil have concluded that the use of the oil in limited dosage and short periods of time is safe. Tests with internal use resulted in some people complaining of nausea and general discomfort. It has also been implicated in reduced liver function. However, in 1985, Rochanakij, et al, and in 1987, Larson, disputed these finding believing that the samples were contaminated with aflatoxin or accidently had additions of the oil of the poisonous chinaberry tree.
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Safety Data – Caution should be taken when taking neem oil internally. It’s not generally recommended for oral consumption even though Indians consume small amounts of the oil. Care should also be taken with consumption of other parts of the neem until tolerance is determined. Indians have grown up consuming this plant, but those not familiar should determine tolerance. Stop at the level where undesirable effects occur.
Woman in Sari Dress at Qutub Minar Complex, New Delhi, India
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Methods of Extraction of Neem Oil
Neem Oil Use
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