Peganum harmala


ID:16431 Section: Herbalism

Updated:Tuesday 27th January 2015

Peganum harmala Definition

(Wikipedia) - Peganum harmala This article is about a plant. For a town in Lebanon, see Hermel. Peganum harmala Scientific classification Binomial name Synonyms
Harmal (Peganum harmala) flower
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Rosids
Order: Sapindales
Family: Nitrariaceae
Genus: Peganum
Species: P. harmala
Peganum harmala L.
  • Harmala multifida All.
  • Harmala peganum Crantz
  • Harmala syriaca Bubani
  • Peganon harmalum (L.) St.-Lag.

Peganum harmala, commonly called Esfand, wild rue, Syrian rue, African rue, harmel, or aspand (among other similar pronunciations and spellings) is a plant of the family Nitrariaceae. Its common English-language name came about because of a resemblance to rue (which is not related). The plant''s seeds are especially noteworthy because they have seen continual use for thousands of years in the rites of many cultures. The plant has remained a popular tool in both folk medicine and spiritual practices for so long that some historians believe the plant may be the ancient "soma" (a medicinal aid that is mentioned in a variety of ancient texts but whose exact identity has been lost to history).

It is a perennial plant which can grow to about 0.8 m tall, but normally it is about 0.3 m tall. The roots of the plant can reach a depth of up to 6.1 m, if the soil where it is growing is very dry. It blossoms between June and August in the Northern Hemisphere. The flowers are white and are about 2.5–3.8 cm in diameter. The round seed capsules measure about 1–1.5 cm in diameter, have three chambers and carry more than 50 seeds.

Peganum harmala was first planted in the United States in 1928 in New Mexico by a farmer wanting to manufacture the dye "Iranian red" from its seeds. Since then, it has spread invasively to Arizona, California, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Texas and Washington. "Because it is so drought tolerant, African rue can displace the native saltbushes and grasses growing in the salt-desert shrub lands of the Western U.S."

  • 1 Traditional use
  • 2 Research into other potential uses
    • 2.1 Fertility
    • 2.2 Antiprotozoal
    • 2.3 Anticancer
  • 3 Alkaloids
  • 4 References

Traditional use

In Turkey, dried capsules from this plant are strung and hung in homes or vehicles to protect against "the evil eye". It is widely used for protection against Djinn in Morocco (see Légey "Essai de Folklore marocain", 1926).

In Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and other countries in the Arab world, dried capsules mixed with other ingredients are placed onto red hot charcoal, where they explode with little popping noises in a way similar to American popcorn. When they burst a fragrant smoke is released. This smoke is wafted around the head of those afflicted by or exposed to the gaze of strangers while a specific prayer is recited. This tradition is still followed by members of many religions, including Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and some Jews. Several versions of the prayer accompanying the ritual, name of an ancient Zoroastrian Persian king, called Naqshaband, is used. He is said to have first learned the prayer from five protective female spirits, called Yazds. The tradition of burning the plant to create cleansing smoke has reached as far as the Indian region of Kashmir, where the seeds are thrown into a charcoal fire used during the Vedic marriage rite or into charcoal pots as a way of warning off evil.

Syrian ruePeganum harmala fruitPeganum harmala seeds as sold in Iran and Middle Eastern foods grocery storePeganum harmala

Peganum harmala has been used to treat pain and to treat skin inflammations, including skin cancers.

Peganum harmala has been used as an emmenagogue and abortifacient agent.

The "root is applied to kill lice" and when burned, the seeds kill insects and inhibit the reproduction of the Tribolium castaneum beetle.

It is also used as an anthelmintic (to expel parasitic worms). Reportedly, the ancient Greeks used the powdered seeds to get rid of tapeworms and to treat recurring fevers (possibly malaria).

A red dye, "Turkey red", from the seeds (but usually obtained from madder) is often used in western Asia to dye carpets. It is also used to dye wool. When the seeds are extracted with water, a yellow fluorescent dye is obtained. If they are extracted with alcohol, a red dye is obtained. The stems, roots and seeds can be used to make inks, stains and tattoos.

Some scholars identify harmal with the entheogenic haoma of pre-Zoroastrian Persian religions.

Research into other potential uses

Several scientific laboratories have studied possible uses for Peganum harmala through studies in laboratory animals (in vivo) and in cells (in vitro).


In large quantities, it can reduce spermatogenesis and male fertility in rats.

AntiprotozoalHarmine, a compound present in Peganum harmala, fluoresces under ultraviolet light

Peganum harmala has been shown to have antibacterial and anti-protozoal activity, including antibacterial activity against drug-resistant bacteria.

One of the compounds found in P. harmala, vasicine (peganine), has been found to kill Leishmania donovani, a protozoan parasite that can cause potentially fatal visceral leishmaniasis.

Another alkaloid, harmine, found in P. harmala, has appreciable efficacy in destroying intracellular parasites in the vesicular forms.

A small study in sheep infected with the protozoal Theileria hirci found Peganum harmala extract to be an effective treatment.

AnticancerPeganum harmala for sale at a market in Kazakhstan

Seed extracts also show effectiveness against various tumor cell lines, both in vitro and in vivo.

"The beta-carboline alkaloids present in medicinal plants, such as Peganum harmala and Eurycoma longifolia, have recently drawn attention due to their antitumor activities. Further mechanistic studies indicate that beta-carboline derivatives inhibit DNA topoisomerases and interfere with DNA synthesis."

Peganum harmala has antioxidant and antimutagenic properties. Both the plant and the extract harmine exhibit cytotoxicity with regards to HL60 and K562 leukemia cell lines.

AlkaloidsHarmaline, one of the alkaloids of Peganum harmalaVasicine

Some alkaloids of harmal seeds are monoamine oxidase A inhibitors MAOI:

  • Harmane, 0.16%
  • Harmine, 0.44%–1.84%–4.3%
The coatings of the seeds are said to contain large amounts of harmine.
  • Harmaline, 0.25%–0.79%–5.6%
  • Harmalol, 0.6%–3.90%
  • Tetrahydroharmine, 0.1%
Total harmala alkaloids were at least 5.9% of dried weight, in one study.
  • Vasicine (peganine), 0.25%
  • Vasicinone, 0.0007%

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