Neem oil, also called neem seed oil or neem tree oil, is the oil pressed from the seed kernels of the neem tree. Neem is a tropical, evergreen tree that originated in India.
Neem tree fruit looks a bit like olives. It contains one seed, which in turn can have one or several kernels.
Oil is produced by crushing and pressing the kernels, and then purifying the extract.
Raw neem oil has a strong, pungent odour, often described as similar to sulphur and garlic. Yes, it definitely reeks.
It's not enough to ask: "What is neem oil?" Before you buy or use neem oil you should also ask, "What kind of neem oil is this?".
Just like there are differences in the quality of olive oil, there are also huge differences in the quality of neem seed oil. And just like with olive oil, cold pressed neem oil is good. Heat destroys the active ingredients.
How your neem oil has been purified is also important. There are different purification methods. Some can leave traces of organic solvents and petrochemicals. Those can cause allergies.
Other purification methods remove most of the insecticidal properties. It says neem oil on the bottle, but it is actually a neem oil extract.
Neem oil has many uses, and what neem oil is best for you depends on how you want to use it.
Despite the awful smell neem seed oil is a very popular ingredient in hair and skin care products. It restores damaged hair and is an excellent moisturizer. At the same time it soothes irritated skin, and studies showed it can kill harmful bacteria or skin parasites. (Indians have known this for thousands of years.)
A lot of neem oil is used to make neem soap, lotions and shampoos. In soap and other cosmetical neem products the neem odour is masked with essential oils like rose geranium, lavender, ylang ylang or others.
What's good enough for us is certainly good enough for our pets as well.
Neem soaps and shampoos have become very popular with dog and cat owners. Home made neem oil sprays can even be used on horses, cattle and other live stock for ticks, fleas, mites and other skin parasites.
More about using neem for dogs and other pets.
The other main and popular use for neem oil is as a natural garden or agricultural insect spray. Neem oil very effectively deals with a huge range of garden pests. Neem spray can also be used as a preventative measure. It will stop insects from becoming a problem in the first place.
The best thing about using neem in the garden is that it is totally non toxic to beneficial insects, bees, birds, lizards, other animals and ourselves.
Find out more about using neem as an insecticide here.
Take for example the leaf and bark extracts in neem toothpastes and mouth washs. They showed impressive results in studies about gum disease, and seem to also prevent cavities. (More about neem and oral care here.)
And did you know that neem oil shows promise as a natural contraceptive?
There is more, much more to neem than most people realise.
I hope I have sparked your interest. Just follow the links above or below to read more.