I have been using neem leaf tea for many years with my flock of finches and parrots. I have found the tea to be a highly effective, non-toxic antimicrobial. It has eliminated several widespread air sac mite infestations among my finches and canaries; it has eliminated bacterial and fungal infections among my parrots, finches, canaries and chickens; and it has been helpful with a case of lice in a chicken. I have used it on about a hundred birds for up to three months straight, five days per week, as the sole water source, and have not seen any puffiness or deaths as a result of it. On the contrary, my birds just seem to improve their condition the longer they are on the tea. However, I have heard that other people have experienced cases of dehydration (sometimes causing death in finches) caused by birds refusing to drink the tea. I have never had this problem but I want to be very cautious in my recommendation for the use of this tea, as obviously, dehydration and death can result from its use. The tea must be purchased correctly, prepared correctly, administered correctly, and then the birds must be carefully observed to make sure they drink the tea. Fresh water should be offered at the end of each day for the first few days to make sure that the birds are not overly thirsty. If they drink the fresh water excessively, the tea should be discontinued. It should also be discontinued if birds become lethargic or puffy while on it, as these are less obvious signs of dehydration.
I have also used neem oil externally as an antimicrobial. Neem oil is stronger than the tea, and should never be taken internally as it can upset the digestion. I use neem oil diluted with sesame oil fifty/fifty and applied topically to the feet for scaly foot mites in canaries. I also use neem oil in a spritzer as a disinfectant spray for mold, microbial and parasitic problems and mite control. To make a disinfectant spray, I use one teaspoon of neem oil in a pint of water, and add a half teaspoon of liquid dish soap. This needs to be shaken before spraying. Birds should not be sprayed with this mixture, but cages, toys, aviaries etc. can be effectively sterilized by spraying daily. Neem oil and neem leaf both kill parasite eggs, making them highly effective in the treatment of mites and giardia, both of which infest birds regularly. Any time a bird has parasites, I use the tea internally, I spray the tea externally on the birds every day, and I also spray the neem oil disinfectant on all surfaces of the environment daily. (See below for more about the tea spray).
WHERE TO PURCHASE
I only like to purchase neem products that come from neem trees grown in the US. Neem products from India or other foreign countries can be heavily treated with chemicals even when labeled organic. I use www.neemtreefarms.com which is a neem tree farm in Florida where the trees are grown without chemicals. I buy the dried neem leaves and the certified organic neem oil with nothing additional added. The dried leaves are in the bulk raw botanicals section, I always store the dried leaves in a sealed glass container in a dark closet or cabinet. The leaves lose potency if they are left in a plastic bag, an unsealed container, or exposed to light. Neem leaves will keep for up to one year if properly stored.
NEEM LEAF TEA USES
I like to use neem leaf tea for my finches, canaries and parakeets because it is so easy to administer. However, if a bird does not like the taste of the tea, they can easily become dehydrated and die. I know of cases where this has happened. Therefore, I urge people to use extreme vigilance when using this tea, to watch for any signs of dehydration. To repeat myself: at the end of each day for the first few days, fresh water should be offered to make sure the birds are not overly thirsty. If the birds drink excessively, the tea should be stopped. Also, if birds become lethargic or puffy on the tea, it should be discontinued.
I use neem leaf tea to treat all forms of infections in birds including viruses, bacteria, fungus, parasites, air sac mites, red mites, and so on. I like to use the tea for the least amount of time necessary to eradicate the microbes as it is a very strong medicinal. Also, I recommend that probiotics such as Garden of Life’s Primal Defense be used during and after the neem tea treatment to enhance the tea’s effectiveness and to ensure the healthiest possible digestive and immune status during the treatment period.
For bacteria and fungus, I use the tea as the sole drinking water source six days per week for two to three weeks. I continue using it for at least five days after all symptoms clear. In bacteria and fungal cases, I usually see improvement within three days although I have also seen it take a full three weeks to see improvement. For parasites and virus issues, I use the tea five days per week as the sole water source for three months, and in these cases, I like to see improvement within the first week.
NOTE: It appears that neem leaf treatments are more effective when the tea is used in open water dishes for small birds, as they will bathe in the tea and enhance the penetration of the neem into the skin and bloodstream. In the case of air sac mites, it is often necessary to use open water baths in conjunction with twice daily spray baths (use the tea in a spritzer and spray the birds thoroughly). For larger birds, it is most helpful to use the tea as the sole source of drinking water as well to provide daily spray baths with the tea in a spritzer.
NEEM TEA BATHS
In the case of parasites such as air sac, giardia, external mites etc. I have used the tea as a bath by placing the cooled tea into a spritzer bottle and spraying affected birds once daily, such that the tea reaches the skin. If necessary, in extreme cases, I will submerge a bird in a bowl of warm neem leaf tea. You wouldn’t believe how well this works for birds with skin infections or infestations. Giardia cases are especially responsive to the tea baths, as giardia often causes secondary skin infections (bacterial or fungal) which are usually undiagnosed. My Princess of Wales was still violently feather plucking for several years after I treated her for giardia and got back negative test results. It was not until I started bathing her in neem tea that her plucking really began to resolve.
There is one important side effect of neem: it has a temporary, reversible, non-hormonal spermicidal effect after THREE WEEKS of continuous use. Birds are in no way harmed by this, but sperm are rendered unable to swim after three weeks. I have found that after about one month following long-term treatment, birds appear to be highly fertile and begin to breed readily. I believe fertility is fully restored after about three to four weeks following lengthy treatments. I have never seen any problems with fertilty or the health of babies after the parents receive neem treatments. However, I would not tend to use neem with unweaned babies as it is highly medicinal, and I try to avoid medicinals with babies. Unless, of course, the baby is extremely ill, and then I would be likely to reach for neem leaf if food-based methods failed (i.e. garlic, apple cider vinegar etc.).
As mentioned, birds do not always like to drink the tea. My birds have not had this problem, but other birds have. I recommend using open water bowls rather than tubes for administering the tea, as I feel that the tubes cause an overly strong tea to form at the base where the birds drink.
Here’s how I make the tea:
I use one cup of dried neem leaves, lightly pressed down into a measuring cup, per eight cups of water. I place the neem leaves into a glass mason jar, pour water just off the boil over the leaves, cover the jar and let the tea steep for at least one hour, then strain the tea through a fine sieve or strainer just before serving. I make enough for 12 hours at a time. It can be stored in the refrigerator for use later in the day (with the leaves in the water). I often make the tea before bed and refrigerate it overnight so it will be ready first thing in the morning.
If a bird is not drinking the tea, the first thing to do is to offer plain water for a minimum of several hours. If you want to try one more time, you could use a much weaker batch of the tea and see if you can accustom the bird to the flavor slowly. I don’t know if this works or not, since I have never needed to try this, but this is what I would do if one of my birds would not drink the tea.
I have been trying to find a concise document that outlines the medicinal properties of neem leaf to help people understand the amazing potential this plant has for husbandry and health maintenance for all species of birds. However, there is simply too much information online to do this. Below I have assembled a group of studies and research material to convey some of the neem information that is available online.
* Antibacterial Compounds in Neem – Ongoing research over the past 45 years recognizes these traditional uses of neem, but researchers typically list them as “known to be” rather than reporting on their action. More recent reports focus on antibacterial activities in the mouth, specifically gum disease and cavities, as well as preventing sexually transmitted diseases as a vaginal contraceptive.
* Antifungal Properties of Neem – Like neem’s antibacterial and antiviral properties, its antifungal properties are often a given
among scientists in India and other Asian nations where most of the current research is being conducted. Reports completed before 1992 are not available online but do indicate that compounds in neem help control fungi that can cause athlete’s foot, ringworm and candida, the organism that causes yeast infections and thrush, as well as fungus that may affect plants.
* Anti-Inflammatory & Neem – Nimbidin, a component of neem, has been show to posses potent anti-inflammatory and antiarthritis
activity in both in vivo and in vitro settings. Researchers suggest
that nimbiden suppresses the functions of macrophages and neutrophils involved in inflammation. Earlier research not available online also documented neem’s anti-inflammatory properties.
* Antioxidant Compounds in Neem – Oxidative stress, the process through which free radicals are created, is a normal function of the body but the resulting molecules are unstable and can damage other cells. Researchers have associated a series of disorders, including cardiovascular disease, eye health, cataracts and macular degeneration, age-related neurodegeneration (decline of the brain and nervous system) and even cancer with high levels of free radicals. Antioxidants, including those found in vitamins A, C and E, provide the free radicals with electrons to minimize damage. More than a dozen studies conducted in India, Thailand and Malaysia indicate that neem protects against chemically induced carcinogens and liver damage by boosting antioxidant levels, particularly glutathione.
* Antiviral Compounds in Neem – Other researchers report that neem inhibits the growth of Dengue virus, a hemorrhagic fever related to Ebola, and interferes with the reproduction of the coxsackie B virus, one of a group of “enteroviruses” that are second only to the common cold as the most infectious viral agents in human beings.
* Cancer & Neem – More than two dozen studies, both in test tubes and on animals, document neem’s efficacy in killing cancer cells or boosting the body’s immune system to protect it from damage. Neem or its isolated compounds have shown impressive action against a wide variety of human cancer cell lines and in animal models for cancers that include colon, stomach, Ehrlich’s carcinoma, lung,liver, skin, oral, prostate and breast cancers. Two separate reports indicate that it may be helpful in enhancing the activity and reducing side effects of some conventional cancer treatments.
* Potential Contraceptive Properties of Neem – From the perspective of developing countries – or any woman concerned about
the long-term impact of using hormones for birth control — finding a method of contraception that is effective, inexpensive and easily available is truly a step toward solving global problems. Reports from the University of Florida encourage ongoing research into the
use of neem as either a pre- or postcoital contraceptive, noting that it prevented in vitro attachment and proliferation of cells in concentrations as low as .05 to 1%. Another report in the American Journal of Reproduction indicates that purified extracts of neem contained immunomodulators that stimulate Th1 cells and macrophages that terminate pregnancies in rats, baboons and monkeys. Fertility was regained after one or two cycles with no apparent impact to
* Diabetes & Neem – With its extremely bitter properties, neem has been a cornerstone of Ayurvedic therapy for pitas, or disorders caused by overeating sweets. Some of the earliest reports on neem, dating back to a 1973 report in Medicine and Surgery (not available online), indicated that insulin requirements could be cut. More recent studies have focused on animals, including one report which indicates that neem’s hypoglycemic effect is comparable to the prescription drug glibenclamide and noted that it may be beneficial in preventing or delaying the onset of disease.
* Immunostimulatory Compounds In Neem – Until we compiled the data on neem and cancer, we thought its immunostimulating properties were neem’s most important benefits. It’s such a powerful booster than some researchers have attributed its contraceptive properties – for both men and women – to an enhanced immune system. It boosts both the lymphocytic and cell-mediated systems, including “Killer T” cells which are able to destroy microbes, viruses and cancer cells by injecting toxic chemicals into the invaders.
* The Liver & Neem – Throughout its long history, neem has often been recommended as blood cleanser. The truth of the matter may be it that helps protect the liver from damage, which in turn helps cleanse blood. The details are extremely complex (available online), but the research indicates that neem leaf appears to minimize chemically induced liver damage in rats by stabilizing levels of serum marker enzymes and boosting levels of antioxidants, like those found vitamins C and E and other natural carotenoids, which neutralize free radicals and help prevent damage. Several studies indicate that neem provides significant protection for the livers of rats who have been fed large doses of paracetamol (the active ingredient in Tylenol).
* Malaria & Neem – While questions still remain about the dosage required in human beings, neem clearly has great potential in preventing malaria, a parasite that kills more than a million people per year. Several in vitro studies indicate significant protection, including one that concluded it was more effective than chloroquine, a drug to which the parasite is becoming resistant. One interesting report indicates that it may increase the efficacy of chloroquine when the two are taken together.
* Neuroprotective Effect of Neem – A single study shows that indicates that antioxidant compounds in neem helped to prevent brain damage in rats who had suffered a stroke by enhancing lipid peroxidation and increasing ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) in the brain. Rats pre-treated with neem seemed to complete standard tests, including a water maze, better than the control group and blood parameters were significantly improved over the untreated rats.
* Oral Disease & Neem – Another traditional use of neem has been chew sticks still used to clean teeth in rural parts of India and Africa (and the US more recently). A series of studies confirm that has antimicrobial properties that help reduce plaque and gingivitis.
* Safety Issues & Neem – When used as directed, neem leaf and bark show very few signs of toxicity even at high levels. Neem oil, however, should not be used internally. High levels of neem (up to 320 grams per kilogram in rats) taken internally may result in damage to the thyroid, liver, and kidneys, although the organs showed significant recovery after 28 days. Neem also contains compounds similar to aspirin and should never be used in children with colds, fevers or flu.
* Sexually Transmitted Diseases & Neem – Another area where neem shows great potential is sexually transmitted diseases. One study funded through an agency of the US government found that neem provided 75% protection from the HIV virus to cells in a test tube and volunteers with AIDS who took neem for 30 days gained an average of three kilograms. Key chemical markers, including CD4+ cell counts, hemoglobin and platelet counts, also increased. A 1997 study at Johns Hopkins University also showed that neem provided significant protection against the herpes virus in mice.
* Stress & Neem – A small number of animal studies indicate that low doses of neem leaf extracts have sedative effects comparable to those in diazepam – the active ingredient in Valium. Interestingly enough, that effect disappears at high doses, approximately 400 or 800 milligrams per kilograms of body weight.
* Ulcers & Neem – One of the few recent clinical trials among humans using neem indicates that neem bark causes significant decreases in gastric acid secretion (77%), as well as gastric secretion volume (63%) and pepsin activity (50%) That research may be particularly important for people with arthritis or other chronic pain. Along with its own anti-inflammatory compounds, neem may help counteract the gastric damage caused by pain relievers like aspirin and ibuprofen.
Most of this research data was compiled from the National Institutes of Health website and is presented here as a public service. The statements have not been evaluated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Whenever possible, links to abstracts published by the National Institutes of Health (a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) are provided. However, some of the earlier research is not available online and appropriate footnotes have been provided.
Disclaimer: These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration, nor by any veterinarian. All information, including any product or technique mentioned, is for educational purposes only. None of the information is intended to diagnose or treat any disease.