Traditional Use, Chemistry and Properties of Nigella Damascena

Nigella damascena (Love in the mist), L., 1753, in a garden, Charente, France. By JLPC via Wikimedia Commons.

The genus Nigella (Ranunculaceae) is distributed throughout the Mediterranean basin. Badalamenti et al. (2022)[1] have published a systematic review on the medicinal and traditional use, chemical composition, toxicology and phytotherapy of Nigella damascena L., also known as “love-in-a-mist” and “devil in a bush”. This beautiful plant is It is native to southern Europe, north Africa and southwest Asia, where it is found on neglected, damp patches of land.

From the abstract (with some slight changes in wording):

Nigella damanscena L. is traditionally used as an ingredient in food, for example, as flavouring agents in bread and cheese, but is also known in folk medicine, used to regulate menstruation; for catarrhal affections and amenorrhea; as a diuretic and sternutatory; as an analgesic, anti-oedematous, and antipyretic; as a disinfectant and vermifuge. This paper reviews the most dated to the latest scientific research on this species, highlighting the single isolated metabolites and exploring their biological activity.

Fifty-seven natural compounds have been isolated and characterised from the seeds, roots, and aerial parts of the plant. Among these constituents, alkaloids, flavonoids, diterpenes, triterpenes, and aromatic compounds are the main constituents. The isolated compounds and the various extracts obtained with solvents of different polarities presented a diverse spectrum of biological activities such as antibacterial, antifungal, antitumour, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antipyretic, anti-oedema, and antiviral activities. Various in vitro and in vivo tests have demonstrated the pharmacological potential of β-elemene and the alkaloid damascenin. Unfortunately, the largest number of biological studies on this species and its metabolites have been conducted in vitro. Further investigation is necessary to evaluate the toxicological aspects, mechanisms of action and real therapeutic potential of extracts of N. damascena.

[1] Badalamenti N., Modica A., Bazan G., Marino P., Bruno M.
The ethnobotany, phytochemistry, and biological properties of Nigella damascena – A review. Phytochemistry, Volume 198, 2022,
113165. ISSN 0031-9422. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.phytochem.2022.113165.

Phytotherapy for Polycystic Ovary Syndrome

Flax (Linum usitatissimum L.). Public domain photo from Pikist.com.

Azin and Khazali (2021) of Shahid Beheshti University, Tehran, Iran, carried out a literature review of studies concerning the potential role of herbs in the treatment of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a frequently encountered female complaint.

The 31 studies reviewed collectively covered 25 different herbs, two Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and one Ayurvedic formulae, and four isolates from herbs (berberine, curcumin, soy isoflavone and quercetin).

Of the 25 herbs in the studies, 9 are native to the area of interest of this blog, the Mediterranean and Near East: aloe vera (Aloe
barbadensis
), anise (Pimpinella anisum), fennel (Foeniculum
vulgare
), fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum), flax seed (Linum usitatissimum), hazelnut (Corylus avellana), liquorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra), nettle and pomegranate (Punica granatum).

Of the studies done with these herbs, three were done with human subjects, the other with animal models. Two were done with women with PCOS. Some of the studies showed clinical benefits for PCOS, others showed improved hormone profiles consistent with better potential PCOS outcomes, others still improved secondary complications of PCOS such as metabolic syndrome.

The table below summarises in very basic form some data from the review.

HerbClinical benefits for PCOSImproved hormone profileImproved complications of PCOSHuman/
Animal
Aloe vera**A
Anise**A
Fennel*A
Fenugreek**H
Flax seed**H
Hazlenut**A
Liquorice**A, H
Nettle*A
Pomegranate**A
Citation:

Azin F. & Khazali H. (2021). Phytotherapy of polycystic ovary syndrome: A review. International Journal of Reproductive BioMedicine Volume 20, Issue no. 1, https://doi.org/10.18502/ijrm.v20i1.10404

Antidiabetic Herbs: A Review

Fenugreek flower (Trigonella foenum-graecum – L.). One of the plants discussed in this review, for which there is scientific evidence indicating antidiabetic effects. Public domain photo from Pxfuel.com.

This open access 2018 review by Paolo Governa and co-workers from the University of Siena and the Italian Society of Phytotherapy provides an overview of the use of medicinal plants in the management of diabetes, with particular regard to evidence of clinical effectiveness of medicinal plants in controlling diabetes-related symptoms.

The authors emphasise the following species enlisted in WHO monographs with indication of use for diabetes:

  • Holy basil, Ocimum tenuiflorum L., leaves.
  • Fenugreek, Trigonella foenum-graecum L., seeds.
  • Onion, Allium cepa L., bulb.
  • Neem, Azadirachta indica A. Juss., leaves.
  • Bitter melon, Momordica charantia L., fruit.
  • Korean ginseng, Panax ginseng C.A. Meyer, roots.
  • American ginseng, Panax quinquefolius L., roots.
  • Rehmannia glutinosa (Gaertn.) DC., roots.

Many of these are used of diabetes in traditional medical systems or described in pharmacopoeias for this use. The authors consider that for the first two, holy basil and fenugreek, their use in diabetes is supported by clinical data.

The authors also discuss some other species which are attracting the interest of the scientific community for their promise in treating diabetes.

The authors comment that there is a crucial need for stronger evidence-based data.

Citation

Governa P, Baini G, Borgonetti V, Cettolin G, Giachetti D, Magnano AR, Miraldi E, Biagi M. Phytotherapy in the Management of Diabetes: A Review. Molecules. 2018; 23(1):105. https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules23010105

Propolis Shown to Enhance Effect of Antidepressant Medication

Propolis in beehive. Photo by Hadi, from Wikimedia Commons, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International licence.

This intriguing double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial appears to indicate that propolis as an adjunct to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), a type of antidepressant medication, improves depressive symptoms over and above SSRIs alone.

Caveat: I have only been able to access the abstract of this study, so have not been able to assess the methodology. The abstract may be accessed here.

Citation

Varzaghani, V., Sharifi, M., Hajiaghaee, R., Bagheri, S., Momtaz, S., Tarassoli, Z., & Razmi, A. (2022). Propolis add-on therapy alleviates depressive symptoms; A randomized placebo-controlled clinical trial. Phytotherapy Research, 1– 10. https://doi.org/10.1002/ptr.7380.

Medicinal Plant Use in Bouira Province, Northern Algeria

Al Asnam, Bouira, northern Algeria. Attribution: Bouizriphotography, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Medour et al. (2002)[1] carried out an ethnobotanical survey of medicinal plant use in two rural municipalities in the province of Bouira, Northern Algeria. This is a biodiverse, mountainous, Berber-speaking region with a rich ethnobotanical knowledge system.

Bouira is a province of Northern Algeria. Image taken from the cited paper [1].

Data were compiled from 69 informants among the local population and on 136 plant species. Data were gathered and data analyses were provided on:

  • Socio-demographic profile of the informants.
  • Diversity of medicinal plants.
  • Toxic plants.
  • Plant parts used, mode of preparation and administration.
  • Diseases groups, treated diseases and number of use reports.
  • Relative frequency of citation of the plant species recorded.
  • Frequency of use of the plant species recorded.
  • The percentage of informants claiming the use of a certain plant species for the same major purpose.
  • Consensus among informants for plant use for the different disease categories recorded.

Among the many interesting data provided in this quantitative survey, the most interesting for me were those on the most used medicinal plants for various types of symptoms or conditions. These are summarised in the table below, taken from the cited paper [1].

Medicinal plants used for various types of symptoms or conditions. Table taken from the cited paper [1].

Of particular interest to me personally are the reported uses of several plants commonly found in my own bio-region of Ibiza, Balearic islands, Spain, namely:

Allium sativum: Hypertension.
Cynara cardunculus
: Diabetes.
Ditricchia viscosa
: Arthritis.
Juniperus oxycedrus
: Furuncles.
Lavandula stoechas
: Colon pain.
Mentha spicata
: Flu.
Olea europaea
: Arthritis.
Papaver rhoeas
: Colon pain.
Pinus halapensis
: Flu.
Urtica dioica
: Hair loss.

[1] Meddour, R., Sahar, O., Abdoune, N., & Dermouche, M. (2022). Quantitative ethnobotanical investigation of medicinal plants used by local population in the rural municipalities of Haizer and El Asnam, province of Bouira, Northern Algeria. Mediterranean Botany, 43, e71190. https://doi.org/10.5209/mbot.71190