Healing herbs for hounds and humans: A look at neem

in Contributors/Pets by

By Tracie Korol

As summer settles in and festival season is in high swing the biting insects seem to become more fierce and relentless.  In lieu of industrial, aerosol neurotoxins, I reach for my bottle of neem, instead. Neem is all-natural, nontoxic ammunition that stops molesting mosquitoes and ticks in their tracks. It’s the single most important thing you can keep on hand all summer, for your dog’s well-being and your own.
Neem, botanical name Azadirachta indica, is a slow-growing evergreen tree in the mahogany family that has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for 5,000 years. Neem is native to southern India and northern Myanmar and is cultivated worldwide. The Sanskrit word for neem is nimba, meaning good health.
Ancient Sanskrit writings mention neem as veterinary treatment to be administered in feed or applied as liniments, oils, powders or liquids, using all parts of the plant. Neem was given for fever, inflammation, pain, mucus, worms, and mites or ticks. After the semi-mythical battle of Mahabharata, wounded elephants and other animals were treated with neem poultices.
Western medicine and technology ignored neem until 1928, when two Indian scientists published a report of neem used as a pesticide during a locust infestation. That same year, colonial administrators introduced the neem tree to Nigeria from Ghana, where neem was planted beginning in 1917. Neem was planted in Sudan for wood, firewood, shade and oil for lamps in 1916. By the 1960s, neem plantations were thriving in Africa and neem pesticides were studied for Western agriculture.
Indian farmers have made infusions of ground neem seeds for use as pesticides for 2,500 years. In 1992, W.R. Grace, a chemical corporation based in Florida, was granted a U.S. patent for Neemix, a neem-based pesticide stabilized by a proprietary process. W.R. Grace’s product differed from the traditional product only in that the patented process produced a two-year stabilized shelf life. The patent was challenged on the argument that corporate patenting of a traditionally used natural product is biopiracy. However, dozens of patents have been granted for stabilized neem products.
So, it’s legit.  You can find neem, in it’s pure form — which is what you want for you and your dog — in those upscale grocery emporiums. (It’s also sold at garden stores, but that neem is formulated and blended with other products specifically for the garden.) Through the summer months, I’ll be keeping a bottle of neem oil on the kitchen windowsill to arm my dog friends and myself against the mosquito menace. Neem is a biopesticide; applied topically, it doesn’t just repel mosquitoes (and fleas, too): it kills them — naturally. It has absolutely no harmful side effects. To protect my dog friends, I dab spots of neem on top of their heads, behind their ears, on their shoulders and flanks, and on their tails. During mosquito season, I do this every two to three days. I also suggest to their owners one capsule each of neem “supercritical extract” supplement, mixed with their food twice weekly, to arm them from the inside out. I also take the capsules, and dab spots of neem on my scalp, on each wrist, behind my knees, and on my knee pits (a popular mosquito target).
Now, if you are in the company of folks who prefer their dogs to smell like hyacinths or “spring rain” or any other synthetic, artificial smell, then neem’s aroma may be a bit of a challenge.  To me, it smells like mild roasted garlic, not at all offensive in light of its efficacy at bug management.  It’s aroma can be mitigated with other, lighter, equally insect-repelling essential oils — rose geranium, peppermint, citronella, eucalyptus, palmarosa. You can mix up your own personal blend. A good double-whammy mixer, Opopanax myrrh, the myrrh of ancient Egypt (and available online) has been shown to repel adults of the African brown ear, deer tick, black-footed, lone star and the good old American dog tick.
If you have a green thumb, know that neem is also prized by horticulturists for its efficacy at keeping pests away from prized plantings, so there’s no need to use poison in the garden, either!