Neem (Azadirachta indica) is a tree native to India that has many uses. In addition to its usefulness as a medicinal plant, it is also used as an insecticide. The neem tree is gaining popularity around the world because of its adaptability to harsh, hot climates and the value its leaves have demonstrated in helping to treat ulcers, diabetes, malaria, high blood pressure and cholesterol, heart problems and certain types of cancer.
Ayurvedic health practitioners have used neem for 5,000 years. Neem leaf is included in 75 percent of their treatments, and they also make use of other parts of the tree, such as the bark, the fruit and the flowers. In 2005, a research report titled "Medicinal Properties of Neem Leaves: A Review" concluded that neem leaves have the following healing properties: "immunomodulatory, anti-inflammatory, antihyperglycaemic, antiulcer, antimalarial, antifungal, antibacterial, antiviral, antioxidant, antimutagenic and anticarcinogenic."
In addition to its native habitat in India, neem also has naturalized in Burma (Myanmar) and throughout Southeast Asia and Western Africa. It is a hardy tree that can withstand very little rain and temperatures that often surpass 100 degrees Fahrenheit, but it also survives temperatures as low as 35 F. Experimental plantings of neem are being undertaken in parts of the southern United States and Australia because of its economic importance in the alternative health products industry.
Neem as a Houseplant
You can order neem seeds from specialty seed catalogs. Cover your seeds with 1 inch of high-quality potting mix in a flat or nursery pot with drainage holes. Keep your pot in a warm, sunny spot. Germination can be slow if temperatures are cool, and your young tree also will grow slowly. Water young neem trees once each week with a one-half strength solution of fish emulsion. After your tree gets larger, allow the soil to dry out between waterings. Make sure it stays warm and gets plenty of sun. In the summer, move your tree outdoors.
Soaps and shampoos are some of the most common products made with neem leaves. Skin-care products, such as lotions and salves, can help irritated or dry skin and are said to help heal external infections and rid the skin of parasites. Neem-leaf tea has been used as a contraceptive, but there's no scientific proof supporting this claim. Neem-oil insecticide is increasing in popularity as natural remedy for bothersome insects, because it does not affect beneficial insects.
Consult your health care practitioner before you begin to use neem or any plant, especially if you are pregnant or nursing. It could interact with medications you are taking and might be contraindicated for you because of other health conditions you might have. No medicine is a panacea, so approach your use of all medicines, whether pharmaceutical or natural, with caution.