|Harmal (Peganum harmala) flower|
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 Indo Iranian 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 is of Asian Origin and grows in the Middle East and in part of South Asia mainly in India and Pakistan. It was first planted in the United States in 1928 in New Mexico by a farmer wanting to manufacture the dye "Persian 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 Iran and Afghanistan, as well as some countries in the Middle East, including Azerbaijan, Syria, Iraq, and Jordan, 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, and some Jews. The burning is often accompanied by a prayer which mentions the Naqshbandi Sufi prayer "Bi Haq Shah Naqshband" (By the right of Shah Naqshband). Shah Naqshband was the eponymous founder of the Naqshbandi Sufi Order. The prayer is often mistaken to be from a Zoroastrian king, however this is erroneous as there is no historic figure named Shah Naqshband other than the Naqshbandi founder and the prayer Bi Haq Shah Naqshband is commonly used by Naqshbandis. Burning esfand seeds is also commonly found in Persian weddings.
It is known in Persian as "Esphand" and in Pashto as "Spilani".
In Yemen, the Jewish custom of old was to bleach wheaten flour on Passover, in order to produce a clean and white unleavened bread. This was done by spreading whole wheat kernels upon a floor, and then spreading stratified layers of African rue (Peganum harmala) leaves upon the wheat kernels; a layer of wheat followed by a layer of Wild rue, which process was repeated until all wheat had been covered over with the astringent leaves of this plant. The wheat was left in this state for a few days, until the outer kernels of the wheat were bleached by the astringent vapors emitted by the Wild rue. Afterwards, the wheat was taken up and sifted, to rid them of the residue of leaves. They were then ground into flour, which left a clean and white batch of flour.
Peganum harmala has been used to treat pain and to treat skin inflammations, including skin cancers.
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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