COMMON NAMES: Aspand (Kurdish), Besasa (Egypt, ‘plant of Bes’), Churma, Epnubu (Egypt), Gandaku, Haoma (Persian), Harmal, Kisankur, Moly, Mountain Rue, Pegano, Sipand (Persian), Syrian Rue, Techepak (Ladakhi), Tukhm-i-isfand, Uzarih (Turkish), Wilde Raute
Growing from a perennial woody root, Peganum harmala is a bright-green, dense, herbaceous succulent. Although its smooth many-branched stems may have a spread of four feet or more, the plant is rarely over two feet tall and generally appears round and bushy. The leaves are two inches long, born singly and finely divided into long narrow segments (Ratsch 1998, 425).
Each year between June and August, P. harmala produces many single white flowers. Measuring one to one and one-half inches across, these relatively large and showy blooms have five oblong-eliptic petals as well as five narrow sepals of slightly longer length. Each flower has the potential to develop into a fruit –a leathery, three–valved seed capsule that stands erect on the stalk. Each capsule measures about three-eighths of an inch in diameter and contains more than fifty dark-brown, angular seeds (Ratsch 1998, 425).
Syrian rue grows in semi-arid conditions. It originated in Central Asia, and is held in high esteem throughout Asia Minor as a medicinal, aphrodisiac and dye plant. There is no solid historical evidence of ritual or religious use. It is sometimes known as “ruin weed” since it often grows on the tells covering the ruins of ancient cities in the Near East. It now grows wild in Eurasia and has recently been spread to Texas, Nevada, New Mexico and Southern California (Ratsch 1998, 425).
TRADITIONAL USES: Syrian rue is one of the plants that has been suggested to be the original haoma plant of Persia. It may have also been used as an entheogen by the mystery religion that surrounded the god Mithras. In the Koran, it is stated that “every root, every leaf of harmel, is watched over by an angel who waits for a person to come in search of healing.” Therefore, dervishes in Buchara are said to worship and use P. harmala for its inebriating effects (Ratsch 1998, 426).
In Iran, incense balls made of syrian rue seeds are burned in great quantities as offerings for the festival of Nouruz. The smoke is said to keep away all misfortune and the evil eye, and is also thought to dispel outbreaks of disease. In North Africa, syrian rue has been used as a magical tool and a medicine for thousands of years. The seeds are used as an incense to ward off the evil eye and dispel disease, and a combination of syrian rue seeds, alum, and olibanum is burned on the wedding night to increase desire (vries 1985 cited in Ratsch 1998, 427).
In the Himalayas, shamans use syrian rue seeds as a magical incense, inhaling it to enter a trance state in which they can engage in sexual intercourse with divining goddesses, who are said to give them information and great healing powers (Ratsch 1998, 426-427).
TRADITIONAL PREPARATION: Reportedly, an especially effective smoking mixture may be made from 15 grams of the seeds and the juice of a lemon. The seeds were ground with a mortar and pestle, and then put into a boiling pot over an open flame with the juice of 1 lemon. This mixture is then boiled down until a resinous paste is left. It is then mixed with tobacco for a smoke that is both inebriating and a potent aphrodisiac (Ratsch 1998, 426).
In Morocco, the seeds are simply added to wine to make harmala wine, or are powdered to make a snuff that is supposed to cause a “clear mind”, according to some reports. Up to 20 grams of the seeds have been ground up and eaten in an attempt to gain psychoactive effects, but doing this can have very toxic consequences. Yes, the seeds can reportedly be hallucinogenic in large doses, but since syrian rue is a powerful MAO inhibitor, it can also cause serious reactions when combined with certain foods. Typically, when used as an MAO inhibitor, 3-4 grams are ground up and extracted into water. However, the seeds are rarely eaten. If you intend to eat syrian rue, please consult a list of foods which need to be avoided when taking an MAOI in order to avoid dangerous or uncomfortable effects (Roth et al. 1994 cited in Ratsch 1998, 426).
In recent years, modern psychonauts have been known to combine Syrian rue seeds with various DMT-containing plants to create ayahuasca analogs. It is important to be very, very careful when doing such experiments, and one should always remember that less is often better than more in these cases (DeKorne 1994).
MEDICINAL USES: As a medicine, syrian rue has primarily been used to ease the birthing process in women and to help with menstrual difficulties. It is usually administered as an incense. The smoke is also inhaled to cure all manner of other afflictions, as well. A tea made from 5-10 grams of seeds is taken after meals to help with digestion (Goodman & Ghafoor 1992).
In Asia Minor, syrian rue seeds are used as aphrodisiacs and purifiers. The herbage is also sometimes used to treat skin disorders, and a decoction of the seeds is taken for stomach troubles, heart troubles, and sciatica. A very strong decoction also acts as a tranquilizer. Syrian rue has been shown to be an antibiotic, and the stems and leaves are abortifacients (Ratsch 1998, 427).
TRADITIONAL EFFECTS: The seeds and root P. harmala contain a mixture of the harmala alkaloids, harmine and harmaline. These unusual alkaloids are psychoactive derivatives of B-carboline, When administered to humans, the harmala alkaloids act as serotonin antagonists, CNS stimulants, hallucinogens, and extremely potent, short term MAO inhibitors (Roth et al. 1994 cited in Ratsch 1998, 427).
The alkaloids in syrian rue occur in roughly the same proportions as in Banisteriopsis caapi. Ten grams of syrian rue seeds provide about 400mg of total beta-Carbolines, about the amount found in a typical dose of ayahuasca. The harmala alkaloids may be extracted from the seeds and roots of P. harmala and purified as crystalline bases. Hasenratz first described this process in 1927 (Most 1985).
Syrian rue seeds are said to have an anti-depressive effect, and are also reported to stimulate the imagination. Dreamlike states are said to occur when large quantities are consumed. The alkaloids in the seeds act as MAO inhibitors. In other words, they suppress the enzyme monoamine oxydase (MAO), which metabolizes neurotransmitters that are in the body but outside of the brain. Thus, ingesting syrian rue allows substances such as DMT to be orally active, as in ayahuasca preparations (Ratsch 1998, 427).
DeKorne, J. Psychedelic Shamanism. Port Townsend, Washington: Loompanics Unlimited, 1994.
Goodman, S.M., and A. Ghafoor. “The Ethnobotany of Southern Balochistan, Pakistan, with Particular Reference to Medicinal Plants.” Fieldiana (Botany) 31 (1992): 1–84.
Most, A. “Erowid Syrian Rue Vaults: Smoking Rue Extract / Harmala.” Erowid Vaults, 1985. https://www.erowid.org/plants/syrian_rue/syrian_rue_info9.shtml.
Ratsch, Christian., The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants: Ethnopharmacology and its Applications. Rochester: Park Street Press, 1998.