Trachyspermum ammi (Jansen, 1981)

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Ruta chalepensis
Jansen, Spices and medicinal plants in Ethiopia
Trachyspermum ammi (Jansen, 1981)
Zingiber officinale

2.11 Trachyspermum ammi (L.) Sprague ex Turrill

Trachyspermum’: from the Greek 'trachys' = 'rough', and 'sperma' = 'seed'; rough seed, i.e. rough fruit because of the numerous papillae on the fruit.

ammi’: perhaps derived from the Greek 'ammos' = 'sand', probably referring to the sandy habitat of the original plant with this name.

Turrill, W. B., On the flora of the nearer East 4, Kew Bull.: p. 228 (1929).

Type: 'Habitat in Apulia, Aegypto'. ’Sison foliolis caulinis subcapillaribus’ (LINN specimen No 356.5, lecto.!).


  • Sison ammi L., Sp. Pl. ed. 1: p. 252 (1753) (basionym).
  • Trachyspermum copticum (L.) Link, Enum. Hort. Berol. 1: p. 267 (1821 ).
  • Ammi copticum L., Mant. Pl.: p. 56 (1767).
  • Ammios muricata Moench, Meth. Pl.: p. 99 (1794).
  • Bunium aromaticum L., Mant. alt.: p. 218 (1771).


  • Carum copticum (L.) Benth. & Hook. f. ex C.B. Clarke, in: Hook. f., Fl. brit. Ind. 2: p. 682 (1879).
  • Deverra korolkowii Rgl. & Schmalh., Tr. Bot. Sada 5, 2: p. 589 (1878).
  • Ligusticum ajawain Roxb. ex Fleming, As. Res. 11: p. 171 (1810).
  • Ptychotis coptica (L.) DC, Mem. Soc. phys. Geneve 4: p. 496 (1828).
  • Selinum copticum (L.) Krause, in: Sturm, Deutschl. FI. ed. 2, 12: p. 43 (1904 ).

For more synonyms see Thellung (1925, p. 1167-1168) and Wolff (1929, p. 87-88).


  • 1830: De Candolle, Prodr. 4: p. 108. (tax.)
  • 1872: Boissier, Flora Orient. 2: p. 891-892. (tax.)
  • 1874: Flückiger & Hanbury, Pharmacographia: p. 269-271. (use)
  • 1874: Roxburgh, Flora indica, repr. ed. 1832: p. 271. (tax. + use)
  • 1895: Engler, Pflanzenw. Ost-Afrikas & Nachbargebiete, B, Nutzpflanzen: p. 280. (use)
  • 1897: Drude, Umbelliferae, in: Engler & Prantl, Die nat. Pflanzenfam., ed. 1, B. 3, 8: p. 188-189. (tax.)
  • 1912: Chiovenda, Osservazioni botaniche, agrarie ed industriali, Monog. rapp. col. 24: p. 31. (use)
  • 1913: Kostlan, Die Landwirtschaft in Abessinien 1, Beih. Tropenpflanzer 14: p. 232. (agric.)
  • 1922: Book-notes, news etc., Journ. Bot.: p. 212-213. (tax.)
  • 1925: Thellung, Umbelliferae, in: Hegi, Illustr, Fl. Mittel-Eur., ed. 1, B. 5, 2: p. 1167-1168. (tax. + use)
  • 1927: Wolff, Trachyspermum, in: Das Pflanzenreich 4, 228: p. 87-89. (tax.)
  • 1933: Redgrove, Spices and condiments: p. 223-224. (agric.)
  • 1934: Bois, Les plantes alimentaires chez tous les peuples et à travers les âges, 3, Plantes à épices, à aromates, à condiments: p. 167-168. (use)
  • 1946: Baldrati, Piante officinali dell' Africa orientale, Centro Studi Colon. 32: p. 39-41. (use + agric.)
  • 1950: Baldrati, Trattato delle coltivazioni tropicali e sub-tropicali: p. 197-199. (use + agric.)
  • 1957: Ferrara, Tecnologia delle spezie, Rivista Agric. subtrop. & trop.: p. 295-296. (chem. + use)
  • 1957: Mensier, Dictionnaire des huiles végétales, Encycl. Biol. 52: p. 477. (chem.)
  • 1959: Cufodontis, Enumeratio, Bull. Jard. Bot. État Brux. 29(3), suppl.: p. 643. (tax.)
  • 1961: Joshi, These new spices will pay you weil, Indian Fmg. 10(10): p. 26-27. (agric.)
  • 1963: Siegenthaler, Useful plants of Ethiopia, Exp. Stn. Bull. 14: p. 14-15. (use)
  • 1973: Shishkin, Umbelliferae, in: Flora of the USSR, Engl. ed., 16: p. 272-273. (tax.)
  • 1976: Amare Getahun, Some common medicinal and poisonous plants used in Ethiopian folk medicine: p. 56. (use)

Local names

  • netch-azmud (Amarinia);
  • azmud-addi, kamon, kamuni (Gallinia);
  • azmud, camun (Tigrinia);
  • gummur-hurtui (Somalia).

Trade names

  • bishop's weed, true bishop's weed, weed-seed, Ethiopian caraway (English);
  • ajowan, omam, omum (India).

Geographic distribution

According to Wolff (1927), Trachyspermum ammi is only known from cultivation and its country of origin is unknown. Thellung (1925) stated that it is endemic in Egypt, Ethiopia, and in the area from SW-Asia to E. India. Cultivation is reported from N. Africa, Asia Minor, Ethiopia, E. India, Iran and some European countries. In the USSR it is cultivated experimentally in Central Asia and the Crimea (Shishkin, 1973).


In Ethiopia, the fruits are offered for sale on almost every market. Small-scale cultivation is widespread. Cultivation as a field crop is reported from the provinces: Bale, Begemdir, Eritrea, Gojam and Shoa (Chiovenda, 1912; Baldrati, 1950; Centr. Stat. Off., 1970).


A decumbent or erect, annual herb, up to 160 cm high, with a light-brown taproot and many side roots; all green parts with a bloom.
  • Stem subterete, up 1 cm in diam. at base, sulcate, internodes often hollow, profusely branched at all heights, glabrous or very sparsely papillate, ribs often whitish.
  • Leaves: lower ones with an up to 10 cm long, sulcate petiole and an in outline ovate to subelliptic blade, up to 13 x 12 cm; petiole sheathing at base; sheath with narrow, white, scarious, papillate to subciliate margins; blade imparipinnate, each leaflet again pinnately dissected into acute lobes up to 10(-35) x 2 mm; upper leaves usually smaller and ovate in outline; the petiole reduced to the sheathing part only, up to 2 cm long; blade up to 10 x 7 cm in outline, imparipinnate, each leaflet pinnately dissected into very narrow, linear to filiform lobes of up to 3 cm length and usually with a slightly swollen, acute, sometimes mucronate apex; leaves glabrous or sparsely subpapillate, sheaths usually lighter green.
  • Inflorescence a compound umbel, up to 6 cm in diam.; peduncle subterete, sulcate, ca 2-10(-19) cm long, sparsely white papillate; bracts (3-)4-7(-9) per umbel, linear to lanceolate, up to 1 mm wide, unequal in length, varying from 0.1-2.5 cm, usually 2-3-lobed at apex, margins scarious, sheath-like at base, gradually narrowing to or almost to the apex, ciliate or subciliate, glabrous above, sparsely white papillate below; primary rays (5-)9-17(-21) per umbel, subterete, sulcate, unequal in length, (0.2-)0.5-3(-5) cm long, sparsely puberulous or papillate; bracteoles 5-9 per umbellet, shaped as the bracts but less often lobed at apex and up to 1 cm long; secondary rays (12-)18-25(-28) per umbellet, characters as of the primary rays but more puberulous or papillate and shorter, ca 0.5-5( -11) mm long (shortest situated centrally); all flowers bisexual and actinomorphic, protandrous.
  • Calyx: usually with 5 fleshy, subtriangular teeth, up to 0.5 mm long, glabrous or sparsely puberulous at margin, light-green, persistent in fruit.
  • Corolla: petals 5, white, heart-shaped in outline, up to 1.25 x 1.5 mm, apex strongly inflexed, usually notched, central dorsal region hirsute.
  • Androecium: stamens 5; filaments conical, up to 1.5 mm long, white; anthers dorsifixed, 2-celled, ca 0.3 x 0.3 mm, red or reddish-brown, dehiscing by 2 longitudinal slits.
  • Gynoecium: ovary inferior, subellipsoid, up to 1-1.5 x 1-1.5 x 0.5 mm, densely white papillate, white-green; stylopodium conical, ca 0.25-0.50 mm high and wide, white, fleshy, persistent in fruit; styles 2, sometimes 3 or 4, filiform, glabrous, ca O. 7 5-1.50 mm long, each with a somewhat thickened, semiglobose, brownish stigma, often persistent in fruit.
  • Fruit a flattened, subglobose schizocarp, ca 1.5-2 x 1.5-2 x 0.5-1 mm, easily splitting into 2, one-seeded mericarps; mericarps convex dorsally, with 5, slightly prominent, densely grey-white papillate, longitudinal, subparallel ribs, which


alternate with 4 oil containing, grey-white papillate, not prominent ducts (vittae), flat to slightly concave ventrally, showing usually 2 glabrous, brown vittae; at maturity the mericarps are usually only connected by the carpophore, which remains usually attached for the whole length to one of the two mericarps; seldom the mericarps only connected at the top of the carpophore, which is usually splitted up to 1/3 of its length.
  • Seed: testa adnate to mericarp-wall; embryo usually straight, ca 1 mm long, thin, white, with conical radicle and 2 small cotyledons; endosperm copious, grey.
  • Seedling: germination epigeal; taproot thin, dirty white with many laterals; hypocotyl 0.5-2 cm long, green to brown-green; cotyledons opposite, oblanceolate, with attenuating petiolelike, slightly sheathing base, ca 5-15 x 1-2 mm, glossy-green, glabrous; next leaf (1 or sometimes 2) usually simple; petiole sheathing at base with narrow, white, scarious margins, ca 0.5-3 cm long; blade ovate to subovate in outline, ca 5-12 x 5-15 mm, shiny, light-green, deeply divided into usually 3 lobes, repeatedly incised each, forming acute lobules.

Taxonomic notes

(1) Trachyspermum copticum (L.) Link is considered by many authors as the correct name for this taxon (Thellung, 1925; Wolff, 1927; Cufodontis, 1959 and many more). This name is based on Linnaeus's ’Ammi copticum’ (Mant. Pl.: p. 56, 1767, ’Ammi foliis supradecompositis linearibus, seminibus muricatis’). For a long time too, the name ’Carum copticum C. B. Clarke’ was used for this taxon. The generic name ’Trachyspermum’ is nowa 'nomen conservandum', with T. copticum (L.) Link as the type-species.

A report of the meeting of the Linnean Society on 15 June 1922 (Journ. Bot.: p. 212-213, 1922) states that Sprague had discovered, 'by examination of the type-specimens', that ’Sison ammi L.’ was identical with ’Carum copticum’. Turrill (1929) followed this view and published the new combination (in the correct genus): Trachyspermum ammi, citing Sprague for the authority. As, however, Turrill (1929) is the only author of the article in which this name was published, the correct citation is : Sprague ex Turrill.

(2) The taxon ’Sison ammi L.’ has been a source of confusion in the literature. Linnaeus described it in 1753 as: ’Sison foliolis caulinis subcapillaribus’, and cited: Hort. Ups. 63; Mat. med. 140; Ammi lacinulis foliorum caulis capillaribus Hort. Cliff. 89, Roy. lugdb. 96; Ammi parvum, foliis foeniculi Bauh. pin. 159; and Ammi Cam. epit. 522. Although Linnaeus slightly changed the description of this taxon between 1738 (Hort. Cliff.) and 1753 (Sp. PL), the best choice as lectotype for this taxon is, in my opinion, specimen No 356.5 of the LINN herbarium. The sheet of this specimen is annotated as ’4 Ammi’ in the writing of Linnaeus, number corresponding with the order in Sp. Pl. I agree with Sprague (1922), Turrill (1929) and Bertoloni (Fl. Ital. 3: p. 306, 1837) that this specimen indeed is Trachyspermum ammi Sprague ex Turrill (T. copticum (L.) Link), (Carum copticum C.B. Clarke). In my opinion, the following specimens belong to this taxon too: Hort. Cliff. herb. (BM) p. 89(2): ’Ammi semine tenuissimo et odoratissimo’; van Royen herb. (L): ’Ammi majus. Ammi laciniis foliorum caulis capillaribus’; LINN No 341.4 (Ammi copticum).


Fig. 12. Trachyspermum ammi (L.) Sprague ex Turrill. - 1. habit flowering plant part (⅔x); 2. basal leaf-type (⅔x); 3. basal leaf-type (⅔x); 4. bracteoles at underside of umbellet (3x); 5. flowering umbellet, top view (3x); 6. flower, one petal removed (12x); 7. petal, dorsal view (20x); 8. fruit (10x); 9. seedling (⅔x). - 1. PJ 581; 2. PJ 351; 3. PJ 580; 4-7. PJ 2938 (spirit mat.); 8. PJ 910; 9. PJ 106 (spirit mat.).


(3) As long as closely related genera of the Umbelliferae are maintained as separate genera, based on characteristics better expressed as specific than as generic differences, many specimens will continue in the 'merry-go-rounds' like: ’Ammi, Carum, Sison, Ptychotis, Trachyspermum’.

(4) The Ethiopian material of T. ammi studied by me is rather uniform. The variation, however, is such, that selection programs will almost certainly result in a range of cultivars.

(5) The species ’Trachyspermum aethusifolium Chiov.’ and ’var. maritimum Chiov.’ of the species T. ammi, listed by Cufodontis (1959), were not observed in Ethiopia, nor in Ethiopian herbarium material. The type specimens (FT!) of these taxa originate from Somalia.

(6) The following differences were found between plants originating from the same seed raised in Ethiopia and at Wageningen:

Ethiopia Wageningen
habit often decumbent erect (etiolated?)
length of peduncle 2-10 cm 5-11 (-19) cm
length of primary rays 2-23 mm 7-46 mm
length of secondary rays 0.5-5.5 mm 0.5-11 mm

(7) The description is based on the following specimens:

Arussi Bale Begemdir Eritrea Gojam Hararge Illubabor Kefa Shoa Sidamo Tigre 116 Kofale market: SL 1284; Robi market: SL 1157, SL 1163; Sire market: SL 140. Goba market: SL 1216: Goro market: SL 1256. Gondar market: WP 4993, SL 921; Infranz market: SL 844. Adi Caier market: SL 876. Dedjen market: SL 766; Elias market: SL 794; Lumane market: SL 744; Telili market: SL 815. Alemaya, cultivated at College of Agriculture: PJ 1330-1333, PJ 1335-1339, PJ 1829-1833, PJ 2529-2583, PJ 2909, PJ 2938-2939, PJ 3067-3081, PJ 3183-3185, PJ 3391-3408, PJ 3996-4011, PJ 4032-4036, PJ 4336-4337, PJ 4373-4377, PJ 4508, PJ 4820-4821; Alemaya, cultivated in garden: WP 719, WP 3006, WP 3038; Alemaya market: WP 28, PJ 5904; Asbe Tefari market: SL 8, SL 462; Assebot market: SL 707; Bedeisa market: SL 673; Chelenko market: SL 268; Deder market: SL 369; Dire Dawa market: WP 113, Bos 8358, Bos 8386, PJ 1036, PJ 1042; Gelemso market: SL 67.7; Harar market: WP 67, Bos 8039; Jijiga market: SL 362; Karra market: SL 586, SL 594; Moulu market: SL 455; Waichu market: SL 506. Djemezo market: SL 1452; Gambella market: PJ 5106; Metu market: SL 1492. Agaro market: SL 89; Chena market: SL 1424; Jimma market: WP 3280, WP 3292, Bos 8623; Jimma, Inst. of Agr. Res.: PJ 5853. Ambo market: PJ 1217; Kolito market: WP 2859; Kuyera market: SL 1205-1206; Nazareth, cultivated at Inst. of Agr. Res.: PJ 2430-2434, PJ 3589, PJ 3598-3602, PJ 4710, PJ 4717-4721; Shashemene market: SL 1312; 67km from Shashemene on road to Kolito, in field: WP 2851. Awassa market: SL 1321; Kebre Mengist market: SL 1349; Negele market: SL 1394. Adishow market: SL 1026; Axum market: SL 938.


Wollega Wollo Grown at Dembidollo market: SL 1533; Ghimbi market: PJ 1178, PJ 1185, PJ 1190; Nekemt market: PJ 1196. Bati market: SL 1033; Dessie market: SL 1094; Haik market: SL 1124; Kombolcha market: SL 959, SL 989. Wageningen WP 5697-5701, WP 5840-5842, WP 6019, WP 6997-6998, WP 7345-7346, WP 7358-7359, PJ 87-127, PJ 141, PJ 148, PJ 341-371, PJ 401, PJ 573-583, PJ 629-653, PJ 685-695, PJ 712-719, PJ 728-729, PJ 747-749, PJ 800-833, PJ 889-894, PJ 909-910, J. van Veldhuizen 17-18.


According to Baldrati (1950), Trachyspermum is often cultivated in Ethiopia together with barley and teff, which are cultivated at ca 1700-2200 m altitude. Trachyspermum grown at Alemaya (alt. ca 2000 m) had a less satisfactory fruit-setting than plants grown near Nazareth (alt. ca 1500 m). This suggests that the plant grows best at altitudes below 2000 m. Kostlan's statement, that Trachyspermum is grown in Ethiopia around alt. 1700 m supports this view (Kostlan, 1913). The climate of Central Europe is not suited for this plant. Cultivation in Europe ceased more than 250 years ago. Yet the plant is sometimes found in Europe in a (semi-)wild state (Thellung, 1925). Ramanujam et al. (1964) reported ca 70-80% cross-pollination in Trachyspermum in India.

Photograph 19. Trachyspermum ammi, flowering umbel, PJ 341.



Trachyspermum ammi is raised from seed. It grows best on soils of medium texture. In Ethiopia, seeds are broadcast, sometimes on small fields near a house, more often on larger fields in a mixture with teff or barley. The seeds need a light covering of soil. Ca 20 kg seed is needed per ha (Baldrati, 1950; Zemedu, undated). In India, seeds are sown in rows, 45 cm a part and 30 cm between plants in the rows. Germination takes ca 10-15 days (Joshi, 1961). In Ethiopia, germination took ca 1 month (pers. obs., 1975-1977). Heavy rains retard growth, yet sowing is done at the beginning of the rainy season in Ethiopia (Baldrati, 1950). In India, the crop is usually irrigated on light soils and rainfed on heavy soils (Joshi, 1961). In Ethiopia, plants flowered ca 3-4 months after sowing, and could be harvested ca 5-6 months after sowing (pers. obs., 1975-1977). The fruits are often harvested before they are fully ripe, to prevent losses due to falling. Unripe fruits seem to contain as much essential oil as ripe fruits. Baldrati (1950) concluded that it was difficult to obtain good seed and advised to leave some plants on the field for seed production. Many of the fruits for sale on markets in Ethiopia are empty. As the fruits are rather small, it is difficult to see whether they are empty or not full-grown (pers. obs. 197 5-1977). Stewart & Dagnatchew (1967) reported two leaf spot diseases of Trachyspermum observed in Shoa Province, Ethiopia. One was caused by Alternaria dauci (Kuehn) Groves & Skolko and the other one by Cercospora sp. In India ca 10% loss of fruits is

Photograph 20. Trachyspermum ammi in field.


caused by the larva of the chalcid fly Systole albipennis Walk., which feeds upon the embryo or endosperm of the seed.


Culinary uses

The fruits of Trachyspermum ammi are described as having an aromatic smell and a pungent taste (Roxburgh, 1874).

In Ethiopia, the fruits are a normal daily ingredient of the sauce or powder made from Capsicum pepper and seem to reduce its pungency. In other foods (curry 'wot', 'alicha wot', wheat bread), they also serve as a flavouring spice, often together with other spices, but not Nigella sativa. Usually the fruits are dried, roasted and ground before use (Kostlan, 1913; Baldrati, 1950; Asrat, 1962). Asrat (1962) reported that Amhara women in Harar and Dire Dawa use this spice (together with other spices) to make a special kind of bread, made at New Year's Day and Christmas. On the Feast of the Assumption (15 August) the bread is given to children when they go round houses singing. Sometimes it is prepared for priests. Amare (1976) reported that, in preparation of 'katikalla' beverage, the fruits are sometimes added before fermentation and distillation.

In India, the fruits are also used as a condiment in food (Roxburgh, 1874; Redgrove, 1933; Baldrati, 1950). Besides this local use, it has considerable industrial use in India and the fruits are exported to Great Britain, Japan, Germany and the USA (Baldrati, 1950). On the Seychelles, the plant is only cultivated for essential oil; the press-cake is used as cattle food (Baldrati, 1950).

Medicinal uses

In Ethiopia, the fruits and the roots of T. ammi (in a mixture with other spices) are used against stomach complaints (Amare, 1976; Gelahun, pers. comm. 1976). Lemordant (1971) stated that the fruits are used in Ethiopia as a vermifuge and as an abortive. In Somalia, the fruits are chewed against diarrhoea (Baldrati, 1946). The oil seems to be strongly antiseptic and parasiticidal (Redgrove, 1933; Baldrati, 1950). In India, Trachyspermum fruits are also used to produce thymol, which is used against cholera and against hookworms (Wolff, 1927; Redgrove, 1933).

Chemical composition

According to Ferrara (1957), the fruits of T. ammi contain (approximately) (mass fraction, g/kg):

moisture 90
crude protein 150
ether extract 180
nitrogen-free extract 390
crude fibre 120
ash 70


Photograph 21. Trachyspermum ammi, mericarps (3x), PJ 830.

Depending on origin and cultivar, the content of essential oil of the fruits ranges from 3-10%. It is a light-brown liquid, with a strong smell and a pungent taste. About half of the essential oil is thymol. After extraction of the thymol, the residue (thymene) is used to perfume soaps. Thymol may be added to foods as a preservative (Ferrara, 1957). Thymol is also widely used in the manufacture of toothpaste and elixirs (Shishkin, 1950). It is a source for the production of menthol (Joshi, 1961). Thellung (1925) reported that the essential oil was bright-blue and that the fruits contained ca 15-17% of protein and 25-32% of fats. Ethiopian fruits contain 9% essential oil of which 55% is thymol of very good quality. Fruits from the Seychelles contained 10% essential oil, of which half was thymol (Baldrati, 1950). According to Joshi (1961) the best cultivar of India contained 10% essential oil, of which 60% was thymol.