Distribution, Status, Pharmacological, and Traditional importance of Peganum harmala L., Nissar Ahmad Khan et al., 2017

Distribution, Status, Pharmacological, and Traditional importance of Peganum harmala L.

Nissar Ahmad Khan, Aamir Raina, Nasir Aziz Wagay, Younas Rasheed Tantray

International Journal of Advance research in Science and Engineering, 2017, 6, (8), 1887-1894.




Peganum harmala L. Commonly known as Syrian rue, Wild rue or Harmal is native to arid and semi-arid regions of Northern African and Asian deserts that have spread to parts of the southwestern United States and Northern Mexico. It is a multipurpose medicinal plant with antimicrobial, antifungal, anti inflammatory, antidiabetic, anti cancerous, hypothermic and hallucinogenic activities. Phytochemical investigations has revealed the presences of a number of active alkaloids especially beta-carbolines such as harmalol, harmaline, and harmine. Seeds and roots contain the highest levels of alkaloids with low level in stem and leaves and absent in flowers. This emphasizes on the need of widespread study for covering the supplementary information on the medicinal importance of other species of genus peganum.

Keywords : Beta- carbolines, distribution, Peganum harmula, pharmalogy, Toxicity.



Peganum is a genus of five to six species distributed in the old world from the Mediterranean to Mongolia and in the new world from Texas to Mexico [1] (Table 1). The genus contains perennial herbs which are dispersed in the central Asia, Mexico and the Southern United States. It is a member of Zygophyllaceae, consisting of six species in China out of which three species, P. harmala Linn. P. nigellastrum Bunge. and P. multisectum (Maxim.) Bobr. are found mainly in arid and semi-arid areas in northwest China and are vital components of the desert vegetation. Although it belongs to the family Zygophyllaceae but its taxonomic position is still debatable and a separate family Nitrariaceae has been proposed for this genus [2]. Peganum harmala L. (2n=24) is a perennial flowering herb growing in Africa, the Middle East, India, Pakistan, Mexico, South America and several other countries [3]. It is native to arid and semi-arid regions of Northern African and Asian deserts that have spread to parts of the South Western United States and Northern Mexico [4]. It is a drought tolerant plant in arid parts of Central Asia, North Africa and Middle East and has been introduced in America and Australia [5]. According to [6] Peganum harmala is native to eastern Mediterranean region and widely distributed in Middle East, India, Mongolia and China. Peganum harmala can grow in areas receiving as little as 100 mm annual precipitation [7, 8] and is considered drought tolerant [9]. The species grows with an altitudinal gradient of 1590-3400 m as indicating that the species can tolerate a broad range of environmental conditions. In India it is usually found in drier parts of Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Utter Pradesh and Delhi [10].


Peganum harmala L. is a perennial herbaceous, branched into 5-13 stems, glabrous plant which grows upto 30-100cms in height. The leaves are palmatisected into 3-5 linear lobes which are 3-6 cms long and 1.5-3.0 mm wide. Flowers arise by 1-3 on apexes of branches which bear whitish-yellow petals in color. The fruits are globular capsule with 3 chambers, 0.9-1.3 cm in diameter and containing 35-45 angular blackish seeds [11]. The plant is not usually grazed by animals due to its bitter taste.


Peganum harmala is a well-known and effective medicinal plant in Turkey, Iran and China, especially in Xinjiang and Mongolia [3,12, 13]. Carboline alkaloids obtained from different parts of the plant are used against number of diseases [14]. The seeds and the whole plant possess medicinal properties (Uighur Drug Standard of the Ministry of Public Health) and various reports suggest that the plant can be used to treat ailments such as rheumatism, hypertension, diabetes, asthma and jaundice. The seeds also possess hallucinogenic and hypothermic properties and are used as a medical remedy, incense, condiment with necrotic, sedative, aphrodisiac, stimulant and emetic properties. The Seeds are used for the treatment of fever, malaria, hysteria, neuralgia, rheumatism, asthma, syphilis an eye. [15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20,] In addition, P. harmala is also an anti-parasitic agent. Moreover, the alkaloids identified in P. harmala exhibit some pharmacological action, such as antitumor and analgesic effects [18, 21, 22], vasorelaxant activity [23], antimicrobial properties [24, 25] and are strong inhibitors of monoamine oxidase. [26]. The seeds and whole plants of P. nigellastrum and P. multisectum are sometimes used as substitutes for P. harmala in medicinal market. Carboline alkaloids obtained from various parts of the plant are used against number of diseases [13]. The alkaloid extract of seeds from Peganum harmala is considered to have anti cancerous activity which could prove as a novel anticancer therapy [27].The extract of Peganum harmala containing the alkaloids harmaline and harmine was topically used to treat certain (human) dermatoses of inflammatory nature (impetigo, pityriases alba, cutaneous and leishmaniasis) [28]. Results were encouraging and proved the antibacterial, antifungal, antipruritic and probably antiprotozoal effects of the extract.