Native to south Asia, neem was introduced to the Cayman Islands in the 1970s. Since then, the green, leafy trees have sprung up across the islands, providing ample shade on sunny days, while fertilizing soil, repelling mosquitoes and keeping pests at bay.
It’s a pretty amazing tree for a whole host of reasons, and every part of it – bark, leaves, seeds, roots and flowers – have multiple uses.
A natural pesticide
Neem naturally repels hundreds of species of insects, making it the natural pesticide of choice for many home gardeners and mosquito-free zone if you have one in your backyard.
Neem has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years, and in India the tree is known as the “village pharmacy” due to the many types of ailments it can treat. Western medicine is only just beginning to catch up with what popular folklore has known for centuries, but so far more than 150 active ingredients have been identified.
Neem for whatever ails your skin
Neem is best known for its ability to clear up all manner of skin conditions from eczema and psoriasis to ulcers, cold sores and warts. It’s commonly added to soaps and lotions, and oil extracted from the seeds can treat dry, brittle hair and dandruff. There is a wealth of anecdotal evidence supporting neem’s curative powers.
One of the easiest way to use neem is to drop a few leaves into your bath water to soothe any minor skin conditions.
Dried leaves can easily be brewed into tea. The taste may not be particularly pleasant, but given that it has antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal properties and is said to treat everything from diabetes and heart disease to AIDS, it’s a bitter pill worth swallowing.
To make neem tea
Simply boil or steep a handful of neem leaves in water for a few minutes. Either drink this as a tea or allow it to cool and use as an antibacterial face wash.
To make neem leaf extract
Neem leaf extract may also be used as a mouthwash to prevent or treat gum disease or applied topically to skin lesions. It can also be sprayed on plants and crops to keep bugs at bay.
Cover the neem leaves with water at a ratio of about 2 pounds of leaves to about a quart of water. Let the leaves soak overnight.
Don’t heat or boil the mix. Heat will actually lower the Azadirachtin content of the neem leaf extract.
The next day, grind the leaves in the water and then strain the mixture. This is best done in two steps: first, strain the whole brew through something like cheesecloth to remove most of the sludge. Then filter it through a proper filter paper.