From the very beginning of civilization, mankind has depended upon medicinal herbs to treat a myriad of diseases, disorders and injuries. Even today, more than half of all modern medicines - ranging from aspirin to the newest treatment for breast cancer - are based upon ingredients from plants.
The Advantages Of Neem
Neem, still called "the village pharmacy" in its native India, is one of the most ancient and widely used herbs in the world. In fact, herbalists in ancient India had documented the healing qualities of this remarkable tree long before Western civilization discovered the analgesic qualities of the willow tree from which aspirin is derived.
Perhaps the most significant challenge neem faces is the fact that it appears to be too good to be true. We're not from Missouri, but we're definitely "show me" type people who did a lot of research before opening Neem Tree Farms. So instead of trying to persuade you how wonderful neem is, we've provided a series of links to national and international research on this remarkable tree.
We started growing neem on the indirect advice of the U.S. government, which sponsored a research project that resulted in a book called NEEM: A Tree for Solving Global Problems. The chapter on medicinals (pages 60 to 70) and "next steps" (pages 88 to 99) are particularly interesting.
Funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development and published by the National Academy Press, the book's contributors and participants include the board of the National Research Council, the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine and the U.S. Department of Agriculture as well as the Board on Science and Technology for International Development.
It's a little difficult to read online and is somewhat outdated (published in 1992) but what struck us most strongly was a paragraph in the foreword:
"To those millions in India neem has miraculous powers, and now scientists around the world are beginning to think they may be right. Two decades of research have revealed promising results in so many disciplines that this obscure species may be of enormous benefit to countries both rich and poor. Even some of the most cautious researchers are saying that 'neem deserves to be called a wonder plant."
Since then, other government agencies, as well as highly respected physicians and physician organizations, have begun compiling databases that include information on neem.
The National Institutes of Health, an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and a sister agency to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, has created a database of national and international research journals called MedLine. It includes more than 150 documents on neem. To search for neem and a specific question, type neem AND disorder, i.e., neem AND parasites or neem AND antiviral.
MDChoice.com is a privately held company founded by academic physicians and backed by private venture capital. They have developed a unique, patent-pending technology that provides specific, content-focused information from MedLine at the click of a mouse button. Searching for information on neem is somewhat easier than using the main government site and it is much easier to purchase full copies of the articles.
The National Institutes of Health also has documented the myriad uses of neem in its International Bibliographic Information on Dietary Supplements (IBIDS) - which is nicknamed the "Physician's Desk Reference for Herbal Medicines." This database of published, international scientific literature on dietary supplements also includes more than 150 citations on neem. (Interestingly enough, they aren't the same documents listed in MedLine, although there are some overlaps.) Full articles are not available on the site but it's an interesting overview.
One of neem's most important attributes is its effectiveness as a natural pesticide (see the IBIDS database for details). It is proving to be equally effective in repelling pests that affect people, like mosquitoes, fleas, ticks and head lice. Dr. Andrew Weil, a Harvard physician and leading proponent of alternative medicine, has written several articles on neem.
Within those limitations, neem is generally considered to be one of the safest medicinal herbs available. The FDA's Office of Special Nutritionals maintains an extensive database of adverse affects from herbal medications which does not include any references to neem that would indicate potential problems. Even the Extension Toxicology Network documentation for using neem as a pesticide shows that it is "relatively non-toxic" and caused no significant problems even at the extraordinary high dosages fed to laboratory rats as part of the approval process required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Neem products should never be used internally by anyone who is pregnant or trying to conceive a child (male or female). Neem also has compounds related to those found in aspirin and should not be used to treat children under the age of 19 with fevers or other flu-related symptoms.