Neem is being pushed as a wonder herb, a miracle drug that can fix anything.
"Neem leaves cure diabetes" some headlines read.
Great. As you can imagine, many Westerners would love to simply pop a pill a day rather than change unhealthy eating habits. No wonder neem leaf capsules are selling well.
But there is another side to neem. Neem oil can be toxic, so can the leaves be safe? Aren't the leaves supposed to contain the same ingredients as the seed oil? And if leaves are safer, how much is safe?
Simple quick answer for the impatient: Yes.
In thousands of years of traditional medicinal use, and tens of years of scientific studies, fresh or dried neem leaves have never hurt anyone or anything.
However, different people have different reactions to substances, whether drugs, foods, or herbs. Also, depending on what else you are taking there may be unexpected interactions. If you take neem for the first time, take only a little, and see what happens. You may just be the first person ever to have a neem allergy...
As far as we know, yes. However, I would suggest you let common sense rule. Neem is a very powerful herb. Start carefully by taking only a little and see how your body reacts. Don't overdo it. And if you have a serious condition, see a doctor.
Well, you are talking about a plant with over hundred active ingredients, not about a single substance that can be precisely measured. What exactly you are taking varies, depending on where it came from, how it was grown, which time of the year it was harvested, how it was processed and stored and so on.
It also depends on you and what you are trying to achieve. Considering how many different uses of neem leaves there are, there just is no hard and fast rule.
Treat neem like any other powerful medicinal herb, with common sense and respect. Buy organic products from reputable sellers. Use neem in moderation, as required, and observe the results closely. (So far nobody has managed to overdose on leaves.)
Now this is where it gets interesting. What follows applies to all herbs, not just to neem:
Neem leaf extracts and tinctures: if a plant contains toxic substances, then these are usually concentrated in tinctures and extracts. Different extracts will contain different concentrations of different ingredients, depending on the solvent used and the method of processing.
Neem extract is mostly known for its promising medicinal uses, but in some experiments neem leaves extracts have produced nasty side effects in laboratory animals. Unless you know exactly what you are taking and what you are doing, don't self medicate with extracts. The use of extracts should be left to experienced Ayurvedic doctors.
Neem tea: dried herbs made into teas or infusions are usually quite safe. This is true for neem as well.
Neem capsules are popular because they are convenient, and because you avoid the extremely bitter taste of the leaves. But capsules are the least effective way to use herbs. They are generally poorly digested, poorly utilized, and often stale and ineffective. Which also means they are pretty safe...
Internal use of neem leaf may interfere with conception and pregnancy. So if you are trying to have a child, steer clear of neem.
But if you are looking for a natural means of contraception, then the answer is no. There is no reason to believe that taking the leaves offers reasonable protection. (Read more about neem and birth control.)