Khella (Ammi visnaga), also known as bishop’s weed fruit, bisnaga, and toothpick weed, is a flowering herb that is native to Asia, Europe, and North Africa. Khella is an annual or sometimes biennial plant related to the family of carrots and parsley. It grows upright as tall as three feet, and has thin, oval or triangular leaves and small white flowers. It produces a small fruit that has medicinal properties, and has been used in Egyptian medicine several centuries ago to treat various medical conditions, especially kidney stones.
Gallbladder and Urinary Bladder Spasms
One of khella’s historic medicinal uses is as an antispasmodic. It works on the smooth muscles connected to the gallbladder and urinary tract, easing spasms and the pain associated with kidney stones. It can also assist in eliminating kidney stones and gallstones. The antispasmodic properties of khella continue to heal the urinary tract passage and control irritation.
Khella’s antispasmodic properties are also useful to treat asthma attacks. During the 1950′s, research into khella’s usefulness as an asthma treatment led to the creation of a number of asthma medications. Two chemicals found in khella, khellin and visnagin, ease spasms in the bronchial passages. Khella can relieve symptoms and has no side effects for as long as six hours. Although some have had success preventing acute asthma attacks by taking khella in the form of an alcohol tincture, khella should not be used in place of emergency treatment if the attack is severe.
Heart Conditions (Atherosclerosis and Angina)
As early as the 1940′s, studies were done on the effect of khella in treating angina. It soothes angina pain by causing the arteries of the heart to relax and can improve the heart’s ability to withstand exercise.
During stress, the hormone epinephrine from adrenal gland enters the blood stream. Khellin and visnadin, two of the active ingredients in khella, prevent the constriction of blood vessels due to epinephrine. These two ingredients, along with a third, visnagin, function as a calcium channel blocker, helping to keep blood pressure low by keeping blood vessels dilated. Khellin works to increase “good” cholesterol (HDL or high-density lipoprotein) and lower “bad” cholesterol (LDL or low-density lipoprotein), resulting in less plaque formation.
Vitiligo is a condition where pigments are lost in various parts of the skin, resulting in the formation of ”blotchy skin.” Vitiligo has been successfully treated by psoralens, ingredients found in a plant species closely related to khella called A. majus. Similarities were found between psoralens and khellin, leading to speculation that khellin might be useful in treating vitiligo. Studies confirmed that khellin, when used with ultraviolet (UV) light such as found in direct sunlight, was successful in stimulating the skin pigment’s sensitivity to UV light. This caused recoloration of the skin. 100mg of khellin per day is the recommended dosage for treating vitiligo.
Khella is used to relieve the pain associated with premenstrual cramps. The same antispasmodic properties that help with asthma and bladder spasms also ease muscle cramping associated with menstruation.
For centuries, the ground up seeds of khella have been used after intercourse to prevent pregnancy by keeping the fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus. As such, it should be avoided during pregnancies where contraception is unwanted.
Khella can be taken as a tincture, tea, or a cream applied topically. In the form of khellin, it can also be found in tablets. Long-term use can have side effects such as nausea, dizziness, and trouble sleeping. Liver damage has been seen in people regularly taking high doses. Because of khella’s tendency to raise skin pigment’s sensitivity to light, direct exposure to sunlight without sunblock should be avoided when not using the treatment to combat vitiligo.