Mojo: There's an Herb for That

According to legend, a goatherd tending his flock high up on the rocky slopes of Mount Haramoun noticed that when his animals nibbled on the green tops of a particular mountain plant, they became sexually rambunctious.

The goatherd sought the advice of a learned scholar who knew the uses of many plants. The scholar experimented with the green plant for himself and found that the root especially produced a powerful feeling of sexual excitement.

Naturally, word spread about the remarkable plant and its invigorating effects. Today, we know of that particular green-topped plant from atop Mount Haramoun as Ferulis harmonis, or zallouh.

Zallouh is a small shrub with thin leaves and tiny white or yellow flowers. It is a member of the parsley family. Also commonly known as “Shirsh Zallouh” the plant grows profusely between 6000 and 10,000 feet around massive Mount Haramoun, which straddles the borders of Syria, Lebanon and Israel.

Due to ongoing ethnic and religious conflicts in the Middle East, the Israeli side of Mount Haramoun is not a safe or secure source of zallouh, while on the Lebanese side, indiscriminate harvesting of the wild plant has reduced its occurrence.

In Syria, zallouh trade is overseen by the Syrian Army, and the harvesting of the plant is conducted in a controlled, sustainable fashion. The root is typically harvested from August to October.

While zallouh has a long tradition of use by men and women to increase sexual frequency and pleasure, and to cure sexual dysfunction, Dr. Pierre Malychef, a pharmacist in Beirut, insisted that the plant has a number of other health benefits as well.

“Shirsh Zallouh is much more than a sex plant,” Malychef said. “It is very good for that purpose, and I have given it to many, many people who have been satisfied. But it also contains antioxidants, and it helps to retard the aging process. If you will take zallouh every day, it will help to keep you strong and youthful. I have not seen any other plant which revitalizes people the way that zallouh does.”

What is found in zallouh root that so markedly rejuvenates the body? Proponents of the root point to its ferulic acid and feruloside content, both of which they claim dilate blood vessels and stimulate circulation. Currently, there is no strong scientific data to support that these compounds actually perform this activity.

The Syrian Connection

On the outskirts of Damascus, Syria, the government’s Productive Projects Administration (PPA), which is run by the Syrian military, manufactures a number of herbal products into tea bags and capsules, including zallouh.

My hosts at PPA included Lt. Elias Faraoun, the head of export, and Colonel Nabil Khlaf, who is in charge of the entire facility.

“In antiquity, zallouh was used as a tonic by many people,” Khlaf said. “Today we have manufactured zallouh in a way which preserves its unique composition, so it can be used by people everywhere.”

Faraoun described how the crop is sustainably harvested.

“We harvest zallouh roots on Mount Haramoun,” he said. “We have divided the area up into five sectors. Each year, we pick zallouh root from only one sector, and we only pick the tops of the roots. Then we leave that sector alone for four years. This gives the zallouh ample time to fully regenerate. In this way, the zallouh crop is sustained. We are sensitive to the importance of protecting this plant and its habitat.”

To the Mountain

Every field research trip comes down to the plant at hand. In a black Range Rover, Faraoun set a course for Mount Haramoun. From many spots in Syria, you can see the snow-capped peak of the giant mountain against the horizon.

Once we hit 2200 meters in altitude, the hillsides were dotted with thousands of green plants. They could be seen everywhere, in all directions, for as far as the eye could see.

“That is zallouh,” Khlaf said. “Now you see why we are not worried about supply.”

I had seen the same phenomenon before. Certain plants grow only at particular altitudes, and often not even a few meters below. Plants thrive in those conditions which are optimal for their growth.

“From August to a little past December, the soldiers come up here to harvest zallouh,” Khlaf said. “By that time, the tops, which flower in June and July, are dried out and dying. The active ingredients in the tops go back down into the roots. We harvest about twenty tons or so every year, and we have the capacity to take much more without endangering the zallouh if it becomes more popular.”

We left the Range Rover and spent much of the afternoon wandering through the zallouh. The green tops of the plant looked like a cross between parsley and fennel. Khlaf mused about how it has become increasingly well known.

“The plant has this special power,” he said. “From a long time ago it was used by many people. And now, maybe the whole world will know about zallouh.”

Chris Kilham is a medicine hunter who researches natural remedies all over the world, from the Amazon to Siberia. He teaches ethnobotany at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he is Explorer In Residence. Chris advises herbal, cosmetic and pharmaceutical companies and is a regular guest on radio and TV programs worldwide. His field research is largely sponsored by Naturex of Avignon, France. Read more at