Ever heard of the “toothpick-plant”? What about “Bishop’s weed”? No? Well, it’s not something that sprouts toothpicks out of the ground and it’s definitely not the chess piece’s well-kept secret. It’s a plant. A plant that we owe so much of our modern medicine to. This plant is not only used in treating many medical conditions, but it’s also the source of several synthetic drugs out there. Officially, it’s called Ammi Visnaga but it has several other common names like toothpick weed, bisnaga and khella.
Ammi visnaga was originally native to Europe, Asia and North Africa but you can now find it almost anywhere. Long before science discovered how Ammi visnaga worked, Egyptians would always brew up a cup of “khella tea” whenever they had urinary problems like kidney stones. Back then, they didn’t know why, they just knew it worked. Years later, several studies started popping up to prove the Egyptians had it right. A laboratory experiment on rats showed that components in the Ammi visnaga acted as natural diuretics. They also had the ability to slow down the formation of calcium oxalate crystals which would essentially result in what we call kidney stones. So basically, Ammi visnaga not only prevented kidney stone formation, but it also made sure that any small stones formed would be eliminated through urine.
But come on. If all Ammi visnaga could do was help with kidney stones, people wouldn’t be so hyped about it, right? You’re probably already thinking ahead. What else can it do? Well, its benefits range from the heart and lungs all the way down to the uterus and bladder. And guess what, almost every organ in between is included. So how does it do? Let’s find out.
People don’t drink “khella tea” that often anymore. It’s much more practical to extract the Ammi visnaga essential oil from the seeds of the khella plant by steam distillation. This provides a much stronger and concentrated oil that can do the things that khella tea can’t. These benefits aren’t magical. They all come down to the components of Ammi visnaga essential oil. It generally has two classes of chemicals.
The first class is called “furanochromones”. The furanochromones found in Ammi visnaga are called khellin and visnagin. You can tell they get their names from the words khella and visnaga, respectively. There are a few others like khellinol, amiol, khellol and khellenin but they aren’t as important.
The second class is called “pyranocoumarins”. There’s only one important pyranocoumarin in Ammi visnaga and it’s called visudin. The essential oil also has a few other unrelated components such as camphor, alpha-terpinol and linatool.
Out of all these complicated names and chemical compounds let’s start with the most important one; khellin. This wonder-compound is a smooth muscle relaxant. Those three words right there account for almost everything khellin can do. So what do they mean? In our body, there’s three types of muscles. Cardiac, skeletal and smooth muscles. The cardiac muscle is what makes up our heart. Obvious, right? Skeletal muscles are strong controllable muscles usually found around parts of our skeleton like bones and joints. Your biceps and quads are examples of skeletal muscles. As for smooth muscles, they make up your blood vessels and most internal organs like your stomach, intestines, lungs and bladder. These are what the khellin in Ammi visnaga essential oil works on. Let’s see what it does.
The first thing khellin in Ammi visnaga essential oil works on is blood vessels. Let’s take the most important one: the coronary artery. This artery supplies the heart with all the oxygen and nutrients it needs to keep pumping and stay healthy. Without oxygen, the heart can’t deliver a sufficient amount of blood to all the body organs without straining itself too much. Sometimes, the amount of oxygen your heart is receiving is much lower than its demand. That’s when angina happens. It causes a severe stabbing chest pain that can even radiate to your shoulder and neck. So how does Ammi visnaga essential oil solve this? Well, the problem started out with your heart not getting enough oxygen, right? So, the smooth muscle relaxant properties of khellin are the perfect solution. They cause the smooth muscles of your coronary artery to relax, essentially causing vasodilation. That means the artery just got wider so it supplies more blood and oxygen to your heart. With enough oxygen, your heart can stop putting in so much effort and straining itself so much. No more angina, no more pain. Simple, yet effective.
There are generally two types of cholesterol in your body. Bad cholesterol called LDL (low density lipoprotein) and good cholesterol called HDL (high density lipoprotein). LDL is called bad cholesterol because it’s responsible for all the heart diseases you can think of. It builds up in your arteries leading to plaque formation which in turn, leads to atherosclerosis. Basically, your arteries get clogged up. This can lead to tons of heart diseases including angina and even heart attacks. On the other hand, HDL is the good kind of cholesterol that helps prevent all of this from happening and keeps your heart healthy. Many studies have linked higher HDL levels with longer, healthier lives and lower risk of heart disease. In a study carried out on Ammi visnaga essential oil, researchers proved that khellin has the ability to increase your body’s HDL levels. This means that Ammi visnaga essential oil not only treats heart diseases like angina, but it also prevents them.
In addition to its heart-related benefits , Ammi visnaga essential oil can also help people who suffer from asthma, chronic bronchitis, cough, whooping cough and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases. Once again, it comes down to the smooth muscle relaxant properties of khellin. Sometimes your lungs get agitated and you start coughing for no reason. That happens a lot, especially with asthma patients. It’s usually due to something called bronchospasm. That basically means somewhere along your respiratory airway or your bronchi, a spasm occurred. The airway got narrower. You can already guess what khellin is going to do. By relaxing the bronchial smooth muscles in certain areas along your respiratory tract, it acts as a bronchodilator. Your airway gets wider, clears up and your cough goes away. The reason doctors like Ammi visnaga essential oil is that it can be safely inhaled. Most essential oils can actually agitate your lungs and induce an asthma attack. Ammi visnaga essential oil is the exact opposite.
So far the benefits of Ammi visnaga essential oil have included the heart and the lungs. Let’s move on downwards. Next is the gut. Your gastrointestinal system is a complicated one that often suffers from the food choices you make. Eating too much of the wrong foods or too little of the right ones can result in stomaches, colics and abdominal cramps. Eating unwashed or contaminated food can be just as harmful. Sometimes it can’t be avoided, though. So what do you do when you get colicky pain? Try some Ammi visnaga essential oil.
Your gastrointestinal system is made out of smooth muscles. That pain your getting is mostly due to spasm in the smooth muscles of your intestines. See where I’m going with this? Once again, khellin, being the smooth muscle relaxant that it is, makes your intestines relax and stops the spasm that’s causing you the abdominal pain and discomfort. This is why doctors call Ammi visnaga essential oil a natural antispasmodic.
So far, Ammi visnaga essential oil is looking good. Your heart, lungs and digestive system are almost half of your body. Let’s move on down to the second half. Your urinary system. This is what ancient Egyptians used Ammi visnaga for. Kidney stone disease or the scientific name for it: urolithiasis. Kidney stones can be asymptomatic but more commonly, they can cause severe pain. Some people end up at the hospital complaining from extreme pain in their pelvic area. The disease is very common due to its numerous causative factors. Being dehydrated, having elevated uric acid levels, eating foods that contain too much calcium and even some infections can all lead to urolithiasis.
This time, Ammi visnaga essential oil helps in three ways. The first, as you’ve probably guessed, is the smooth muscle relaxant properties of khellin. Your urinary tract is also made up of smooth muscles, including your ureters. These are responsible for taking the urine your kidney makes and giving it to your urinary bladder for safe keeping. When kidney stones are formed, they can get lodged in your ureters and block them preventing the urine from being able to reach your bladder. This happens even without the ureters being contracted or in any form of spasm. The result: excruciating pain. By relaxing your ureteral smooth muscles, the area for urine to pass through gets wider. This prevents kidney stones from getting stuck or obstructing the urine flow.
So the kidney stones continued their journey all the way to the urinary bladder. Next they have to pass through the urethra, which is now also relaxed thanks to khellin. Now what? The second effect of Ammi visnaga essential oil kicks in. It acts as a natural diuretic. That means it makes you have the urge to urinate a lot more which helps you get rid of the kidney stones through urine. It’s great that it can help with the pain and gets rid of kidney stones but don’t you always hear “prevention is better that cure”? It’s better to avoid kidney stones in the first place, right? That’s the third secret to Ammi visnaga essential oil.
Kidney stones have several forms but most of them are 80% calcium oxalate (Ca Ox). This calcium oxalate keeps accumulating and the kidney stones keep getting bigger and bigger. If they reach a diameter larger than 5mm, it can cause complete ureteral obstruction. You start to feel burning flank pain and in some cases, your urine can become bloody (hematuria) which requires immediate hospital intervention. Thankfully, we have something in our body called citrate, which inhibits calcium oxalate from building up. The khellin in Ammi visnaga essential oil increases the amount of citrate in our bodies by stopping its metabolism. Some people just need a bit more citrate than others and the more you have, the less kidney stones you body can make. So basically, Ammi visnaga essential oil stops kidney stones formation and if they insist on being made, it quickly gets rid of them. The ancient Egyptians really hit the mark with this oil.
For men, that’s all Ammi visnaga essential oil can do for you. For women, there’s one more. And it’s a big one: PMS symptoms. It helps with all the bloating, constipation and menstrual pain and cramps. Menstrual cramps are the worst. They’re caused by the contraction of the uterus, which is made up of smooth muscles. Khellin helps relax the uterine muscles, reducing the painful monthly frustration.
Your skin is the biggest organ in your body and the most exposed to all sorts of microbes and infections. Vitiligo is an example of a common idiopathic skin disease. That means that scientists still don’t know exactly what causes vitiligo. People just suddenly start to develop white patches on their skin, usually on their arms, feet and face. This is why vitiligo is also called leucoderma. “Leuco” being Greek for white and “derma”, meaning skin. This happens when the melanocytes in your skin get destroyed. These melanocytes are cells responsible for making the pigment “melanin” that gives your skin its color. Without melanin, your skin develops the white patches characteristic of vitiligo. This is where Ammi visnaga essential oil comes in. Several studies have shown that khellin, combined with UVA light, can cause repigmentation. Your skin goes back to normal.
In one study, 60 people with vitiligo were asked to take khellin orally and then were exposed to natural sunlight. Another 60 people were given a placebo and also exposed to natural sunlight. At the end of the experiment, the group that took the khellin had an incredible 76.6% repigmentation rate. As for the placebo group, guess what? Zero improvement.
Maybe that was a stroke of luck. Here’s another study. A group of 36 people were given khellin in the form of topical gel. Then they were exposed to UVA light. A second group was given a placebo and exposed to the same UVA light. Their repigmentation rates were 86.1% and 66.6%, respectively. It’s pretty obvious how effective Ammi visnaga essential oil is in treating vitiligo.
Before Ammi visnaga essential oil was discovered, people used a substance called psoralen to treat vitiligo. It worked just as well as khellin but it had a major problem. After using it and exposing the patient to UVA light, it caused severe skin phototoxicity. The patient’s skin would start blistering, become severely inflamed and develop erythema (red patches). It’s no wonder Ammi visnaga essential oil is preferred. It’s just as effective against vitiligo, without the troublesome phototoxicity.
Visnagin is another important component in Ammi visnaga essential oil. Its effects are similar to khellin, in addition to a few others. For one, it’s negative chronotropic and negative inotropic on the heart. Basically, it slows down your heart rate and force of contraction. You might think that’s bad but it’s actually very good for your heart. By slowing it down, it reduces the strain and effort your heart is making. This is especially beneficial in case of cardiac arrhythmias. Sometimes your heart starts beating too fast, at a rate higher than normal. This can cause your heart to skip a beat and not in the good way. By bringing your heart rate back down to normal, visnagin is essentially treating your arrhythmia.
Visnagin can even treat angina. How? Well, your heart needs oxygen to contract. If it’s contracting a lot, it requires a lot of oxygen. If it doesn’t get the amount it demands, angina occurs. So by reducing your heart’s force of contractions, visnagin is essentially reducing its oxygen demand and helping with the angina.
Both khellin and visnagin are also strong antimicrobials. They can effectively kill bacteria, fungi and many viruses. In addition to that, they have powerful anti-inflammatory properties. They reduce the redness, itchiness, swelling and irritation often associated with many skin conditions by preventing histamine release.
Now, we’re talking about an oil that’s powerful enough to treat asthma and heart problems and even stop kidney stones in their tracks. Ammi visnaga essential oil is potent. You have to use it with caution. Taking too much can be toxic to your health and can even cause liver damage. That’s why for most of the conditions we’ve mentioned, Ammi visnaga essential oil is diluted first. Also, if you don’t have vitiligo, you should avoid exposure to sunlight right after applying the oil topically. It’s a photosensitiver so sunlight exposure is only beneficial to those who need repigmentation. Other than that, consider Ammi visnaga essential oil your body’s best friend.