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Ferula hermonis

"The Lebanese Viagra" by Stuart FitzSimmons

(this version edited by Graham White from a longer version)


The ancient Greeks are known to have used Ferula galbanifula and Ferula rinocaulis in their incense and medicinally as well as importing silphium from North Africa. In Ayurvedic medicine, which has its origins some three thousand years ago, Ferula foetida (better known as asafoetida) is used. The Ayurvedic physicians applied asafoetida to digestive disorders. Like its African and Greek cousins, they also used it as an aphrodisiac, a use that is still current.

Galbanum, one of the most ancient ingredients of incense with its pungent and acrid aroma and its excellent fixative qualities is in fact the resin extracted from the roots of various plants in the Ferula genus. For centuries the odour of galbanum has been strongly associated with an aphrodisiac effect. Interestingly this odoriferous resin has strong connections not only with sexual ecstasy but also with religious ecstasy. In this context it is interesting to note the instructions given to Moses by God regarding the preparation of incense prior to the Exodus:

And the Lord said unto Moses, Take unto thee sweet spices, stacte, and onycha and galbanum; these sweet spices, with pure frankincense of each shall there be a like weight. And thou shalt make it a perfume, a confection after the art of the apothecary. And you shall beat some of it very small and put it before the testimony in the tabernacle of the congregation, where I will meet with thee: it shall be unto you most holy.

(Exodus 30:34-36)

Like galbanum, all the herbs in this formula contain resins. It is these resins that are combined to make the incense. The resins are collected from the plant by a process of “bleeding” in which the roots or bark of a plant are cut with a knife and the resin is allowed to ooze out and solidify. This resin is then scraped off and kept for use.

Recently, in 1998 articles began appearing in the world press describing a herb from Lebanon with startling headlines. It is worth quoting one such article:

(August 21 1998)


According to Lebanese shepherds on the western plateau of Jabal Ash-Sheikh in the extreme Southeast of Lebanon, a team of Israeli experts last week crossed the security zone into the area. The experts, accompanied by Israeli soldiers, travelled two kilometres before locating the “shilsh al zallouh” plant. The team gathered and took back about ten kilos of the shilsh.

This plant is gaining increasing international fame as an anti-impotency medication for both sexes and a possible substitute for the US drug Viagra.”

Dramatic news indeed, especially given the political climate in the region. To add intensity to the story we saw headlines like:

“Viagra craze creates burst of interest in wild plant.”

“Lebanese rush to harvest root as stimulant.”

“Ancient Lebanese Viagra-like wild root revived for marketing.”

It was revealed that for centuries Arabic physicians had been prescribing Ferula hermonis as a tonic, stimulant and aphrodisiac for both men and women. In the South of Lebanon Ferula hermonis is known as Shilsh-el-zallouh which means “hairy root” whilst in the north of Lebanon it is called Hashishat-al-kattira, meaning “herb of abundance”.

Dr. Ali Abou Hamman, a doctor in the village of Chebea near Mount Hermon claims to have treated hundreds of impotent patients with a hundred per cent success rate. Meanwhile Beirut pharmacist Pierre Malitschev makes an extract from the root to supply to his customers.

Ali Faour, a seventy year old who has sold the root since his youth said:

“I’ve had hundreds of clients, men and women, from across Lebanon, Gulf countries and the Americas. They mostly come in complete secrecy to cure their impotence, frigidity or their sons who cannot deflower their bride”.

According to ecologist Aref Qodaih, for centuries goatherds and nurserymen who graze their animals in fields where Ferula hermonis grows have observed the effect that eating the plant had on goats during mating season.

As well as increasing the “stamina” of animals, other traditional uses for Ferula hermonis include:

It is at the end of winter, when the snow melts in the mountains, that the local people climb the mountains to obtain the root. Its natural habitat is in south-east Lebanon on the sides of Mount Hermon close to the borders of Lebanon, Syria and Israel. The plant is found at a height of about eight thousand feet. On Lebanon’s highest mountain, Qornet as-sawda the herb is found at a height of ten thousand feet.


How Ferula hermonis works

Ferula hermonis belongs to the family of plants known as the Umbelliferae. This family contains plants like the carrot, fennel, Chinese angelica and hemlock. Hemlock, of course, is extremely poisonous and there are reports that naive Ferula hunters are endangering their lives by picking hemlock which is almost identical in appearance to Ferula.

Ferutinine, Tenuferidine and Feroline:

These three chemicals are found in many plants of the Ferula genus and ferutinine in particular may well be the reason why Ferula hermonis is such a powerful aphrodisiac.

Ferutinine (which chemically is a complex ester of phenolcarbon acid), like tenuferidine and feroline, is shown to have an oestrogenic activity and it is described as being a half agonist of oestradiol receptors.

In experiments, Ferutinine has been shown to have a type and level of activity comparable to di-ethylstilbestrol. Di-ethylstilbestrol is a man-made drug with a powerful oestrogenic activity. Both ferutinine and di-ethylstilbestrol do not have the same shape as normal human oestrogen - which is a typical steroid - but never the less exert an oestrogenic effect.

It is common to find plants with chemicals that exert oestrogenic effects but which do not have a typical steroidal oestrogen shape. For example, the iso-flavones of soya and the phyto-oestrogens of Chinese angelica.

Ferutinine appears to exert its major effects by stimulating the oestradiol receptors in an area of the brain known as the hypothalamus.

In the male, ferutinine binds strongly with the oestradiol receptors of the pituitary gland. This causes the hypothalamus to release a hormone called leutenising hormone (LH). This circulates through the body to the testicles where it causes the production and release of testosterone into the blood stream. As testosterone is the primary sex drive hormone, it would appear that this is how ferutinine works its magic on men.

There are anecdotal stories of Arabic men in their seventies and eighties who appear to have regained lost youth after using Ferula. Testosterone levels decrease with age, which explains the age related decline in libido, so boosting testosterone levels with Ferula is what makes these old men perform like sexual athletes.

As well as its pro-sexual effect, testosterone also influences the state of mind. It is stimulating, motivation enhancing and mood elevating. Testosterone also increases tissue repair, increases lean weight and improves muscle strength. Users of Ferula have obviously noted these effects and this is why it is deemed so valuable as a tonic and stimulant and why it has also become known as the “Lebanese ginseng”.

 As if that wasn’t enough

I know it seems like a strange heading but having seen what a wonderful restorative Ferula hermonis can be to both men and women, there is one more interesting bit of chemistry that casts some light on the functioning of this herb. As we have seen, one of the main uses of the Ferula genus have been as ingredients in incense. We know that incense has been used by civilisations throughout history as part of religious and medicinal practise. The most common ingredients in these ancient incense formulas are resinous herbs like Ferula (galbanum), Frankincense, Myrrh, and Styrax. Our modern perfumes developed from these ancient incense formulas. These musky steroid smelling steroid containing plants were and are still used to deliberately add erotic overtones to incense and perfumes.

 How to take Ferula hermonis
The traditional Lebanese way to take this herb was to slit the root and wait for the resin to ooze out. Nowadays I don’t think we have time to wait for this process to occur. The other problem with this resinous material is that it does not dissolve in water, so tea is useless, and making tablets and capsules is difficult because the resinous nature of the herb makes it almost impossible to handle when it is powdered - it sticks to everything.

Resins dissolve in solutions with an alcohol concentration of over ninety percent. The best way therefore to extract the active components of this herb is by making an high alcohol tincture..

For an aphrodisiac effect take 50 drops (two and a half ml), last thing at night and again first thing in the morning. You should stick to this regimen for at least 4 weeks.

For women suffering from the menstrual/menopausal complaints mentioned above, 50 drops should be taken three times daily, after meals.

 Selected references

Ahmedhodjaieva et al., 'Influence of Ferutinine (Tefestrol) on the secretion of lutenizing hormone'. Pharmacol, Toxicol. Moscow (1990) (Russian). 4, 37-38.

Saidkhodjaev et al., 'Ferutinine structure'. Chem. Nat. Comp. (1973). 1, 28-30.

Ohloff, Giersch, Thommen, & Willhalm., 'Conformationally controlled odour perception in steroid type scent molecules'. Helvetica Chimica Acta. (1983) 66, 1343-55.

Pfaff., 'Steroid sex binding cells in the vertebrate brain'. Estrogens and Brain Function, ed D. W. Pfaff, pp. 77-105. New York: Springer Verlag.

Amoore, Popplewell & Whissell-Beuchy., 'Sensitivity of women to musk odour: no menstrual variation'. Journal of Chemical Ecology. (1975). 1, 291-7.

Benton & Wastell.,'Effects of androstenol on human sexual arousal'. Biological psychology. (1986). 15, 249-56.

Stoddart D. M., 'The Scented Ape. The biology and culture of human odour.' Cambridge University Press. (1990).



Copyright © Graham White, B. Sc. Herb Med, 2014.