Neem Speciality oil (Azadirachta indica)
Organic cold-pressed Neem speciality oil is expressed from the seed of the Azadirachta indica tree. The tree is part of the mahogany family – Meliaceae and it is one of two species in the genus Azadirachta, native to India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Bangladesh and Pakistan. It is classified under the order Sapindales, from the family Meliaceae, with the genus Azadirachta and the specie A. indica. It is a very strange smelling oil – some people think it smells of garlic, other think it has an onion smell while others cannot really define the smell – but take note – it does have a smell. When using it for its therapeutic properties, the smell can be masked by adding other more fragrant smelling essential oils.
The Neem tree is a fast growing, long-life tree popular in the tropics and is grown for its ornamental value, as well as for its therapeutic value and is used as fuel for its workable, but unpleasant smelling wood. The Latin name of the tree is derived from the Persian word azaddhirakt – meaning “noble tree”. In Ayurvedic medicine Neem is the most important detoxicant and is a very potent febrifuge (reducing fever) and is used to treat intermittent fevers and has shown to contain effective anti-malarial (Plasmodium falciparum) compounds. The seed (from which we cold press our oil) yields Margosa oil (other word for Neem oil) and is a non-drying oil with insecticidal and antiseptic properties. Almost all of the tree can be used. In herbal application the leaves, flowers, bark, seeds and oil is used. It is a bitter tonic herb that is used for clearing toxins, reducing inflammation, lowering fever, promoting healing and in general promoting and improving body functions. It destroys a wide range of parasitic organisms and is also an insecticidal compound and studies have shown it to be a spermicidal (killing sperm). In Indian tradition Neem is one of the most important herbal ingredients – not only to help fight certain health problems, but also used in the earliest cosmetics and skin care products. The women also used Neem to protect their stored grains and pulses throughout the year as it is a great deterrent for pests. Although Indian women incorporated it into their daily beauty and hygiene regimen men used the oil to prevent baldness and graying of the hair, and decoctions and Neem oil were used to remove lice and to combat dandruff. Skin allergies were sorted out by mixing a teaspoon of dried leaf Neem powder with a teaspoon of ghee (clarified butter) and placing it on irritated skin. The fine twigs of the tree were chewed until the fibers were open, and then used as a toothbrush. The European Patent Office (EPO) in 1995 granted a patent on an anti-fungal product, derived from Neem, to the US Department of Agriculture and the multinational company – W. R. Grace and Company. This patent grant was challenged by the Indian government, because the process for which the patent had been granted had actually been in use in India for over 2000 years. In 2000 the European Patent Office made a ruling in India’s favor. However, the US company filed an appeal, claiming that prior art about the product had never been published in a scientific journal. At last, on 8 March 2005 the appeal was lost and the European Patent Office revoked the patent rights – keeping the Neem tree free of patent restrictions.
Neem oil is generally light to dark brown depending on the time of harvest as well as growing conditions before harvesting. It is bitter and has a strong odor – described by some as a combination of the smell of peanut and garlic. The oil comprises mainly of triglycerides and large amounts of triterpenoid compounds. It furthermore contains steroids (campesterol, beta-sitosterol, stigmasterol) and triterpenoids of which Azadirachtin is the most well known and studied. The oil normally solidifies at room temperature, and to get it in liquid form, place the container in hot water (not boiling) and wait for the oil to liquefy.
The tree is native to South Asia, and is grown on a large scale in India although the tree has been successfully grown in Laos, Burma, Thailand, Africa, Fiji, Mauritius, Malaysia, Indonesia, Cambodia, as well as Latin America. The Neem tree can reach a height of 12-15 m (40 – 50 feet) and is evergreen, but in severe drought it may shed most or nearly all of its leaves. The branches are wide spread and the diameter of the tree is about 12 m (40 feet).
The method of extracting oil influences the quality and composition of the oil obtained. The best way to expel the oil is by cold-pressing the seeds – which is how our oil is extracted. The oil can also be obtained by solvent extraction although this normally yields a lower quality oil and is mostly used for soap manufacturing.
The Azadirachtin content of Neem oil can vary a lot – from 300ppm to over 2,500ppm depending on the extraction and quality of the Neem seeds used to produce the oil.
Precautions and Uses
Neem speciality oil should NOT be given internally to the weak, very young or the old and must be avoided by any pregnant women, or women trying to become pregnant. High continuous intake could cause liver problems Neem seed oil can, when taken internally, produce a toxic effect in humans, and side effects include diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting, acidosis, encephalopathy, etc. The toxic effects might be due to the presence of aflatoxin and other toxic compounds present in Neem oil. Neem speciality oil shows toxicity to fish like tilapia and carp, and oral administration of the oil in rats and rabbits (at 14 ml/kg and 24ml/kg respectively) produced a severe hypoglycaemic effect and possibly targets the central nervous system and lungs. Taking Neem oil internally is not recommended and taking internal doses as small as 5 ml has killed infants – and although there are some people stating that the toxicity was caused by other contaminants, and not the oil itself – we would recommend to err on the side of safety. A toxicological test in Germany, using clean Neem kernels resulted in no toxicity, even at a concentration of 5,000 mg per kg of body weight in rats. Neem capsules containing the aqueous extract are also sold – but it is an extract from the leaves, and is not the oil itself. However, before taking ANY type of supplement – please discuss it with your medical practitioner beforehand.
The internal medicinal uses of Neem speciality oil include malaria, tuberculosis, rheumatism, arthritis, jaundice and intestinal worms as well as skin diseases. It also has alternative (increases vitality) properties. The oil is NOT normally taken internally – but as a decoction made from the leaves. The extract of Neem leaves has also demonstrated significant anti-diabetic potential. Neem also enhances the immune system – making it a possible substance of use for AIDS and cancer patients, although more research on the efficacy and treatment protocol needs to be done. It also helps to decrease blood sugar levels and may possibly be used to reduce the use of insulin by 30%-50% – making it a possible effective compound for diabetic patients. The extracts are also beneficial for heart diseases, hepatitis, fungal infection, malaria, psoriasis, and ulcers. Unlike the oil, the leaves have a pleasant odor and the extract made from them is either an alcoholic tincture or a tea. Neem is used externally for ringworm, eczema, psoriasis, lice, fungal infection as well as for painful joints and muscles. The cosmetic use of Neem oil includes the fighting of acne and pimples as well as improving skin elasticity.