Summary Points

• Harmala (Peganum harmala L.; Pgh) seeds are associated with the culture of the Middle East and Mediterranean, and are also a part of widely used traditional and ethnobotanical system of plant medicine.

• Harmala grows in semi-arid and subtropical regions, on soils low in nutrients and water. Due to its perennial nature, Pgh is an invasive weed, currently worldwide in distribution.

• The seed is the main part used as a traditional medicine for mental afflictions, as a recreational drug, and as a cure for skin cancer, fever, tape worm, etc.

• The plant contains a number of bioactive compounds, mainly alkaloids. So far, about 34 compounds have been purified from harmala, of which 20 are alkaloids and others are sterols, anthraquinones, flavonoids, triterpenes, oxamide, amino acids, and fatty acids.

• In recent years, an array of pharmacological activities, such as analgesic, antidepressant, anti-infective, anticancer, antioxidant, antiplatelet, and vasorelaxant, have been demonstrated; these are mainly due to the different alkaloids present in harmala seeds.

• Although harmala has traditionally been used as an abortifacient agent, there are few reports regarding its human toxic effects and syndromes. Symptoms of Pgh toxicity mainly consist of neurosensorial symptoms, hallucinations, a slight elevation of body temperature, and cardiovascular disorders such as bradycardia and low blood pressure; however, signs of intoxication disappear a few hours after ingestion.

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