Neem, Azadirachta indica, is an evergreen plant related to mahogany, that is native to Asia and India. It has been used for hundreds of years in Ayurvedic practice and is revered as sacred in India. The potent oil is pressed from the seeds of the tree, and is used globally as a pesticide and insecticide. One of the active components of neem oil is the chemical azadirachtin. It was isolated in 1968 and is now commonly used in insecticides. What makes neem oil such a great insect and pest control is that it not only attacks and inhibits all stages of the life cycle, adult, lava and egg, but is also effective against over 200 species, from aphids and squash bugs to caterpillars, locusts and beetles. Neem oil is thankfully mostly harmless to many of the ‘good’ predatory species, such as spiders, ladybirds and parasitic wasps, both in larval and adult stages. It is also non-toxic to birds, bees, plants and mammals.
Apart from its use as an insecticide, neem is also used in the beauty and cosmetics industry. Neem oil is rich in fatty acids, Vitamin E and antioxidants, which all help skin cells regenerate. Neem has the potential to treat dry skin and wrinkles, and can help with wound healing and acne due to its antimicrobial and antibacterial action.
Neem is said to help with all types of problem skin, from ringworms to psoriasis and acne, thanks to its anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties.
It is typically added up to 10% to face and body lotions, or applied diluted in a carrier oil to the skin.
Neem is also commonly used in shampoos and hair products to improve dry, itchy scalp, dandruff and excess sebum production (which on the scalp causes hair thinning and loss due to pore and follicle clogging).
Neem is effective at getting rid of head lice and larvae, so apply next time there’s a breakout at school. To get rid of lice, apply neem oil to hair and scalp, massage in and leave in for 30 minutes, then wash out.
Keep in mind that neem does have a potent mustardy, garlic, sulfurous scent so don’t add it to creams that will have a conflicting aroma; you can use lavender or tea tree to try to mask the smell. Do a patch test before use to test for any irritation, and don’t use if pregnant.
To dilute neem oil, add 30ml jojoba, olive or coconut oil for every 12 drops of neem.
Neem can be used very diluted on dogs to deter fleas, but is not suitable for cats.
This is a great moisturising soap for eczema and problem skin. This recipe is beginner level and uncomplicated. Try it!
65g sodium hydroxide
127g water (preferably distilled)
143g refined coconut oil
24g shea butter
214g olive oil
24g castor oil
Oils to add after trace
24g neem oil
24g avocado oil
Wearing protective gloves, go outside (or to a well ventilated area) and make your lye solution by measuring out the lye and water and then adding the water to the lye in a big bowl or jug. Stand back from the fumes! Stir well then leave to cool to around 50°C. While you are waiting for the lye to cool, melt all the oils. When they are melted, check the temperature; you want the oils to also be around 50°C too. Pour the lye mixture into the oil mixture and start blending in short bursts with a stick/ immersion blender. The soap batter should come to ‘trace’ in a few minutes, then you can add in the neem oil and avocado oil. Blend them in then pour your soap batter into molds and leave to set for 24-48 hours. Once they are set, unmold your soaps and leave in a dry, cool spot to cure for 6 to 8 weeks.
There are many variations on the well known neem insecticide. Here are two that are effective:
This one is extremely potent with neem infusion and a good dose of essential oils. You can scale the recipe quantities up if you need more.
200ml neem infusion
50ml witch hazel
50ml vodka (also acts as a mild solubiliser and preservative)
45 drops essential oils - a combination of some or all of the following: rosemary, citronella, clove, geranium, lavender, eucalyptus, cedar, peppermint, lemongrass, basil, thyme, tea tree, catnip, sage and cinnamon
Prepare the neem infusion by pouring hot water over the dried neem leaves and allowing to brew for an hour. For a stronger infusion, leave to brew for longer. Strain the leaves out and add the witch hazel, vodka and essential oils. Pour the pest repellent into a spray bottle and shake well to combine, then spritz all over the garden and affected areas. You may need to shake before use everytime if there is any oil water separation.
The second recipe uses castile soap instead of vodka.
1 tsp castile soap
1 T neem oil
Combine everything together and shake well. The soap is used to help solubilise the neem oil into the water. Spray on plants as required.
At the braai but getting bothered by pesky insects? Rub this on to keep all insects away from you.
120ml neem oil
120ml jojoba oil
45 drops essential oils as mentioned in the soap recipe above
Combine everything together in a bottle, shake well then apply lightly to skin. You can also diffuse this in a burner. Always do a patch test first.
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