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Ajowan (Trachyspermum Ammi), also known as ajowan caraway, ajwain, carom seeds, and bishop’s weed, has been used as both food and medicine for thousands of years. In fact, it’s been used in modern medicines created by pharmaceutical companies. Ajowan, a member of the Apiaceae family (along with coriander), has an astounding number of health benefits, including treating chronic and recurrent cough and cold, asthma, cholera, parasitic infestations, kidney stones and more.
To quote Pharmacognosy Review,
“Medicinally, it has been proven to possess various pharmacological activities like antifungal, antioxidant, antimicrobial, antinociceptive, cytotoxic, hypolipidemic, antihypertensive, antispasmodic, broncho-dilating actions, antilithiasis, diuretic, abortifacient, antitussive, nematicidal, anthelmintic and antifilarial. Further, studies reveal the presence of various phytochemical constituents mainly carbohydrates, glycosides, saponins, phenolic compounds, volatile oil (thymol, γ-terpinene, para-cymene, and α- and β-pinene), protein, fat, fiber and mineral matter containing calcium, phosphorous, iron and nicotinic acid. These studies reveal that T. ammi is a source of medicinally active compounds and have various pharmacological effects; hence, it is encouraging to find its new therapeutic uses.”1
You are probably familiar with many of the terms used in the above quote, while others you are not. In any case, I will define them all.
Ajowan Medicinal Uses
- Antioxidant – neutralizes potentially damaging oxidizing agents in a living organism.
- Antimicrobial – kills microorganisms, or at least inhibit their growth. These include antifungals and antibiotics.
- Antifungal – acts as a fungicide, killing eukaryotic organisms, which include yeasts and molds.
- Antinociceptive – a pain reliever; it reduces sensitivity to painful stimuli by suppressing sensory neurons.
- Cytotoxic – literally means toxic to living cells. But, in the case of ajowan, it means toxic to cells that are a threat to the human body.
- Hypolipidemic – a lipid-lowering agent; can be used to decrease fat (lipids), such as cholesterol, in the blood.
- Antihypertensive – can decrease high blood pressure.
- Antispasmodic – relieves spasms of the involuntary muscles.
- Broncho-dilating actions – dilates the bronchi (main passageway into the lungs) and bronchioles (passages in the respiratory system that begin at the end of the bronchi), decreasing resistance in the respiratory airway and increasing airflow to the lungs. Useful for asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
- Antilithiasis – inhibits the formation of mineral concretions in the body – kidney, gallstones and urinary stones.
- Diuretic – increases the production of urine.
- Abortifacient – contains the chemical khellin, which can cause uterine contractions and trigger a miscarriage in pregnant women.
- Antitussive – a cough suppressant.
- Anthelmintic – expels parasite worms and other internal parasites from the body by either stunning or killing them and without causing significant damage to the host.
- Nematicidal – kills nematodes – unsegmented, threadlike worms of the phylum Nematoda. Includes whipworms, muscle worms, intestinal parasites and hookworms.
- Antifilarial – destroys Filarial worms or, at least, inhibits their growth.
According to WebMD, Ajowan can cause the skin to become extra sensitive to sunlight (just like its fellow Apiaceae family member coriander). In addition,
“[Ajowan] might slow blood clotting. There is a concern that it might increase the risk of bleeding during and after surgery. Stop using bishop’s weed at least 2 weeks before a scheduled surgery. … There is some evidence that bishop’s weed might make liver disease worse. … It’s also best to avoid using bishop’s weed if you are breast-feeding. There isn’t enough information to know whether it is safe for a nursing infant. … There isn’t enough information to know if bishop’s weed is safe. When taken by mouth, bishop’s weed might cause nausea, vomiting, and headache. Some people are allergic to bishop’s weed. They can get a runny nose, rash, or hives. There is also some concern that bishop’s weed might harm the liver or the retina of the eye.”2
Keep in mind that “might” means maybe, and in the case of ajowan, they have no definitive proof that the claim they are making is true. Also, ajowan is used in a variety of recipes around the world. It’s unlikely that an herb capable of causing damage to one of our most important organs would be a culinary staple. However, it is always best to err on the side of caution. If you suffer from liver disease you may wish to avoid ajowan altogether, or use only under the supervision of an herbalist or ayurvedic practitioner.
And, obviously, pregnant women who wish to remain so, should avoid ajowan for the duration of their pregnancy, because of the aforementioned khellin content.
Ajowan Drug Interactions
Based on the assumption that ajowan can negatively affect the liver, drugs that are changed within the liver and hepatotoxic drugs (drugs that can damage the liver) are said to interact with ajowan. Drugs that increase sensitivity to sunlight and drugs that slow blood clotting are also said to interact with ajowan. These drugs include…
- Acetaminophen and aspirin – unlike other NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), these two only harm the liver when taken in high doses or overdoses
- Sulindac and diclofenac – these NSAIDs are the most commonly linked to hepatotoxicity
- Ciprofloxacin, norfloxacin, lomefloxacin and amitriptyline – all of these drugs can cause photosensitivity; if they’re taken with ajowan that effect may increase. Use sunscreen
- Anticoagulants and antiplatelet drugs – Plavix®, heparin, warfarin, some NSAIDs, including naproxen, diclofenac, aspirin and ibuprofen
Note: Not all NSAIDs pose a risk to liver health. Ibuprofen and naproxen are considered “liver safe”.
To reiterate, there is no conclusive evidence that ajowan harms the liver. Also, the herb has been used as both food and medicine for millennia, and it is doubtful that ajowan would still be used in cuisines around the world if it caused liver failure. That being said, it is always better to err on the side of caution, especially in regards to liver health. Seek the counsel of an herbalist, Ayurvedic specialist or naturopathic practitioner regarding how to use ajowan to treat an illness. There are multiple methods of ajowan preparation, each depending on the ailment being treated. A professional can better advise you on those methods.
1 Bairwa, Ranjan, Sodha, RS, and Rajawat, BS. “Trachyspermum Ammi”. Pharmacognosy Review, January – June 2012. Web. November 2016
2 “Bishop’s Weed”. WebMD, n.d. Web. November 2016
“Top 10 Health and Medicinal Benefits of Ajwain (Botanical Name: Trachyspermum Ammi)”. Gyanunlimited.com, April 9, 2012. Web. November 2016
“Non-steroidal antiinflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)”. LiverTox, n.d. Web. November 2016