The Neem Plant: Multiple Benefits, Naturally

Multiple Benefits of Neem Plant

Neem is a useful plant. It’s an evergreen tree endemic to the Indian subcontinent and distributed throughout tropical ecosystems. Neem oil, the most notable derivative of the plant, is made from pressing the fruits and seeds of the plant.

Neem oil has been used in India traditionally in Ayurvedic medicinal practice to treat a variety of afflictions, such as fever, malaria, tuberculosis and leprosy. In contemporary times, it’s often used as an ingredient in cosmetics and in insect repellents. Also, organic farmers use it in bio-pesticides, as it is naturally-derived and potent. Aphids, mealy bugs, mites, thrips, cabbage worms and any number of insects. It isn’t harmful to mammals or earthworms and it isn’t especially harmful towards beneficial insects like ladybugs and honeybees if it isn’t applied in high concentrations or otherwise accrue in their habitat area or on their primary food sources.

Neem tree, “the pharmacy tree”

How Neem is Extracted

Neem products are variable in their potency, due to the parts of the tree used, their quality and the process used for extracting neem oil and uses fruit and seeds of the plant. Pressing is the most widely-used method and solvent extraction is also used as well. Solvent extraction incorporates more parts of the plant: the seed, fruit, cake or kernel. Hexane-extracted oil is made from the remaining seed cake and is widely used in India and produces a lower-quality oil used in soap-making.

Neem as an Insecticide

Neem is classified as an “anti-feedant”, which means that pest insects refuse to eat anything covered with it. This effectively reduces populations that infest your garden; your crops are these insects primary food of choice.

Neem also works by disrupting insects’ hormone balance, instead of being a simple poison that kills them through toxicity. The soft-bodied insects it is most effective against (such as whitefly and aphids), come into contact with neem and the chemical impulses which tell them to eat, mate, fly or molt are not received. This disrupts their population to the extent that it quickly fails. The fact that it does no harm to predatory insects leaves pests more susceptible to predation. The fact that it is non-toxic and safe for application means that it can be used as needed without worrying about residual toxic effects, like most pesticides.

Neem Cake as Fertilizer

Neem cake is the by-product of pressed neem. It has proven to be an effective fertilizer, with the added effect of being a wonderful subsoil pest repellent. The decayed cake is used in Indian agricultre to protect plant roots from pests, such as nematodes and grubs. It is derived from entirely organic matter and improves soil fertility as it decays. For this reason, neem cake is used as manure to fertilize cotton, sugarcane and rice paddies. It contains a complete NPK (Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium), balance. It is also a nitrogen inhibitor, making nitrogen from soil available to short duartion and long duration plants.

Traditional Medicinal Uses

Neem’s Sanskrit name “Nimba” is a derivative of the phrase “Nimbati svasthyamdadati“, which means “to give good health”. Its medicinal use dates back to the Vedic periods in India, around 4,000 BCE. Through various traditions in various regions, it became useful for treating a great many ailments, such as leprosy, heat rash, wounds, ulcers and chicken pox. It was used widely and diversely in agriculture. It is still prescribed in the ancient practices of Ayurvedic and Unani medicine, systems of medicine which are still practiced and taught today.

Neem as Contraception

Neem seed oil has been shown to prevent implantation of the embryo on the uterine wall. It should be noted that the use of herbs as contraception is controversial and that, while women, with the supervision of others, have used herbs to control fertility, the established medical community is skeptical of these practices. To complicate matters, certain groups are opposed to the use of contraception of any kind, much less those that work once the egg has been fertilized. Regardless, research has been conducted and this plant has been found effective in this regard. While spermicidal creams with neem are sold in India, neem has not been shown to be more effective as a contraceptive than other, more widely-used forms of birth control. -MIKE KLEPFER

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