encyclopedia

Bishopsweed

Scientific Names:    

Ammi majus L. and A. visnaga L. Lam [Fam. Apiaceae]    
 
   
Forms:    

Seeds and seed extracts for internal use; leaf and leaf psoralens for external use.    

     
Traditional Usage:    

– Bruises
– Digestive problems
– Gas
– Hypoglycemia
– Preservative
– Psoriasis (Leaf psoralens)
–  Snakebites
– Water retention     
     
    
Overview:    

Bishopsweed, Ammi majus L. and A. visnaga L. Lam [Fam. Apiaceae], is a little known medicinal herb otherwise called goutweed, Ethiopian cummin-seed and groundelder. The plant produces small white flowers in umbels similar in form to Queen Ann's lace, but not as showy that bloom in midsummer and produce small round seeds that are hot and bitter to the taste. Also known as ajowan, bishop's weed is an aromatic spice closely resembling thyme in flavor. Bishopsweed seed imparts a specific aroma and taste to a wide variety of foods. It also has excellent preservative and medicinal properties. Traditionally, India has been one of the most important sources of bishopsweed. The main producing states are Rajasthan and Gujarat. Bishopsweed is also found growing wild throughout much of England and Wales. In an extensive ethnobotanical survey (130 informants) of the medicinal plants of Israel, 16 plant species were found to be used for hypoglycaemic treatments, including Ammi visnaga (L.) Lam. A study to determine the content of the active ingredients called furanochromones – khellin and visnagin, in the organs of Ammi visnaga (L.) Lam. at different developmental stages, determined that the unripe fruits are the richest in both chromones, but the collection of ripe dry fruits–as it occurs in Egyptian folk-medicine–seems more reasonable because they might not undergo degradation processes during desiccation and storage. Dr. James Duke, in The Green Pharmacy, notes that the ancient Egyptians and Indians rubbed red, scaly skin patches, presumably psoriasis, with plants that contained psoralens including bishopsweed, and then had people sit in the sun. Psoralens are photoactive compounds that cause blistering to normal skin when people are exposed and then go in the sun; however, they inhibit cell division and effectively treat psoriasis. Phototherapy with psoralens is potentially dangerous and should only be undertaken with a qualified practitioner.    
     
    
Active Ingredients:    

Bishopsweed contains: the seeds and plant contain furanochromones, khellin and visnagin, most concentrated in the seeds; the seeds also contain approximately 22.4% cellulose; 5-[2-(acetoxy)-3-hydroxy-3-methylbutoxy-psoralen; alloimperatorin; ammajin; ammifurin; ammirin; bergapten; calcium oxalate; ca. 1% essential oil; ca. 13% fat; ca. 1% glycosides; heraclenin; imperatorin; isoimperatorin; isopimpinellin; isoquercetin; kaempferol; majurin; marmesin; marmesinin; mucilage; oleoresin; oxypeucedanin; pabulenol; DL-piperitone; ca. 14% protein; ca. 1.5-2% psoralens; quercetin; saxalin; tannin; umbelliprenin; xanthotoxin. The leaves contain O-alkyl-furocoumarin; ammidin; ammoidin; angalcin; angelicin; camesol; campeselol; campesin; coumarinic acid; furanochromone; furanocoumarins; psoralens and many other compounds. [Duke JA. 1992. Handbook of Phytochemical Constituents of GRAS Herbs and Other Economic Plants. CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL, pp. 35-36.]    
     
    
Suggested Amount:    

Bishopsweed seed is normally used as a spice. Phototherapy with bishopsweed leaf psoralens is potentially dangerous and should only be undertaken with a qualified practitioner.    
     
    
Drug Interactions:    

None known.    
     
    
Contraindications:    

None known.    
     
    
Side Effects:    

The furanocoumarins present in bishopsweed sensitize the skin to light. Subsequent exposure to UV radiation can lead to inflammation of the skin. Damage to the eyes has also been noted with other plants contain photoactive compounds. As such, during treatment with bishopsweed, prolonged sun-bathing and exposure to intense UV radiation should be avoided.    
     
    
References:     
     
Duke, J. 1997: The Green Pharmacy, The Ultimate Compendium of Natural Remedies from the World's Foremost Authority on Healing and Herbs. pp. 80-81; 96; 113; 168-169; 180; 232; 350; 492. Rodale Press.
 
Franchi GG, Bovalini L, Martelli P, Ferri S, Sbardellati E. 1985. High performance liquid chromatography analysis of the furanochromones khellin and visnagin in various organs of Ammi visnaga (L.) Lam. at different developmental stages. J Ethnopharmacol. 1985 Nov-Dec; 14(2-3): 203-12.
 
Martelli P, Bovalini L, Ferri S, Franchi GG. 1984. Rapid separation and quantitative determination of khellin and visnagin in Ammi visnaga (L.) Lam. fruits by high-performance liquid chromatography. J Chromatogr. 1984 Sep 28; 301(1):297-302.
 
Pogorelova OV. 1971. [An anatomo-histochemical study of Ammi visnaga (L.) Lam] Farmatsiia. 1971 Nov-Dec; 20(6): 16-9. Russian.
 
Yaniv Z, Dafni A, Friedman J, Palevitch D. 1987. Plants used for the treatment of diabetes in Israel. J Ethnopharmacol. 1987 Mar-Apr; 19(2): 145-51.