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Last updated April 24, 2017, originally published June 27, 2012

By L. Carr, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist

In an unknown village on the warm shores of the
Mediterranean, about 3000 years ago, someone bent
down and plucked a small, toothpick like weed. Brave or
foolish enough to experiment with it, he or she bit into it
and soon learned that this tiny weed, when eaten, had
remarkable curative powers. It could miraculously restore
the color of white patches on skin, it could help to heal the
heart. That little toothpick plant is khellin, whose scientific
name is "ammi visnaga". It is also known
, naturally
as  "toothpick weed". From the same plant family
as a carrot, khellin looks harmless. But is it? What are the
health dangers of using khellin?

Nowadays, khellin
has spread all over the world. Khellin is
sold all over the countries bordering the Mediterranean,
Europe, the Middle East and Asia.
It is cultivated in North
America, Argentina, Chile, South-west Asia  and the
Russian Federation.  
It is starting to make inroads in the
United States as a dermatological treatment for vitiligo.

Khellin is something of a contradiction. In fact, its very
scientific name is a contractidctory amalgam of "ammi"
from ammos, meaning sand, something soft, and
"visnaga", meaning doubly pointed, something sharp.

Khellin is also used for cardiovascular conditions.
Additional applications include an antispasmodic for colic
and abdominal cramps, kidney stones, menstrual pain, and
premenstrual syndrome.

A Little History of Khellin

Khellin originally was used in Egyptian folk medicine to
treat urinary calculi and bladder stones. Ammi visnaga
originates from the Nile delta, and has been used
therapeutically for years.

Older medical professionals thought that since khellin was
hot and dry, given the environment, that the plant could
be used as something for “cold afflictions”, such as for
irritable stomachs and the womb. This was later confirmed
to be true in more modern scientific studies.

The contradiction is that khellin would seem to have as
many side effects as cures. The sensation in researching
khellin is like watching those pharmacy commercials from
the 90s where they say: “Side effects may include
vomiting, nausea, vertigo, and death.”

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Let’s look at the real
long and short term side effects of ammi visnaga.

1. Khellin Can Cause Eye Problems
Yep, oddly enough, there have been more than one report
of people not being able to see well while taking khellin.
That would be scary, especially for those of us who don’t
see very well in the first place.

In a 2001 study by A. Hofer and researchers tested
patients undergoing vitiligo treatment. 1 person out of 28
(4%) reported temporary reduction in visual acuity.
However, the issue resolved when they stopped treatment.
The effects were not prolonged.

Gastrointestinal Problems

Khellin isn’t friendly to everyone’s system. There have
been multiple reports of stomach discomfort.

Nausea and vomiting is common within the first two weeks
of being in contact with the substance, according to the
2007 edition of The Handbook of Dermatological Drug
Therapy by Uday Khopkar from the G.S. Medical College.
The psoralens, a carbon-based compound found in many
different plants and often used in ultraviolet light
treatment and skin conditions, is generally the culprit, as
they constitute the active ingredient in khellin.

Skin Irritation

As recently mentioned, the psoralens can be a tough thing
for some people’s systems, including the sensitive skin
area. Seeds from the ammi plant contain four potential
irritant compounds, according to M. Saed in a 1993 article
Studies on the contact dermatitis properties of indigenous
pakistani medicinal plants.

This results in both photosensitization and dermatitis.
Photosensitization simply means that you will be more light
sensitive: This could apply to the skin, where you might
get a nasty sunburn, or to your eyes, where the sun makes
them hurt more. Dermatitis refers to skin irritation, which
varies depending on each person.

Khellin Raises Liver Enzymes

Especially when using khellin in conjunction with UV light
treatment, make sure to monitor liver enzyme levels.

According to the 2015 edition of the European Handbook
of Dermatological Treatments by Andreas D. Katsambas,
many people using khellin for this purpose experience
elevated liver enzymes and in some cases, even jaundice.
Luckily, in the average case, after discontinuation of
khellin, the elevated liver enzymes return to normal; they
are not a permanent side effect.

If you are regularly ingesting high doses khellin (100
milligrams or more), you may find yourself with a worn-
out liver.


Caffeine, mateine, and teine are not the only things you
have to watch out for. Sometimes other plants will give
you a jolt.

A common side effect of khellin for some is insomnia,
according to a 2015 study by Akshaya Srikanth
Bhagavathula at the University of Gondar College of
Medicine and Health Sciences in Gondar Ethiopia. So, if
during your khellin treatment, you wonder why you are up
at night, recognize that that’s normal, and see if you can
reduce the dosage or be patient until the end of the

Drinking chamomile and linden flower tea accompanied
with practicing relaxation exercises can help.

Hormonal Changes --Possible Complications during
Pregnancy but No Affect on Testosterone in Men

Most professionals recommend not using khellin orally
during pregnancy. N.R. Farnsworth from the University of
Chicago confirms that khellin as a main active ingredient
has uterine stimulant activity, in his 2014 study. Hormones
during pregnancy are already in a different state, so
imbalancing them with another element is not advised.

While there haven’t been many studies about khellin’s
interaction with lactation, the best pregnancy tip is to play
the thing safe, not sorry.

So far, no studies have drawn a connection between
taking khellin and changes in testosterone.


Vertigo: Not only a really great film by Alfred Hitchcock,
but also one of the unfortunate side effects of khellin.

Sometimes the sensation of vertigo and dizziness mix
together if you’re really unlucky, according to the 2002
edition of The Handbook of Medicinal Herbs by James A.
Duke. These reactions tend to be something that occurs
directly after taking khellin.


If you find that your head is killing you after many days of
taking khellin, that is pretty normal, according to the 2002
edition of Prescription for Herbal Healing, written by
certified nutritional consultant Phyllis A. Balch.

Headaches are a common side effect of long-term use of

Loss of Appetite

Some side effects listed about khellin mention anorexia.
Now, that disease has more to do with body dysmorphia
and varies per person.

However, regardless of your psychological condition,
khellin can cause your appetite to be suppressed,
according to Herbal Drugs and Phytopharmaceuticals by N.
G. Bisset. If you take khellin for a reduced period of time,
this may not be an issue, but if long-term, you don’t want
to become underweight or have a bout of malnutrition.

Pseudo Allergic Reactions

Khellin can cause a variety of reactions that are similar to a
typical allergy.

Anaphylaxis shock, a serious allergic reaction which
happens quickly and can sometimes be fatal, is a possibility
when taking khellin. Although sometimes there are other
cases that simply feel like intolerances, or as mentioned,
skin rashes and irritations.

Franz-Christian Czygan and other researchers confirm
pseudo allergic reactions as a common side effect of taking
khellin in their 2002 book Herbal Drugs and
Pharmaceuticals:: A handbook for practice.

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Khellin can help treat vitiligo but it has
many side effects
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