|Harmal (Peganum harmala) flower|
Peganum harmala, commonly called Esfand, wild rue, Syrian rue, African rue, or harmel, is a plant of the family Nitrariaceae. It is native from the eastern Iranian region west to India. Its common names refer to its resemblance to rue (which is not related).
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."
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, releasing a fragrant smoke that is wafted around the head of those afflicted by or exposed to the gaze of strangers. As this is done, a prayer is usually recited. This tradition is followed by Jews, Christians and Muslims of the Near East,and is thought to have originated amongst the ancient Semitic peoples of the region. This tradition has reached as far as the Indian region of Kashmir, where the seeds are ignited in charcoal fire pots to ward off evil on occasions like marriages.
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.
Research into other potential uses
"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."
- The coatings of the seeds are said to contain large amounts of harmine.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Peganum harmala.|
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