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Across the Indian subcontinent, and prior to recorded history, the Neem tree has been a source of wellness for indigenous peoples. Its leaves, fruit, roots, seeds, oil, and bark were all harvested by ancient healers, and are now known the world over for their health benefits — some of which are topical, and others which are used internally. The tree is so potent with health-supporting, protective substances that it’s able to resist many common pathogens and insects. Among Neem’s many benefits, of special importance is the tree’s ability to balance and support the immune system — the body’s defense against illness and decline. When it comes to neem for immune system support, the benefits are many.

Neem’s History in India

In the first millennium B.C., the land that we now call India was undergoing a great spiritual explosion, giving rise to the Vedas, the great religious and literary works of the Upanishads, the Puranas, and the Mahabharata, as well as the Ramayana. Also taking shape was the Ayurvedic philosophy of healing that similarly recognized all of life — including the human body — as one whole and uninterrupted movement of reality.

At least 10,000 years ago, before the rise of the Ayurvedic system, the Siddha system was established in India. The name of this traditional health system loosely translates as “that which prevents mortality,” and is still prevalent in the southern states of India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, and Singapore. The first plant mentioned in the Siddha teachings is Neem — thus, there is no doubt that Neem was being used as an immune system supporter, not only for illness, but also in the practice of prevention. 

There is a marriage tradition in Rajasthan, India called Neem Jhunwari where a groom goes to the bride’s house with Neem leaves to pay respect. This work, Neem Jhunwari.jpg by LRBurdak is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License. Cropped, resized and compressed from original.

Ayurvedic Use of Neem for Immune System Support

Nearly 4500 years ago, in India, Neem became the pride and joy of Ayurvedic healers and was called, at the time, the Sarva Roga Nivarini — the plant capable of curing all ailments and ills. The famous Indian sage physicians Charaka (2nd century A.D.) and Sushruta (4th century A.D.), who penned the foundational teachings of Ayurveda, categorized Neem’s medicinal qualities for generations of healers to come. The tree’s many different parts — from its roots to its leaves — are still used in therapeutic preparations for internal and topical use, and is found in soaps, toothpastes, health supplements, poultices, creams, lotions, natural pesticides, and more.  

Curative plants, such as the Neem tree, fit right in line with this expansion of thinking because they proved that nature provided an answer to — and a way to balance — the ills of humankind. For this reason, Neem is often called a one-tree pharmacy. The holism embraced by Ayurveda dictates that the body’s defense mechanism —  namely, the immune system — is perhaps the second line of defense against all illnesses and symptoms. The first line is the mind that transforms thought into actuality, including the state of the body — and thus the state of physical health —but it is the immune system that protects against internal and external threats. 

Neem seeds. Photo by ORGANIC INDIA.

Neem’s Myriaad Health Benefits

Melissa Petruzzello, plant science researcher, wrote that many of Neem’s medicinal and cosmetic uses are based on its cleansing and purifying properties; and WebMD reports that Neem contains chemicals that could help modulate blood sugar levels, support digestive function, and promote oral health.

However, it’s been found that Neem’s most important actions is that of an immune system supporter — Neem aids the body in warding off health issues as it helps protect the body from free radicals and modulates inflammatory response.

Green drupes, or fruit growing on the neem tree for immune system support.
The green fruits of the Neem tree have a sweet taste. Photo by ORGANIC INDIA.

Neem for Immune System Support

Phytochemical researchers Anamika Bose and Rathindranath Baral report that Neem supports the cell-mediated immune (CMI) system, which is led by killer T-cells, the body’s first defense against threats. Neem aids in healthy regulation of T cells and macrophages (white blood cells that remove “foreign invaders” and toxins from the body), and then causes an elevation of both immunoreactive and bioactive TNF-alpha and gamma-interferon. In simpler terms, Neem keeps many threats from reproducing by supporting white blood cells and so-called killer T-cells that destroy damaged cells known to cause illnesses. Because Neem is a blood purifier and detoxifying agent, it aids the immune system before threatening toxins have a chance to take hold in the body. For these reasons it is beneficial to use neem for immune system support.

Neem supplement on a platter with glass of water for immune system support and blood cleansing.
Neem supplement for immunity and blood cleansing.

A Go-To Immunity Herb

While Neem is often depicted as a cure-all, it is important to keep in mind that its oil, bark, and leaves are unsafe for consumption by pregnant women. In any case, it is always wise to  consult with an Ayurvedic practitioner to steer you in the right direction for your particular body type and imbalances. Generally speaking, however, Neem remains a go-to herb for supporting the immune system, detoxifying the body, and protecting the body down to the cellular level.