Alkanna Root

Scientific Name(S): Alkanna tinctoria (L.) Tausch Family: Boraginaceae

Common Name(S): Alkanet, alkannawurzel (German), alkermeswurzel, (German) anchusa, Dyers’s Bugloss, henna, orchanet (English), racine d’alcanna (French), racine d’orcanette(French), radix anchusea (tinctoriae) (Latin), rote ochsenzungenwurzel (German), schminkwurzel (German)

The name Anchusa is derived from the Greek anchousa =paint, from the use of the root as a dye.

The species are hispid or pubescent herbs, with oblong, entire leaves, and bracteated racemes, rolled up before the flowers expand. The corolla is rather small, between funnel and salver-shaped; usually purplish-blue, but in some species yellow or whitish; the calyx enlarges in fruit. The root, which is often very large in proportion to the size of the plant, yields in many of the species a red dye from the rind.

Botany: Alkanna is typically a biennial or perennial herbaceous plant growing from 1 to 2 feet in height with pubescent lanceolate leaves. It bears blue to purple trumpet-shaped flowers arranged in loose, one-sided scorpio rid racemes. The root is usually seen as a cylindrical, fissured rhizome with exfoliating, brittle and dark purple bark on the outside and remains of bristly leaf and stem pieces near the crown region. While native to southern Europe, the plant is also grown in and imported from Albania, India and Turkey.

Alkanna should not be confused with another plant also known as alkanet, but which is in the related genus Anchusa officinalis (L.) of the same family (Borage). A. officinalis has had some use in the form of a decoction (tea) of the leaves and roots for coughs and chest disorders in older herbals.

History: Alkanna and related plants have long been referred to as “henna” and used as a dye for cloth. Alkanna has also been used to impart a red color to fats, oils and waxes. It also has medicinal historical uses as an astringent. Currently, alkanna has no medicinal importance, and many countries have prohibited its use as a food dye.

Uses of Alkanna Root

  • Alkanna is an astringent and a source of red pigment used in cosmetics. It appears to have antibiotic and wound-healing properties.
  • It helps old ulcers, hot inflammations, burnings by common fire.
  • Its decoction made in wine and drank, strengthens the back, and easeth the pains thereof. It helps bruises and falls, and is as gallant a remedy to drive out the smallpox and measles as any is; an ointment made of it is excellent for green wounds, pricks or thrusts.

Side Effects of Alkanna Root

Unknown side effects.

Toxicology: No toxicological data on alkanna root are available in the current medical literature.

Summary: Alkanna root has historically been used for its mild astringent properties and as a source of pigments for coloring purposes. However, except for little use as a red color in cosmetics, it is not a major pigment source or a particularly useful drug by today’s standards. One study indicates some potential for its esteric pigments in wound healing in patients with ulcus cruris (indolent leg ulcers).

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