Neem oil – multipurpose herb extraordinaire

Neem  Tree

Common name: Neem

Botanical name: (Azadirachta indica)  Neem,  is native to India. There are so many uses for the seed oil from this evergreen tree and an interesting range of uses too. You may have heard of Neem oil , and it’s use as a natural non toxic pesticide and insect repellent. It is also used for treatment of lice,  nits, dandruff, skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis, and even as a natural effective spermicide – yes, you heard that right, I did just say spermicide!

A little History

Neem has been used in India for thousands of years and the  oil  has been used medicinally and cosmetically for hundreds of years.  Neem is considered a major component of Ayurvedic and Unani medicine . All parts of the Neem tree, including the leaves, flowers, oil, seed and bark have been used for a variety health conditions, but in this post I am talking specifically about Neem oil.

All about Neem oil

So, first let’s start with the fact that Neem is antibacterial, antiviral, anti-fungal, antiseptic and anti-parasitic!  If that is not enough, it contains limonoids which block the growth and development of insects and parasites like lice and prevents them from multiplying. In January 2007 Egyptian researchers published the promising results of a small clinical trial of a neem  head lice shampoo  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16900389

I can personally vouch for the effectiveness of neem oil for lice. Without mentioning names, some family members once  came back  from a family trip, with some extra baggage…..yes, those pesky lice. Neem to the rescue.  Even after we  got rid of our uninvited guests, I still dutifully added Neem oil to every bottle of shampoo and conditioner that entered our home. Just in case.

Those many uses

I make my own organic neem spray to deter insects from my herb and vegetable garden. Safe for all plants and humans too.  Mix together in a quart or liter of water;  1 tsp Neem oil – 1/2 tsp dish soap ( I use Seventh Generation) or Castille soap.  Pour into spray bottle and voila – ready to use.

Research shows that Neem oil can help relieve symptoms of eczema and psoriasis. It is recommended to dilute the oil before applying or buy a Neem oil product specifically for that skin condition.   A little goes a long way and is very effective, so adding a few drops to your favorite lotion can turn it into a bug repellent  and healing salve. You could also add a few drops to your liquid soap and body wash.

Last but not least..

According to studies in India neem oil is an effective spermicide  Based on these studies, a pharmaceutical company in India has developed a Neem based polyherbal  contraceptive cream.  Tests have shown that it is just as effective as the chemical based ones and is safer to use, causing no irritation or discomfort.    Here is a quick  link to one  study http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8131399 .  It seems, that while this is becoming the  birth control method of choice in India, it is  a little slow  at gaining acceptance  in other places.

So, you are possibly thinking at this point, it sounds too good to be true, there must be a catch, right?  Neem, really is  all this and more, but there is one minor characteristic  of this rich oil that I have not yet mentioned. It does have a heavy odor, so you will probably not be opening your bottle of Neem oil and slathering up your whole body! Adding a few drops to a bottle of shampoo or body lotion is not really going to change the smell of that product, but using the oil neat or diluting just a little with a carrier  oil like olive oil might not mask the smell much.  There is always the option of adding essential oils or buying a good quality Neem product.

Just a friendly reminder that Neem oil should be used topically and not ingested and as with anything you put on your skin, always try a small amount first.

 Have you used Neem oil ?  What have you used it for and how did you use it? I would love to hear about  your experiences with Neem oil.

OSHA to the rescue!

Monday, it could only happen on a Monday. Rushing all morning to get the kids to their homeschool martial arts class on time. Making sure the youngest had shoes. Getting everything done before the downpour. We were finally on our way home. While driving via a different route, I noticed a clothes donations box and did a quick turn around, happy I could drop off the couple of bags I had in the back.
A pretty good Monday after all.
One of my sons helped me open the trunk and get the bags out and I started throwing them in…at the same moment I felt something sharp in my side. Then, I saw them coming out of the clothes drop box…..WASPS!!!!aaghhh!!! I screamed to my son to close the trunk and get into the car fast and I ran as fast as I could too. Thankfully, he actually listened right away and was so fast that no wasps got inside the car to sting any of the other kids! As soon as I sat down, I was overcome with PAIN! Ouch, wasp stings, Really. Do. Hurt. I felt like screaming, but remembered I had a car full of kids and yes, they were my kids and we homeschool and all that, sooo, I need to set a good example of being calm and might as well turn it into a “learning experience”.
So I took a few deep breaths in and exhaled calmly ( somewhat calmly) and asked my other son to please pass me the first aid kit.
Yes, I do carry a first aid kit around.
Yes, it is an herbal first aid kit too 🙂
I opened it up and rummaged through band-aids of all shapes, colors and sizes, you know you can never have enough band-aids. And there it was. That small 1/4 oz cobalt blue glass bottle of Osha root tincture. I took about 2-3 dropperfuls and also poured some on the sting. I took another droperful about 10 minutes later and applied it externally again. At that point the pain was subsiding and the redness and slight swelling were slowly receding. I had taken a pen and made a mark around the initial inflammation to show my kids, how to tell if swelling is progressing or receding. Such fun to have real life lessons like these, I am not sure who was having more fun… :-/

Anyway, as the saying goes, all is well that ends well. Drama of the day was now over and I was free to drive uneventfully home and carry on with the rest of the day. I will add that I knew I was not allergic to wasps and bees, having been stung before, so I was not in danger. I do also, usually carry benadryl and an epi-pen around too, since one of my sweet boys has a peanut allergy.

I first learned about Osha root, Lingisticum porteri from herbalist Susun Weed; and more about its applications in first aid from herbalist 7Song. This plant grows wild in the beautiful Rockies, typically at the higher elevations. One of its primary uses is for insect bites and stings, due to its anti venomous properties. Osha also has antimicrobial and antiviral properties. It is also used as an expectorant, for colds, sore throats, other respiratory conditions and even altitude sickness. While not everyone loves the flavor, I do! It is a little like maple syrup sans the sweetness. I always envision adding it to a cold brew coffee for a unique taste. For a cough, it could be made into a delicious syrup.

Osha is very useful in first aid due to its many applications. It is more practical and convenient to schlep less and take just the few herbs that you can get more uses out of. A small bottle of Osha tincture can easily be slipped into a small purse or diaper bag and voila! You are then prepared for any scrapes, stings or other not so fun things you might encounter along the way.