Thirty years ago, a new friend of mine mentioned that she was exploring investing in Neem oil, which was sure to become the next ‘in’ thing. Back then, I had no idea what it was, but true to her prediction I now see it as an additive in toothpaste, hair and skin products, fungicides and pesticides. Perhaps I should have paid more attention at the time and, had I done so, might have struck it rich.
Azadirachta indica, or the Neem tree, originated in India or Burma and has since spread to Africa, Fiji, Mauritius, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and Cambodia. It’s drought and heat resistant, contributing to its long life expectancy of up to 200 years.
Neem has several names, that when translated from Sanskrit or Hindi mean ‘bestower of good health’ or ‘one that cures all ailments and ills’. Considered sacred in India, it symbolizes good health: protecting food and grain as a natural pesticide and fertilizer; providing shade; acting as a natural insecticide; and used to boost health and immune systems.
It features prominently in Ayurvedic medicine because the products from the tree are so versatile: herbal beauty treatments, insecticides, and first aid treatments for numerous skin conditions.
As an evergreen tree, the leaves are available for harvest year round. The seeds are used to produce carrier oil, while bark, leaves, roots, flowers, and fruits are also used to make topically applied medicinals and teas. Livestock and cattle were fed Neem leaves for health issues and soil was fertilized with seeds, leaves, and bark which also served as pesticides.
Neem products usually have one of two active ingredients. Azadirachtin, a substance derived from Neem seed oil, which is often used as an insecticide, is only available in commercial products. The by-product of the extraction process, called clarified hydrophobic Neem oil, is the active ingredient in ready-to-use neem oil sprays that can be purchased at a garden center. You can also find Neem oil at a health food store.
Neem oil kills insects in several ways: the oil covers their bodies and interferes with their ability to breathe, to reproduce and to eat. It’s most effective against immature insects and should be applied repeatedly to correspond with various points in the insects’ lifecycle. Like many insecticides, Neem can harm both beneficial insects as well as pests, so use it with caution.
The main chemical constituents of Neem carrier oil are: Oleic Acid, Palmitic Acid, Stearic Acid, Linoleic Acid, Vitamin C, and Carotenoids. It has a bitter taste and smells like a combination of garlic and sulfur.
Specific Uses For Chickens
- Coccidiosis: Neem leaf extract (dosage: 100 mg/kg body weight for 9 days)
- Antibiotic: Ground leaves have been shown to act as a dietary supplement with antibiotic and antimicrobial properties (dosage: up to 2.5 g/kg body weight)
- Insecticidal Spray: Neem oil extracts can be found in commercial pesticides that can be used to treat in your coop or make your own (1 gallon warm water, 2 tbsp Neem oil, 1 tsp dish soap). Spray walls, roost bars and nest boxes 3 times over a 10 day period to kill mites and lice.
- Northern Fowl or Red Mites, Fleas, Ticks and Lice: Bathe birds in a sinkful of warm water containing 1/8 cup dish soap and 2 tsp of Neem oil
- Scaly leg mites: Add ½ tsp Neem oil to 2 cups of veggie oil as a dip
- Wound Care: Neem has been shown to promote healing through increased inflammatory response and increased blood flow
Credits: NH Extension; NIH; New Directions Aromatics. Featured Photo: Steve Speller