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Plant as Shaykh extracted from A Sufi Herbal by Frederick R.


Peganum harmala Harmal, Harmel, Isphand, Espand, Syrian Rue Harmal is a truly sacred plant. It banishes sorrows, gives courage, soothes the soul and its powers extend into the realms visionary sacraments, magic and medicine (Hooper 1937). Hooper wrote, The seeds are reputed to be an alterative and purifying medicine, and are supposed to stimulate the sexual system. We have written extensively on this most esteemed and holy herb (Dannaway 2009, 2010), speculating a truly high place for it in the Vedic plant pantheon (Plant as Guru). It is intimately associated with The Five primary figures of the Shia: The Prophet, Ali, Fatima, Husayn and Hasan and its said that Allah commanded the faithful to eat harmal. Its use in Islam as a magic folk medicine, as visionary herb as well as for crafts goes back to ancient Persian rites of sacred incenses and the powerful haoma entheogens. Its use in crafts would have been inadvertently visionary with the dyeing of rugs and resultant transdermal absorption of harmaline and harmine, which might have led to the geometric patterns and the flying carpet transvection as discussed elsewhere. Some speculate the dyeing of the fez, and the sweat from whirling dervishes, may have resulted in the absorption of the alkaloids into the skin. The truly vast and ancient history of the plant is well documented by Flattery and Schwartz in their landmark Haoma and Harmaline. It is erroneously cited all over the internet and in Ratschs (2005) otherwise monumental Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Drugs that Peganum harmala is mentioned in the Koran, some entries say repeatedly and the verse they cite is from the below hadith about the roots and leaf and seed having angels appointed over them. I wish it were true this were in the Koran actually, it would perhaps encourage some more extremists to feel the soft glow of a loving, fortifying botanical energy. However, our own readings of the Koran have failed to turn up these quotations, and it is not mentioned in any of the many Sunni or Shia herbals we have that cite the plant, (I am sure they would say this is mentioned in the Koran as they are praising it in the hadith), nor is it mentioned in any of the exhaustive texts that actually list each and every plant of the Koran. We have at least four such books from Sunni and Shia authors who have made it their life to find every plant in the Koran and it is not among any of their lists. I have corresponded with Unani Hakeems etc. who greatly extol the virtue of the plant, cite hadith, poems and traditions but they say it is not in the Koran. Therefore, we caution those that quote the same sources, with Ratsch or his translators (we suspect) at the bottom of this error. The verse they cite as from the Koran is likely from the hadith quoted below. If we are the ones in error, please feel free to contact and point to where this plant or that verse is in the Koran and we will update this and admit our error. Below we will cite the hadith that seems to have been mistakenly thought to come from the Koran, and some poems, chiefly from Iran, extolling the virtues of this mystic plant. The following hadith is found in the Hulyat al-muttaqin of Muhammad Baqir Majlisi,

It is related from the Prophet that over each leaf and seed of the isfand plant an angel is appointed so that through its bark and roots and branches grief and sorcery are set aside. In its seeds is the cure of seventy-two diseases. Therefore, make medical treatment with isfand and frankincense (kundur). From the Shia saint Jafar al-Sadiq it is related that the Devil is made distant seventy houses from a house where is isfand. It is a remedy for seventy illnesses, of which the easiest is xura (black leprosy?). And in another account it is related that the Prophet complained to Allah that his people were cowardly. A revelation came down to him to command his people to ingest isfand so that by means of it they might become brave. He ordained that it be the incense ( kundur) chosen by the Prophet. No smoke rises more quickly to heaven than its smoke, which expels devils and averts misfortunes. The Messenger of Allah also said, That which grows from harmel (harmal), its roots, its branches, its leaves, and its flowers, have an angel which protects them until it reaches the end of of its growth or dries up. Its roots and stem possess the power of a spell. Its seed are a cure for seventy diseases. So treat yourselves with it and frankincense, making it reach all things and all the people in your house. This is the way that all kinds of demons (ifrit) without open mouths and outstretched hands were expelled from the seventy two houses. They will be expelled in the same way from the house in which incense is used. Imam Jafar al-Sadiq (s.a.w.s.) wrote, As for harmel, neither its root in the Earth nor its branch in the sky is shaken without there being an angel in charge of it until it becomes debris and whit it becomes. For Satan avoids seventy houses in which it is, and it is a healing for seventy illnesses, the least of which is leprosy. So not be heedless of it.

Esfand and sepand: Our Prophet selected it. Ali planted it, Fatima collected it For Husayn and Hasan All who are born on Saturday, On Sunday, or on Monday, On Tuesday, or on Wednesday, On Thursday, or on Friday; Underground, on the ground: Black-eyed, blue-eyed, crow-eyed, ewe-eyed; All who have looked, all who have not; Neighbor on left, neighbor on right; Before the face, behind the back; --May the eve of the envious and envy crack. Esfand and esfand seed, esfand of thirty-three seeds, For relatives and friends and strangers, All who out by the door, all who come in by the door, May the eye of the envious and of envy be blind!

Saturday-born, Sunday-born, Monday-born, Tuesday-born, Thursday-born, Friday-born, Who planted it? The Prophet. Who gathered it? Fatima. From whom do they make it smoke? For the Imam Hasan and the Imam Husayn. By the grace of the King of Men, turn away misfortune and pain.

To quote from Celestial Botany (Dannaway 2010): The folklore of various plants in the region associated with haoma, such as the harmal or isphand plant Peganum harmala are well discussed (Flattery 1989) and recently in an article of Moses and the burning bush, though this theory has been suggested before (Shannon 2008). The harmal of isphand (Peganum harmala) ingested alone is entheogenic, and intimately linked with the Shia Imams, could be active by a subcutaneous ingestion by way of dyeing the elaborate geometrical carpets famous throughout the Islamic world, a principle use of the plant to obtain the brilliant red hue, and the use in the dyeing of the fez may well color the sweating spinning dervishes of certain Sufi orders. Bioassay of entheogenic doses of Peganum harmala have reported the feeling of contact with an invisible being which might recall the initiatory prophet Khidir, in whose steps flowers grow. Modern Mazdean Gnostics employ the stimulant herb Ephedera which was an early substitute for the haoma but there is some interesting research on the interaction of Ephedera and Peganum harmala. Quoted in Dale Pendells Pharmako/Gnosis, which should be consulted for a broad but detailed ethnobotanical survey, is an excerpt from an unpublished manuscript from Dannaway: In Lebanon, Peganum is called sadhab al-barri, and also harmal, and ghalgat-al-dhib. In the local medicine it is for melancholy, depression and aphrodisiac. Also for antispasmodic, rubefacient, laxative, and of course for skin rashes which is always its most common use The Great Ibn Sina (Avicenna), the founder of the Unani system of medicine and whose book Kitab al-Qanun has been called the single most influential book in all of medicine, mentions harmelHarmel is good for the pains of the joints and it contains hazaian powers. The word hazaian was explained to me by a friend in Lebanon, Mahmoud Z., as meaning drunken or hallucinogenic as in the intoxication of Sufi mystics. The use of harmal as an incense is widespread in the ancient world, and we have discussed this and other psychoactive incenses at length in the paper Strange Fires, Weird Smokes and Psychoactive Combustibles: Entheogens and Incense in the Ancient Traditions (Dannaway 2010). We yet again beg the readers pardon for quoting ourselves once more: Researchers are only just beginning to understand the effects of incenses on the brain, and even seemingly innocuous substances like frankincense (Boswellia sp.) are now understood to provoke psychoactivity (Moussaieff et al. 2008). Scientists have long debated the possibility that certain Boswellia species have distinct psychoactive effects (Menon & Kar 1971) with some speculating that geography, species, time of harvest or even the climate where burned could increase the active components (Luck 2006).

Some scholars and media have discussed possibilities that THC is produced from "pyrochemical modifications" that occur when the resin is burned (Ratsch 2005; Faure 1990; Martinetz, Lohs & Janzen 1989). Even "olibanum [frankincense] addiction" is discussed and, as Martinetz (Martinetz, Lohs & Janzen 1989) writes, it is an example of a "mild narcotic whose effects are appreciated in religious rituals." The addition of other psychoactive substances, like the kundur incense mentioned in Shia Islamic hadith, which combines frankincense and the entheogen Peganum harmala (Flattery & Schwartz 1989), would obviously synergize and potentiate the effects with inhalation of MAO-Inhibiting b-carbolines. The seeds are burnt to keep away the evil eye at most important occasions in Iran, and for the evil eye in Turkey. Ratsch writes the seeds are used in smoking blends. He describes a method of extraction using 15 grams of seeds and lemon juice that are boiled together until a paste forms. This is dried and smoked. In Pakistan it is said that the seeds are used to neutralize the enchantments of a jin (Jinn) and to banish all evil spirits away in general. A person who has fallen under the spell of or has been possessed by a jin is urged to inhale as much as possible the smoke rising from the crackling seeds on the charcoals. It is said that such a treatment usually results in a rapid improvement. (Ratsch 2005). Ratsch (2005) also cites that an incense to promote sexual moods on wedding nights consists of Syrian rue, alum, and olibanum, as fumigations of alum and Syrian rue are used to disperse demons and evil influences. Its smoke can be used to treat a wide variety of complaints, especially vaginal or gynecological, and the smoke is blown up the vagina with special pipes for uterine pains, infertility, severe labor, etc. (Ratsch 2005). In India the smoke is used to clean wounds.

It is clear that the ancients made a very thorough investigation of all vegetation they encountered as a potential food source, medicine, entheogen, weapon, or even fuel source, such as the use of Peganum harmala in hard Iranian winters (Flattery & Schwartz 1989). A very logical method of investigation would be to note the effects of burning a plant to judge its smoke in terms of aromatic and magical (psychoactive) qualities, noting more toxic examples whose inhalation could be lethal. A plant's effects on the mind and body would be remembered and enshrined as holy or as containing a god or the means of communicating with the spirits. Ancient texts and scholarly treatments reveal a highly developed complex of psychoactive incense cults, some of which held secret recipes for incenses used for oracular purposes. The Biblical associations of illicit magical incenses and foreign women informed the world-view of religious persecutors into the Early Modern Era and revealed the persistent use of psychoactive plants. This article discusses Old World incense mystics in the context of the "strange fires" ( es zara) mentioned in the Bible, extending to peripheral nomadic groups and ancient cultures and to medieval mystics, witches and alchemists.

Some friends in Lebanon informed me several years ago that there are traditional methods of vinegar extractions very similar to modern experimenters who often simply boil a quantity of seeds in vinegar or water and vinegar, straining, and hten decanting which gives a very potent product. It benefits from a spagyric processing, as do all herbs, whereby the ashes are calcinated and combined. Very subtle tinctures can be made to provide threshold doses. As alcohol is haram in Islam, one can produce an alcohol-free tincture, though there is ample documentation of alcohol in Islamic alchemy. Some experimentation with a glycerite tincture would be interesting. In the appendix below we have discussions on the fiqh of using alcohol in medicine, alchemy, etc. with some context from Islamic alchemists and Imams, and scholars.

Flattery and Schwarz (1989) describe the entwining botanical mythologies and folklore of Peganum harmala or Syrian Rue with Ruta graveolens or Common Rue. There is indeed much overlap, though they are quite distinct in appearance and effects. Ruta graveolens is called Sudab, or Sudaba, and making matters more confusing it is said to be the Peganon of Scripture, or the herb of grace (Hooper 1937). Hooper informs us that a drug of it is sold at the market, being a mixture of broken leaves, stems, stalks and fruits. Rue in small doses is a tonic, digestive and aphrodisiac. In Al-Kindi, rue is used to treat phlegm, rheumatism, and nervous conditions, and for insanity, epilepsy, and an antidote to poisons (Morrow 2011). It has been speculated for quite some time that there might have been an Islamic or Sufi equivalent ayahuasca, combining the MAOI powers of Peganum harmala with the various Acacia species, some associated with the pre-Islamic goddess al-Uzza whose sacred grove was destroyed by the Prophet. Acacia species can be a potent source of entheogenic tryptamines, and this may reflect an ancient Iranian and Indian connection to the haoma/soma. Another admixture plant could be the pomegranate, as perhaps first suggested by Ananda Bossman. Such an admixture was suggested by Flattery and Schwartz, which Ott rejected as grasping at straws, which is simply his opinion, as the evidence of soma-rich plants and complicated botanical admixtures and elixirs have a truly ancient legacy in those regions. Otts obsession with proving Wasson correct leads him to vicious, one-sided attacks on certain theories. Some theories are better than others, but as there is no certainty to historical mysteries, its rather presumptuous to be so sure of any given candidate. Especially odious are the attacks directed against John Allegro whose work, while certainly controversial, seems to be increasingly vindicated over time. His work provides a Semitic context of entheogens, expounded by some Israeli scholars such as Shanon, that link up in Islam with the celestial botany of Iran.

From Morrows (2011) excellent work on the Shia herbal medicine, it is said that harmal is bitter, spicy, diuretic herb that stimulates the uterus and digestive system, and is reputedly aphrodisiac. It is considered hypnotic, sedative, alterative, antiperiodic, emmenagogue, lactagogue, and abortificent. It is used internally for stomach complaints, urinary and sexual disorders, epilepsy, menstrual problems, nervous and mental illnesses, amnesia, sciatica, colic, and jaundice and externally for hemorrhoids and baldness. Morrow has collected some of the more dramatic medical studies that show Peganum harmala exhibits antioxidative activity and antitumor activity and as useful in treating such diseases as Parkinsons.

Folk Names: Aspand (Kurdish), besasa (Egypt, "plant of Bes"), churma, epnubu (Egypt), gandaku, haoma (Persian), harmal, harmale, harmalkraut, harmal rutbah (Arabic/Iraq), harmel, harmelkraut, harmelraute, hermel, hermelkraut, hermelraute, hom (Persian), kisankur, moly, mountain rue, pegano, pegano, peganon, sipand (Persian), steppenraute, Syrian rue, syrische raute, techepak (Ladakhi), tukhm-i-isfand, uzarih (Turkish), wilde raute

Sources cited above can be found in the following books: Dannaway, Frederick R. 2009. Celestial Botany: Entheogenic Traces in Islamic Mysticism. Dannaway, Frederick R. 2010. Strange Fires, Weird Smokes, and Psychoactive Combustibles: entheogens and incense in ancient traditions. Flattery & Schwartz. 1989. Haoma and Harmaline. Hooper, David. 1937. Useful Plants and drugs of Iran and Iraq.

Ispaphany, Batool (translator) 2007. Islamic Medical Wisdom. Morrow, John Andrew. 2011. Encyclopedia of Islamic Medicine. Pendell, Dale. 2004. Pharmako/Gnosis. Ratsch, Christian. 2005. The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Drugs. See also, Mike Jays Blue Tide for added information and first hand accounts Any references not listed can be found in the above cited books.