Neem (Azadirachta indica) is a tree that’s native to India, but is also found in other parts of Asia, as well as in Africa and America. It is highly valued for its medicinal properties and has been extensively used in Ayurvedic and Unani systems of medicine for thousands of years.1 It was even called “Arishtha” in Sanskrit, which means “reliever of sickness.”2
From the bark to its flowers, every part of the neem tree can be utilized for medicinal, industrial and agricultural purposes. One of the ways to reap the health benefits of the neem tree is by using the oil that’s extracted from its seeds.3
Organic neem oil has a strong, pungent aroma and an extremely bitter taste. Its color may vary from yellow to brown, depending on the method that’s used to extract it.4,5 While it doesn’t smell or taste as enticing as other herbal oils, neem oil offers a wide array of benefits and uses, making it a worthy addition to your regimen.
Potential Health Benefits of Neem Oil
According to modern studies and ancient medicinal beliefs, neem oil may potentially provide the following health benefits:
• Helps improve hair health — Neem oil’s moisturizing property helps improve hair texture and relieve dry scalp.6 It also helps clear dandruff with its antifungal properties, and helps eradicate head lice by acting as a natural insecticide.7
• Helps improve skin health — Neem oil may help protect the skin against free radicals, thanks to its antioxidant properties.8 It may also help promote collagen production, which helps slow down the aging process and lessens the appearance of fine lines.9
• Helps relieve certain skin problems — Neem oil provides antibacterial, antiviral, antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties, which may be useful for alleviating skin problems, such as acne, psoriasis, scabies and eczema.10,11
• Helps reduce inflammation — In a study published in the Journal of Health Research and Reviews, albino rats with carrageenan-induced hind paw edema were given different doses of neem seed oil.
Results show that neem seed oil helps inhibit paw edema when given at doses of 0.25 to 2 milliliters per kilogram of body weight, proving that neem oil has a significant anti-inflammatory action.12
• Aids in the wound healing process — Neem oil can be applied topically on minor wounds to help soothe inflammation, speed up healing and keep further infections from occurring.13
• Helps lower the risk for cancer — According to a study published in the journal Biochimica Et Biophysica Acta, neem seed oil may help inhibit the growth of cervical cancer cells, and help induce autophagy and apoptosis in prostate and colon cancer cells.14
Agricultural Use of Neem Oil
In addition to its medicinal uses, neem oil is also found to be useful for protecting crops against pests, as it provides natural pesticidal properties. Among its active compounds, azadirachtin affects insects the most, causing 90 percent of the pesticidal effect on most pests, according to a study published in the journal Frontiers in Plant Science.15
Neem oil has other broad effects on insects: It helps alter development, inhibits feeding, hinders reproduction and suppresses the fertility of pests. Pollinator insects, such as bees, are not likely to be harmed by neem oil, since it must be ingested in order for it to take effect. It’s also nontoxic to birds, mammals and other plants, but it’s moderately toxic to fish and other aquatic animals.16,17
When used properly, neem oil may also help get rid of plant insects that are difficult to eradicate, such as spider mites. However, to successfully get rid of spider mites, you have to apply neem oil on your plant frequently (ideally once a week or more), preferably when the temperature is below 90 degrees Fahrenheit and when the plant is not water-stressed.18
Neem Oil Composition
Neem oil contains around 100 biologically active compounds, the most important of which is azadirachtin, which gives it those potent pesticidal properties and antiradical scavenging activity previously discussed.19 Another active compound of neem oil is nimbin, which contributes to its antiseptic, antifungal, antipyretic and antihistamine properties.
Other important compounds in neem oil include nimbidin, nimbidol, gedunin, salannin and quercetin. It also contains amino acids, sulfurous compounds, flavonoids and essential fatty acids, such as alpha-linolenic acid, linoleic acid and oleic acid, all of which are vital for your overall health.20,21
How to Make Infused Neem Oil at Home
Extracting oil from neem seeds can be an elaborate process. One method is through cold-pressing, which involves opening the seeds and separating the kernels. The kernels are then pressed using industrial expellers or wooden presses. Other methods of extraction are steam distillation and solvent extraction. However, these yield lower-quality oil compared to cold-pressing.22
If you don’t have the equipment to extract oil from neem seeds, you may opt to make cold-infused neem oil at home. This method transfers the healing properties of neem into a carrier oil,23 and since it doesn’t involve heat, will keep the beneficial compounds from breaking down.24 Follow these steps to create your own cold-infused neem oil at home:25,26
Cold-Infused Neem Oil
- Fill up half a sterilized jar with neem seed and/or leaves, and then spoon coconut oil over the top to fill up the remaining half of the jar.
- Gently stir the mixture with a dry spoon to coat the leaves and seeds with oil.
- Place wax paper over the top of the jar then close it tightly with the lid. Store it away from direct sunlight for four to six weeks, gently shaking it every few days.
- Strain the leaves and seeds from the mixture using a cheesecloth, then put the oil in a freshly sterilized jar. Label the jar with the date and store it in a cool, dry place.
How Does Neem Oil Work?
Several studies have been done on neem oil to examine its biological compounds and determine its mechanism of action.
For instance, a study published in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine suggests that neem oil’s ability to fight against free radicals is caused by its rich antioxidant content, along with the compounds azadirachtin and nimbolide, which show “concentration-dependent antiradical scavenging activity.”27
Another study published in the journal Investigational New Drug shows that the limonoids found in neem oil may be useful in the management of cancer, as it helps inhibit cell proliferation and induce cancer cell death.28
The Side Effects of Neem Oil That You Should Be Aware Of
While neem oil is generally considered safe for most adults, it is highly potent because of its powerful compounds, which is why it may cause side effects in people with the following conditions:29
- Autoimmune disease — Neem oil may stimulate the immune system and make it more active, which may exacerbate the symptoms of autoimmune disease.
- Diabetes — If you’re taking any diabetes medication, it’s best to avoid using neem oil without monitoring your glucose levels carefully, as it may cause your blood sugar levels to drop too low.
- Pregnancy — If taken orally during pregnancy, neem oil may cause miscarriage.
Neem oil is also considered unsafe for children, especially when taken orally. Some of the side effects of neem oil in children include vomiting, diarrhea and seizures, to name a few.30
Have You Experienced the Benefits of Neem Oil?
With scientific studies to support its benefits, there’s no doubt that neem oil is worth a try. If you’re planning to buy this herbal oil from the grocery or from online stores, make sure that it comes from a trusted organic brand to guarantee that it’s not contaminated with substances that may potentially harm your health.31
You should also check its color, consistency and smell. Neem oil should look yellow and cloudy, with a pungent odor that smells similar to garlic and sulfur.32
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Neem Oil
Q: Where can you buy neem oil?
A: Neem oil is widely available in groceries and online organic stores.
Q: How do you use neem oil?
A: You can apply diluted neem oil on your skin or mix it into cosmetics and personal care products, such as shampoos and body lotions.33 Do a patch test first to see if your skin reacts well to neem oil before you apply it to your body.
A patch test is also recommended if you’re planning to use neem oil for plants, as some plants may be killed by this herbal concoction. After you’ve made sure that it’s not toxic for your plant, apply it on a regular basis to keep pests at bay. Avoid using it when the temperature is above 90 degrees Fahrenheit or when the plant is water-stressed.34,35
Q: Is neem oil safe?
A: Neem oil is considered safe when applied on the skin for up to two weeks. However, using it for prolonged periods of time may lead to adverse effects, such as liver and kidney problems.36
Q: What is neem oil good for?
A: Neem oil may help improve skin and hair health with its moisturizing and antioxidant properties. It also helps alleviate a variety of skin problems due to its antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal and anti-inflammatory properties. Studies also show that it may help lower the risk for cancer, as it helps inhibit cancer cell proliferation and promotes apoptosis.37,38
In addition to its medicinal uses, neem oil can also be used as an alternative to chemical pesticides, since it has natural insecticidal properties.39