Ancient Indians have been using neem (Scientific name: Azadirachta indica) as an antibacterial medicine for over two millennia. Scripts of Ayurveda describe in detail, the process of extracting neem oil from fruits and seeds which is a concentrated form of Azadirachtin – the chemical responsible for the antimicrobial properties of neem.
Every part of a neem tree including roots, trunk, leaves and even flowers are known to have medicinal properties.
The roots and bark are not used as often as the fresh parts of the plant. They are typically used to prepare a decoction that can be used as a mouthwash or ground up to be used as a toothpaste, it is known to be very effective against gum inflammation (gingivitis).
Young, green neem twigs are used as toothbrushes by a lot of people to prevent cavities and protect against infections. Neem leaves are the most commonly used part of the tree since they are easily available in abundance.
The content of the active ingredient is much lower in leaves as compared to the seeds. The leaves are used for treating skin disorders such as acne, ringworm, psoriasis, eczema and other topical ailments.
Neem leaf extract is a common active ingredient in commercial skin and hair care products available in the market today. The flowers have a sweet, honey-like smell and attractive to bees making neem honey which is highly beneficial to diabetics.
Neem flower oil is used in aromatherapy and is known to have a calming effect. Dried neem flowers are used in many South Indian recipes such as Ugadi pacchadi, vepampoo rasam, neem flower rice etc.;
Powdered dried flowers are used to treat eye disorders, anorexia, nausea and intestinal worms.
Neem oil is the most popular and concentrated form of azadirachtin. It is extracted from the seeds and they contain as much as 50% oil. It is used in agriculture as a pest repellent and as an active ingredient in many commercial products.
The seed oil is very concentrated and is toxic if ingested internally. Neem cake is the name given to the residue pulp of the seeds after extraction, it is used as fodder for animals, soil amendment, and fertilizer.
Neem has been mentioned as early as 4th century BC in Kautilya’s Arthasastra for its antifungal, antibacterial, antiviral, antidiabetic, and anti-infertility properties. It is regaining popularity as people are moving towards natural products again to avoid the side effects of using too many chemical substances.