By Karimah Bin Dawoud, Muslim Chaplain & Well Being Writer.

I was with my Moroccan Auntie the other day and after eating asked her for a tooth pick. She hunted around and finally found me this cute dried inner part of a plant. Not one to reject anything natural or from an Islamic land, I broke off a stem and cleaned my teeth. She told me its called “bushnika” in Morocco.

moroccan toothpick bushnika

It comes from the Ammi Visnaga plant that originates from the Nile delta and was used therapeutically by the ancient Egyptians, as is documented in Eber’s papyrus. 
It’s called “Khella” or “naghash” in Arabic and you can still find the plant’s dried umbels in markets. Its native to the Meditteranean region in the Middle East and the Far East.
The plant was used in Egyptian folk medicine to treat urinary calculi and bladder and a multitude of ailments such as angina, asthma, kidney stones, and sterility.When the stalks are dried, they become woody and very stiff and are great for picking out food from your teeth.

Khella (Ammi Visnaga) is known as other names: Ammi, Ammi daucoides, Ammi visnaga, Ammi Visnage, Visnaga, Visnagae, Visnagafruchte, Visnagin, Bischofskrautfruchte, Bishop’s Weed, Bishop’s Weed Fruit, Biznaga, Daucus visnaga, Fenouil Annuel, Fruits de Khella, Herbe aux Cure-Dents, Herbe aux Gencives, Khellin, Khelline, Noukha, Toothpick…

Bishop’s weed is a plant. The seeds are used to make medicine.

The prescription drug methoxsalen (Oxsoralen, Methoxypsoralen) was originally prepared from bishop’s weed, but it is now made in the laboratory. Methoxsalen is used to treat psoriasis, a skin condition.

Bishop’s weed is used for digestive disorders, asthma, chest pain (angina), kidney stones, and fluid retention.

Some people apply bishop’s weed directly to the skin for skin conditions including psoriasis and vitiligo.

Be careful not to confuse bishop’s weed (Ammi majus) with its more commonly used relative, khella (Ammi visnaga). The two species do contain some of the same chemicals and have some similar effects in the body. But Bishop’s weed is more commonly used for skin conditions, and khella is usually used for heart and lungconditions.

How does it work?

Bishop’s weed contains several chemicals, including methoxsalen, a chemical used to make a prescription medication for the skin condition psoriasis.

KHELLA on the other hand…

Khella (Ammi visnaga) was originally cultivated by the ancient Egyptians who used it to treat many ailments, including urinary tract diseases. It was also used in the Middle Ages as a diuretic. Much like its other family member Queen Anne’s lace, khella plants grow up to two feet in height and have thinly cut fern-like leaves. The plant possesses many flowering stems and each of these is crowned with encompassing collections of countless minuscule, white flowers. These clusters of flowers are known as umbels as their shoots spread out from a middle point like the ribs of an umbrella. It is interesting to note that the umbels themselves are made of smaller umbels. Once the flowers have dried up and the seeds ripened, the small stems of the main umbels become rigid and hard. This part of the plant too is used by the Arabs as toothpicks and for this reason they have aptly named the khella plant as the ‘toothpick plant.’
The whole fruit has traditionally been used to treat respiratory system diseases such as asthma, bronchitis, emphysema and whooping cough, as well as cardiovascular disorders, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), liver and gall bladder disorders and to stimulate diuresis (increase in urine production). Its purported effect is related to its antispasmodic action on smaller bronchial muscles, coronary arteries and urinary tract tubules. Ammi visnaga may vasodilate the coronary arteries, which increases the blood supply to the myocaridium, and as a result, can be used to treat mild forms of angina (chest pain). It is also used to treat problems associated with spasms and constriction of the gallbladder and bile duct and facilitates the discharge of kidney stones and gallstones.
However, the bad part about using khellin is that along with its healing properties, it also has its share of adverse side effects. Researchers were disheartened to discover that the usage of khellin often leads to a snowballing toxic effect. When taken over a period of time, the main ingredients of khellin accumulate in the body where the medicine has been administered and this is likely to result into nausea and vomiting in the patients even after their recovery. It is owing to such side effects that the usage of khellin as a medicine has been discontinued in the United States. However, herbal medical practitioners in the region in and around the Mediterranean Sea still actively use khellin to heal a number of ailments. In fact, the khella is found in abundance in this region and this results in the tendency to continue with the practice.

Benefits Of Khella (Ammi Visnaga) For Health

The medicinal usage of khella dates back to ancient Egypt and it even finds mention in the Ebers papyrus (c. 1500 BC). Over the ages, the khella’s fruit extracts have been used to cure kidney stones, and even to this day Egyptian herbal medicine practitioners use the khella to alleviate pains caused by kidney stones. Khella helps to reduce the pain caused by the stones trapped in kidney by loosening up the ureter muscles. This way, it helps the locked stone in the kidney to ease down into the urinary bladder.
Researches have established that khella possesses anti-spasmodic features. Therefore, it is widely used to heal asthma and is also considered to be safe medication even for children. Even though khella is not always effective in healing severe bouts of asthma, it is certainly beneficial in averting the recurrence of the ailment. Khella is also an efficient medication for different respiratory ailments and is helpful in curing bronchitis, emphysema, and whooping cough.
Khella is also used for diseases of the heart and blood vessels (cardiovascular disorders) including high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat (arrhythmias), congestive heart failure (CHF), chest pain (angina), “hardening of the arteries” (atherosclerosis), and high cholesterol. Khella efficiently improves the blood supply to the heart muscles and relieves patients of angina by soothing the coronary arteries. However, contrary to some common belief, khella does not help in lowering the blood pressure.
Other uses include treatment of diabetes, colic and abdominal cramps, liver and gallbladder disorders, kidney stones, and fluid retention.
Women sometimes use khella for menstrual pain and premenstrual syndrome (PMS).
Some people apply khellin taken from khella directly to the skin and then expose the area to light to treat skin problems such as vitiligo, psoriasis, and patchy hair loss (alopecia areata).
Khella is also put on the skin to treat wounds, skin redness and swelling (inflammation), and poisonous bites.
On the other hand, researchers in Andalusia, Spain have used the best quality of khella to cleanse teeth and the results were said to be excellent.

Khella (Ammi Visnaga) Side effects and cautions

Khella is possibly unsafe when taken in high doses or used for a long time. It can cause side effects including liver problems, nausea, dizziness, constipation, lack of appetite, headache, itching, trouble sleeping, and skin sensitivity to sunlight (photosensitization).
It’s unsafe to take khella if you are pregnant. It contains khellin, a chemical that can cause the uterus to contract. This might cause a miscarriage.
Khella might make liver disease worse. Don’t use it if you have liver problems.

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