What is Khella?
Khella is an herb belonging to the Apiacea family, which also includes parsley, celery and carrots. The herb is known scientifically as Ammi visnaga. The name of the genus is derived from the Greek word ‘ammos’ which means ‘sand’ referring to the habitat in which the plant typically grows.
The plant is native to Mediterranean parts of Africa including Morocco and Egypt as well as certain parts of Asia including Iran.
While studies into the medicinal effects of the herb are scarce, khella has been used in traditional medicine for thousands of years to treat various conditions. The fruits contain a number of medicinal compounds and the herb is believed to have various properties including antimicrobial, antispasmodic and vasodilatory actions.
The genus name “Ammi” derives from the Greek term “ammos” meaning “sand” and refers to the plant’s habitat.
Facts About Khella
- Khella is a member of the celery, carrot or parsley family (Apiaceae) and it has been used as a medicinal herb since ancient times for a variety of ailments including heart and skin ailments.
- Although it is native to the Mediterranean regions of Asia, Africa and Europe, it can be find all over the world these days.
- The herb was cultivated in ancient Egypt to treat urinary conditions while it was used as a diuretic during the middle ages.
- The ancient Egyptians made a tea from the herb to treat urolithiasis and pain.
- The herb is also known as ‘toothpick plant’ because its dried umbels are still sold in Middle eastern markets and used as toothpicks.
- Other common names for the plant include toothpickweed and bisnaga.
- A number of conventional medications including cromolyn and nifedipine were developed from Ammi visnaga.
- Modern studies have focused on the cardiovascular and pulmonary benefits of the herb.
- It is often confused with another plant from the same genus – bishop’s weed or Ammi majus, which has similar constituents.
khella is a biennial or annual herb that grows to a height of around 80 centimeters. the leaves are around 20 centimeters in length and triangular in shape. The plant has an umbel of white flowers that are similar to those of other members of the Apiaceae species. The plant also produces a tiny fruit which contains various beneficial compounds and is used for medicinal purposes.
The major medicinal compounds of the plant are found in the fruits or seeds and these are the parts used to make medicine. khella contains a variety of bioactive compounds including khellin, khellol glucoside, visnadin, visnagin, samidin, furanocoumarins khellin and pyranocoumarins visnadine.
These compounds have a number of pharmacological activities including cardiovascular effects. There is also evidence that both visnagin and khellin have antifungal, antibacterial and antiviral effects.
The plant also contains various antioxidant flavonoids like isorhamnetin and quercetin as well as plant sterols and an essential oil.
The fruits are harvested in the summer months and then dried for use in herbal medicine.
Health Benefits of Khella
khella has been used traditionally to deal with a wide variety of respiratory issues including asthma, bronchitis, coughs and whooping cough. (1) Not many studies have been done into the herb’s effects on respiratory health but it is believed to help dilate the airways and soothe the spasms in the respiratory tract allowing people to breathe more freely.
Studies have found that the herb has powerful antispasmodic effects which can help ease spasms in the bronchioles. This effect is due to the presence of a compound called khellin.
Although it has been used to treat asthma, it is not regarded as an effective remedy during an attack and people use it more as a prevention than an instant remedy.
Khella has traditionally been used to help boost cardiovascular health and several studies into its effect would seem to support this use. The herb contains a compound called visnagin, which helps dilate the arteries and helps promote the flow of oxygen and blood to the heart.
Visnagin, isolated from the herb, is a useful remedy for a wide range of heart issues, Studies have found that it can help treat common heart conditions like atherosclerosis and angina pectoris. Preparations made with visnagin are also used as follow up treatments following a heart attack.
According to studies, it helps boost blood flow by working as a natural vasodilator and also improving metabolism. (2) Khella is effective when used over a period of time and is a more effective prevention than an outright treatment for an angina attack.
Might Boost HDL Cholesterol
As well as its vasodilating effects, there is evidence from preliminary studies that khella can help boost HDL cholesterol – the ‘good type’ that you want to increase.
An early study into the effects of the herb found that patients treated with khellin extracted from the herb experienced a significant increase in HDL cholesterol levels with a slight decrease in LDL cholesterol. (3)
A more recent study, published in 2015 also found that a patient treated with khella for kidney stones experienced an increase in HDL cholesterol. (1)
Several studies indicate that khella is a promising, natural treatment for urolithiasis or kidney stones.
One animal study, published in 2011, examined the effects of the herb on rats with a condition that commonly led to kidney stones called hyperoxaluria. The researchers observed that the rats treated with khella were less at risk of developing kidney stones compared to the control group. (4)
A human case study, published in 2015, backed up these findings. The researchers concluded that khella was an effective, natural remedy for kidney stones. (1) While the exact mechanism for its effects is not certain, it might be due to the effects of visnagin and khellin, researchers believe that these compounds prevent cell damage caused by ca oxalate crystals in the kidney’s epithelial cells.
There is some scientific evidence that khella could help treat people with diabetes by helping keep blood sugar levels under control.
One animal study, published in 2002, looked at the effects of khella extract on diabetic rats. the study demonstrated that khella helped regulate blood glucose levels and may help keep diabetes under control.
Up to now, there is precious little evidence that the herb can help manage diabetes and more research is necessary on the future.
Khella has antispasmodic actions and has traditionally been used to help deal with a wide range of conditions related to spasms. These include abdominal cramps, colic, stomach pain, premenstrual syndrome and painful cramps during menstruation.
As well as being taken internally, khella can also be applied topically to help treat a number of skin conditions. The plant has been used traditionally to treat minor wounds and cuts as well as to treat poisonous bites.
Several experiments have looked at the effects of khella on vitiligo – a skin condition that results in white blotches on the skin owing to the destruction of melanocytes or pigment cells. However, the results so far have proved inconclusive.
The herb is also used topically to help treat psoriasis and the results of preliminary studies have been promising. (5) Nevertheless, a lot more research is necessary to confirm the effectiveness of the herb as a topical remedy for the skin.
How to use Khella
More often than not, khella is used as an ingredient in supplements that contain various other medicinal herbs like hawthorn. These combined supplements are usually taken to deal with heart conditions like angina. For respiratory conditions like bronchitis or asthma, the herb is often combined with other herbs or synthetic substances.
Many herbal preparations contain isolated compounds from the herb like khellin or visnagin as opposed to the actual herb.
Khella was traditionally drunk as a tea and it is still sometimes prepared that way today.
To make a tea with khella, add half a gram of dried khella fruit to one cup of boiled water. Allow the tea to steep for at least 15 minutes and then strain. You can drink between 3 and 4 cups each day.
khella can also be used in tincture form with a recommended dose between 10 and 60 drops a day.
If you buy an herbal preparation containing khella extract, make sure that you follow the instructions on the label carefully.
Side Effects and Precautions
- Khella extract may be unsafe when taken in large doses so make sure that you follow dosage instructions carefully.
- In high doses, the herb can cause an increase in liver enzymes with liver damage possible.
- Do not take khella orally if you are pregnant or breast feeding. khellin has uterine stimulant properties and is dangerous during pregnancy. There is not enough data to determine its safety during lactation.
- Prolonged use of the herb can cause certain side effects including nausea, constipation, dizziness, headache, loss of appetitie and skin irritation.
- Topical application can cause photosensitivity and allergic reaction in some people.
- Khella is an herb with a number of potential medical uses.
- It has antispasmodic and vasodilating properties.
- It is especially useful for treating heart conditions like angina, irregular heartbeat and atherosclerosis.
- It is also used to treat respiratory conditions like bronchitis, asthma and coughs.
- The herb can also be used topically and may help treat psoriaisis and vitiligo.
- The herb may be unsafe when taken in very high doses or for a prolonged period of time.