Visnaga, with its aromatic, bitter scent and flavor, has greater medicinal than culinary value. It is an effective muscle relaxant and has been used for many centuries to alleviate the excruciating pain of kidney stones. Scientific research has confirmed the validity of this traditional use. Visnaga contains khellin, from which particularly safe pharmaceutical drugs for the treatment of asthma have been derived.
Habitat & Cultivation
Native to North Africa, visnaga grows wild in the Middle East and around the Mediterranean. It is naturalized in Australia and South America. Grown from seed, visnaga is widely cultivated. The tiny fruits containing the seeds are picked in late summer before they have fully ripened.
Bishop’s weed (A. majus) is a close relative. This plant has been used to treat asthma but is mainly taken as a diuretic and to treat psoriasis.
- Furochromones including khellin (1%) and visnagin
- Volatile oil
Strong antispasmodic: Research by a pharmacologist working in Egypt in 1946 revealed that visnaga (in particular its constituents khellin and visnagin) has a powerful antispasmodic action on the smaller bronchial muscles, the coronary arteries that supply blood to the heart, and on the urinary tubules. Visnaga’s ability to relax the small bronchi lasts for up to 6 hours, and the plant has practically no side effects.
- Khellin: Intal, an asthma drug widely used in conventional medicine, is derived chemically from khellin.
Traditional & Current Uses
Kidney stones: Visnaga is a traditional Egyptian remedy for kidney stones. It was mentioned in the Ebers papyrus of Egypt (c. 1500 BCE) and is still used there to relieve kidney stones. By relaxing the muscles of the ureter, visnaga reduces the pain caused by the trapped stone and helps ease the stone down into the bladder.
Asthma remedy: Following research into its antispasmodic properties, visnaga is now given for asthma, and is safe even for children to take. Although it does not always relieve acute asthma attacks, it does help to prevent their recurrence.
Other respiratory conditions: Visnaga is an effective remedy for various respiratory problems, including bronchitis, emphysema, and whooping cough.
Circulatory herb: By relaxing the coronary arteries, visnaga helps to improve blood supply to the heart muscle and thereby eases angina. Visnaga does not, however, reduce blood pressure.
Dental hygiene: In Andalusia in Spain, the largest and best-quality visnaga seeds were employed to clean the teeth. The high value given to the herb in general was reflected in the saying: “Oro, plata, visnaga, o nada!” (Gold, silver, visnaga, or nothing!).