Plant Pharm: Balanced Detoxification with Neem

This innocuous tree is positively impacting the health of people and ecosystems around the world.

| Spring 2020

Photo by Adobe Stock/vishnu

The idea of detoxification has taken on a harsh light in our culture. It often comes with slick ads selling some sort of potion that promises to renew us after a harsh purge and a few days of fasting. I’ve struggled against this point of view for several years, and I suggest detoxification methods that are more balanced, even though it can be difficult to find a middle ground.

Of course, the need for detoxification is underscored by the fact that our bodies have a sophisticated system in place to do the job. One of the most important pathways through which we move the toxic byproducts of our world out of our bodies is through the liver.

I like to think of the liver as a wetland. As rivers of blood pass through it, the liver filters out the silt so that our waters will run clean as they pass through our other organs. However, the wetland can become so clogged with dirt and muck that it eventually ceases to perform this essential function. When we’ve overtaxed our own systems of detoxification, it becomes important to have the tools to help out.

A Dedicated Detoxifier

Neem (Azadirachta indica) was declared the “Tree of the 21st Century” by the United Nations, and the designation is well-deserved. I encountered the neem tree while working through my conflicting feelings about the Western fascination with harsh detox. Neem is native to India and well-known in the Ayurvedic system of healing. In India, these trees are depended upon for so much of people’s daily health that they’ve become an expected part of the landscape, and they contain so many beneficial qualities that they’re referred to as “the village pharmacy.” I’d heard of neem primarily as a natural insecticide, but I wasn’t aware of its use internally, as the oil in its commercial form — primarily used as a pest repellent — shouldn’t be ingested.

Photo by Adobe Stock/Engdao

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