Peganum harmala | ‘Syrian Rue’, ‘Wild Rue’, ‘Esphand’, ‘Harmal’, ‘Spilani’ | Seeds
Peganum harmala is a perennial plant of Asian origin, known variously under names including ‘Syrian Rue’, ‘Wild Rue’, ‘African Rue’, ‘Harmal’/’Harmel’, ‘Espand’/’Esfand’/’Esphand’/’Aspand’ and ‘Spilani’. Due to the longevity of its use, it has also been suggested to be the mysterious Indo-Iranian entheogen ‘Soma’.
Although Syrian rue is named for its resemblance to the rue, it is unrelated, being part of the Nitrariaceae family. Growing anywhere from thirty centimetres to eighty centimetres tall, Peganum harmala‘s small white flowers produce spherical three-chambered seed capsules measuring approximately one to one and a half centimetres in diameter, carrying more than 50 seeds.
Commonly known as the source of the famous ‘Persian Red’ and ‘Turkey Red’ dyes (the species was first introduced to America in 1928, by a New Mexican farmer wanting to produce such colourant), harmala’s seeds have seen continual use by many cultures for thousands of years.
The plant is a popular and versatile tool in both traditional medicine and spiritual practices. Consequently, the Turkish use its dried seed pods to ward off the evil eye and Moroccans use it to avoid Djinn, while several cultures used parts of the plant to produce tattoos and inks. Historically, ancient Greeks apparently used harmala seeds to treat fevers and tapeworms, while Yemeni Jews used it to bleach Passover bread.
Scientifically speaking, Peganum harmala has been used to treat pain, skin cancers and inflammations, kill lice, insects, bacteria, protozoa and parasites and as an abortifacient agent. Among several alkaloids contained in the plant, harmine and harmine (both beta-carbolines) have been demonstrated to produce MAOI effects.
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