Labiatae Family in folk Medicine in Iran: from Ethnobotany to Pharmacology



Labiatae family is well represented in Iran by 46 genera and 410 species and subspecies. Many members of this family are used in traditional and folk medicine. Also they are used as culinary and ornamental plants. There are no distinct references on the ethnobotany and ethnopharmacology of the family in Iran and most of the publications and documents related to the uses of these species are both in Persian and not comprehensive. In this article we reviewed all the available publication on this family. Also documentation from unpublished resources and ethnobotanical surveys has been included. Based on our literature search, out of the total number of the Labiatae family in Iran, 18% of the species are used for medicinal purposes. Leaves are the most used plant parts. Medicinal applications are classified into 13 main categories. A number of pharmacological and experimental studies have been reviewed, which confirm some of the traditional applications and also show the headline for future works on this family.


Labiatae Family in folk Medicine in Iran: from Ethnobotany to Pharmacology
Iranian Journal of Pharmaceutical Research (2005) 2: 63-79
Received: February 2005
Accepted: October 2005

Copyright ? 2005 by School of Pharmacy
Shaheed Beheshti University of Medical Sciences and Health Services

Original Article

Labiatae Family in folk Medicine in Iran: from Ethnobotany to Pharmacology

Farzaneh Naghibi*, Mahmoud Mosaddegh, Saeed Mohammadi Motamed and Abdolbaset Ghorbani


Traditional Medicine & Materia Medica Research Center, Shaheed Beheshti University of Medical Scineces, Tehran, Iran.

* Corresponding author:




Labiatae family is well represented in Iran by 46 genera and 410 species and subspecies. Many members of this family are used in traditional and folk medicine. Also they are used as culinary and ornamental plants. There are no distinct references on the ethnobotany and ethnopharmacology of the family in Iran and most of the publications and documents related to the uses of these species are both in Persian and not comprehensive. In this article we reviewed all the available publication on this family. Also documentation from unpublished resources and ethnobotanical surveys has been included. Based on our literature search, out of the total number of the Labiatae family in Iran, 18% of the species are used for medicinal purposes. Leaves are the most used plant parts. Medicinal applications are classified into 13 main categories. A number of pharmacological and experimental studies have been reviewed, which confirm some of the traditional applications and also show the headline for future works on this family.


Keywords: Labiatae; Ethnobotany; Ethnopharmacology; Folk medicine.



The Labiatae family (Lamiaceae) is one of the largest and most distinctive families of flowering plants, with about 220 genera and almost 4000 species worldwide. This family has an almost cosmopolitan distribution. Some genera like Nepeta, Phlomis, Eremostachys, Salvia and Lagochilus have a great diversity in the Mediterranean and C/SW Asia (1-3).

Labiatae are best known for the essential oils common to many members of the family. Many ly active essential oils have been isolated from various members of this family. The family is also famous for the presence of diterpenoids in its members. These plants have been surely used by humans since prehistoric times. Evidence from archeological excavations shows that some species of this family, which are now known only as wild plants, had been cultivated at local scales in the past (4). This family is one of the major sources of culinary, vegetable and medicinal plants all over the world. Species of Mentha, Thymus, Salvia, Origanum, Coleus and Ocimum are used as food flavorings, vegetables and in industry. Also several species of family are used in traditional and modern medicine.

Iran has a very honorable past in traditional medicine, which goes back to the time of Babylonian-Assyrian civilization. One of the most significant ancient heritages is sophisticated experience of people who have tried over millennia to find useful plants for health improvement, with each generation adding its own experience to this tradition. Because of the high rate of species diversity and endemism in Labiatae, many species are used in traditional and folk medicine in Iran. Unfortunately, there are no distinct references on the ethnobotany and ethnopharmacology of the family in Iran and most of the publications and documents related to the uses of these species are both in Persian and not comprehensive. In this article we tried to bring some of these scattered publications together. We have also attempted to identify the scientific names of some of these species in order tomake them accessible for the scientific community. In addition, some pharmacognosy student?s these are reviewed and documentation from unpublished resources and ethnobotanical surveys have been included.???


Chemistry of Labiatae:

This family contains a wide variety of chemicals, but discussion in this regard is beyond the scope of this article and these compounds would only briefly discussed. A wide range of compounds such as terpenoids, iridiods, phenolic compounds and flavonoides have been reported from the members of the family (5-7). Some of the short chain terpenoids in essential oils are responsible for odor and taste in these plants. Lavandula species contain several pleasant-smelling terpenoid compounds and are used in perfumes and for deterring moth damage in stored clothing (5). Lebdan diterpenoids are found in 20 genera of the family including Ballota, Coleus, Lagichilus, Leonotice, Marrubium and Sideritis. Coleon compounds (tri-cyclic diterpenoids), found in leaves and inflorescence of Plectoranthus and other genera, have some antioxidant properties (8). Iridoides are also found in the family and have taxonomic importance. The family is also a rich source of plant species containing large amounts of phenolic acids. For example, rosmarinic acid occurs in species of the subfamily Nepetoideae and it is absent in the Lamioideae subfamily (sensu Erdetman). This compound has anti-bacterial, anti-viral, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. More and more studies carried out in numerous research centers show that the complex pharmacological activity of some medicinal plants of the family is strictly connected with the presence of phenolics (7). Flavonoides also occur in the Labiatae in a variety of structural forms including flavones, flavonols, flavanones, dihydroflavonols and chalcones (9).


Labiatae in Iran:

With 46 genera and 410 species and subspecies, Labiatae have great diversity and distribution in Iran. From these species, 124 species and subspecies (30%) are endemic to Iran (1-3, 10). Nepeta (76 sp.), Salvia (56 sp.), Stachys (34sp.), Scutellaria (19 sp.), Phlomis (17 sp.), Eremostachys (16 sp.), Thymus (16 sp.) and Teucrium (12 sp.) are the largest genera in Iran. In addition there is a monotypic genus, Zhumeria majdae, occurring in the southern parts of Iran. A comparison of endemic species with the total number of species of some genera and the percentage of endemism is presented in figure 1.



The importance of Labiatae family

Members of the family are used for different purposes, but we can group their uses into three main categories; 1) medicinal; 2) ornamental and 3) aromatic plants which are used as culinary herbs, vegetables and in the perfume industry.

a) Medicinal uses:

Many species are used in traditional and modern medicine and recent investigations have proven the basis of the medicinal uses. There are diverse uses of the family members in traditional ways in different parts of the world. Based on our literature search, more than 81 species have been documented for medicinal uses in Iran, of which 16 species are not naturally grown in Iran. These species are listed in table 1, including their vernacular names, plant part used, uses and mode of preparation and administration. Out of the total number of the Labiatae family in Iran, 18% of species are used for medicinal purposes. Leaves are the most widely used plant parts (figure 2). Medicinal applications are classified into 13 main categories. Statistical description of the total number of their uses related to the type of illness treated and details of their uses within each organ system are presented in figure 3 to 10.


Table1. List of various plant species along with their species traditional uses.

Scientific name

Vernacular name



?Traditional Uses in (as)

Pharmacological activity



Ajuga chamaepitys subsp. tridactylites (Ging. ex Benth.) P.H. Davis



Jaundice, Joints pain, Gout (25)



Ajuga reptans L.



Reconstituent, Fever, Asthma, Gout (26)

Vasoconstrictor (27)


Calamintha graveolens Benth.

Faranj-e mishk


Impotence, Stimulant (28) (29)

Acne, Eczema, Depression, Nerves tonic (30)



Soaked in water

Calamintha acinos



Bronchitis,? Pertussis, Dyspnea, Measles, Smallpox Antiseptic for U.T. (30)



Dracocephalum kotschyi Boiss.

Zarin giah


Fever (31)

Analgesic (15)

Rheumatism (32)

Antihyperlipidemic (33)???????????????????? Antinociceptive (15) Analgesic, Antipyretic Anti-inflammatory (32)????????????????



Dracocephalum moldavica L.





Heart tonic (34);Reconstituent (29) (35); Sedative (34) (36) (37);Flatulence (29) (35);Vermifuge (31), Diaphoretic, Snakes bites and stings, Nausea (35)

Antifungal (14)

Distilled water


Eremostachys glabra Boiss



Analgesic (local), Inflammation (38)

Antioxidative (39)


Hedeoma pulegioides



Headache, Flatulence, Stimulant, Emmenogogue Diaphoretic, Flavoring agent (28)



? Hymnocrater elegans Bunge.



Exessive menstruation (29)



Hyssopus officinalis? L.

var. angustifolia (M. B.) Boiss.




Cattarh (28) (40), Fever, Rheumatism (28)

Flatulence, Diaphoretic (28) (29)

Stimulant (29), Spasm (40)

Muscle relaxing (41) Inhibitory on alpha-glucosidase, ostprandial Hyperglycemia (42)



Lallemantia royleana (Benth. in Wall.) Benth.

L. iberica (Stev.) Fisch & C.A. Mey

Balangu shirazi

Balangu shahri



Fever (31); Common cold, Expectorant, Coughing (43)

Reconstituent, Stimulant, Diuretic (14)

Expectorant (14) (28) (29)


Soaked in water

Sap as tea

Lamium galeobdolon L.



Fever, Malaria, Warts, Constipitation, Hair loss Rheumatism, Dandruff, Hemorrhage (9); Depreesion, Nerve tonic (92)



Lavandula dentate L.

L. stoechas L.





Catarrh (28) (29) (26),Malaria (28) (45); Diarrhea, Nervous disorders, Vomiting, Sedative, Antiseptic for wounds (28) (29) (26), Heart tonic, Nerves tonic, Dyspepsia, Anemia (46)

Anticonvulsant, Sedative Antispasmodic (47)??


Lavandula angustifolia Mill.



Inflammation (16)

Coughing, Flatulence, Diuretic, Spasm, Sedative (37)

Anti-inflammatory Analgesic (16) Cytotoxicity (48) Neuroprotective, Miticidal, Anaesthetic (28)??????????????????


Lavandula vera D.C.





Depression, Migran (49)

(Lavandula officinalis) Diuretic (50) Antiallergic (51) Angioprotective(52)


Marrubium vulgare L.

Gandna kouhi




Fever (31) (26), Nausea, Colitis, Bronchitis, Inflammation, Edema (30), Heart tonic (26); , Appetizer (30) (26) Diuretic (26), Cholagogue (30) (53) (26), Vermifuge, Expectorant (30), Dyspepsia (54), Ear pain (53); Abortifacient (36), Emmenogogue (53) (26)(36)

Hypoglycemic (119) Hypotensive,Vasorelaxant (45)(56),? Antinociceptive (17), Anti-inflammatory (18)


Marrubium anisodon K.Koch.

It-sieg, Narfiz




High blood pressure, Cardiac pains, Spasm, Flatulence, Dyspepsia, Women infertility (54)




Melissa officinalis L.







Gout, Palpitations, Tremor Blood depurative (30)

Sedative (34) (37) (26) (57) (49), Diuretic (34) (46)

Flatulence (37) (53) (57) (26), Flavoring agent (37) (53)

Wound healing (37), Hair loss, Expectorant, Hiccup (53)

Reconstituent, Dyspepsia, Emmenogogue, Joints pain

Diaphoretic (57), Spasm, Headache (49), Impotence (46)

Snake bites &stings (40)

Relaxant (58) Heart rate decreasing (59) Fungitoxic (60) Antimicrobial (61 ), Human CNS cholinergic receptor binding (62), Antioxidant (63), Anti-inflammatory (64), Cytotoxic (MTT) (65) Antiviral; HSV- 1(66) Neurotropic, peripheral analgesic? induce sleep (67), Anti-HIV-1 (68)


Mentha sylvestris L.




Rheumatism, Dysenthry, Dyspepsia (28) (29)

Skin allergies, Stimulant (28), Chills (29)



Mentha piperata

Naana felfeli



Flatulence (30) (26), Inflammation, Dyspepsia, Jaundice, Throat infections Diaphoretic, Diuretic (30); Reconstituent, Stomach tonic (26)

Antimycobacterial (69) Antifungal (20,39) Antimicrobial (70) Antiallergic (71) Virucidal (72) Antioxidant (73) Radioprotective (74)


Mentha arvensis L

Naana sahree


Flatulence, Constiputation, Jaundice, Spasm, Diaphoretic

Diuretic (30), Reconstituent, Stomach tonic (26)



Mentha longifolia (L.) Hudson

M. longifolia var. chlorodictya Rech. F.

M. spicata L.

Poneh, Bideneh


Naana vahshi



Bladder stone, Gall stone, Rheumatism, Jaundice, Diarrhoea (30); Toothache, Stomachache, Anti-infection (43)

Dyspnea (30) (54), Flatulence , Gastrodynia (34) (29) Dyspepsia, Sedative (29), Stomach tonic, Reconstituent (26)

Insect repellent (57)

( M. longifolia) Cyclooxygenase inhibitor (75) HIV 1 inhibitory (76)

( M. spicata) Anti-inflammatory Haemostatic (77)


Distilled water

Food additive


Mentha aquatica L.

Puneh, Bidanah


Reconstituent, Stomach tonic (26)



Mentha sativa

Naana sabz


Jaundice, Dyspepsia, Diarrhoea, Cholagogue (30)



Mentha pulegium L.



Dyspepsia (78), Flatulence (78) (29), Emmenogogue (29)(36) Abortifacient (36); Analgesic, Vomiting, Snake bites (79), Gout, Asthma, Pertussis (26)


Distilled water

A.p. = Aerial parts, S= Seed, L= Leave, Fl= Flower, R= Root, Rh. = Rhizome, Wh.p. = Whole plant, St. = Stem


As could be concluded from figure 3, Labiatae species are mainly used for the ailments related to the digestive system, especially flatulence and dyspepsia. The second and third most common applications are for the treatment of body problems such as reconstituent and infection, respectively.



b) Aromatic and culinary uses:

Species of Mentha, Thymus, Lavandula, Ocimum, Origanum, Melissa and Satureja are also used as culinary and flavoring plants. These uses are mostly due to the presence of essential oils common to the family. The Mediterranean region has been the main center for domestication and cultivation of Labiatae and many cultivated species are derived from wild ancestors of this region.

Lallemantia iberica Fisch. & C.A. Mey. was cultivated in Iran and southern parts of the former USSR as an oil-seed plant (11). Mentha spicata L. is used as a culinary herb and also in toothpaste and chewing gum industry. Other species of Mentha such as M. aquatica L. and M. longifolia (L.) Hudson are used as wild vegetables and culinary herbs. Satureja hortensis L. and S. mutica Fisch & C. A. Mey. are used as flavoring plants. Ocimum, Origamum and Melissa species are cultivated as vegetables.? Species of Thymus (Avishan) are used as culinary herbs and as tea in many parts of Iran. Ziziphora tenuior L. is a common teapot herb. In addition other species of the genus like Z. clinopodioides Lam. are very popular as teapot herbs. These species are available in local markets or in Attaris (traditional medicinal plant stores). Species of Lavandula, which contain aromatic terpenoid compounds, are also used in culinary and perfumery.

c) Ornamental uses:

Several genera of the family grow as ornamentals, including Lavandula, Mentha, Molucella, Nepeta, Perovscia, Stachys, Teucrium, Salvia and Thymus. Many species of Stachys, Thymus and Satureja are used as rock garden plants. Many of the decorative new world species of Salvia are cultivated throughout the world. Nepeta cataria L., N. grandiflora, and N. sibrica, with big blue flowers are among common ornamentals. Also N. speciosa Boiss. & Noe., N. menthoides Boiss. & Buhse., N. haussknechtii Bornm. and N. betonicifolia C. A. Mey. have potential to be used as rock plants (8). Species of Lavandula are also used in parks as ornamental plants. Rosmarinus officinalis L., a medicinal shrubby plant from the Mediterranean region, is cultivated in Iran for medicinal and ornamental purposes.



B- Experimental pharmacology:

Many species of the family have been experimentally studied and the efficiency of some traditional applications was confirmed by these works (figure11). For example, the anti-bacterial characteristie of Thymus spp. (thyme) is due to the occurrence of thymol in this genus. This substance can be used as a disinfectant. Many other mints have also been shown to be anti-bacterials. These properties are due to the mono- and sesquiterpene in the essential oils of these plants, but, it is becoming increasingly apparent that other compounds (eg. diterpenoids) may be responsible (5). Lavander oil, which contains terpenoid compounds, is used for dandruff and scalp hair re-growth and also possesses antimicrobial, antiviral and antifungal properties. Extract of Stachys lavandulifolia Vahl. from aerial parts, has proven to be effective in the improvement of patients suffering from anxiety disorders. This could be attributed to the presence of anti-anxiety compounds Apigenin and Luteolin in the plant (12). Dracocephalum moldavica L., which contains linalool, linalyl acetate, neural, geranial, geraniol and geranyl acetate, has been used for liver and stomach diseases in Mongolian medicine. In Zabaikalie medicine it is used for nephritis, gastro-enteritis and as gargle for stomatitis. In clinical tests it has been found that a decoction shows good results in curing children?s pyelonephritis (13). Deracocephalum kotschyi Boiss. is traditionally consumed as analgesic and for the treatment of fever and rheumatism. Experimental works have implicated that an alcoholic extract of aerial parts of the plant has analgesic, anti-inflammatory and antipyretic activities (14). Also, the essential oils induce a significant reduction in pain responses in comparison with the controls. Presence of limonene and alpha-terpineol can be responsible for anti-nociceptive properties of these essential oils (15). There is no literature on some species used traditionally in Iran such as Lallemantia royleana (Benth. in Wall.) Benth., L. iberica (Stev.) Fisch & C. A. Mey. and Hymnocrater elegans Bunge. Lavandula angustifolia Mill. is taken for the treatment of inflammation, coughing, and digestive problems and as a sedative. Experimental assays show anti-inflammatory (Carragenin test) and analgesic (formalin and acetic acid induced writhing test) properties (16). Marrubium vulgare L. is traditionally used for digestive and respiratory problems (Table-1). Experimental works have also shown hypotensive, anti-nociceptive and anti-inflammatory properties (17, 18). Nepeta cataria is used as a sedative, blood depurative and anti?obsession drug. Experimental works have shown an anti-microbial activity against gram- positive bacteria (19). Medicinal properties of Nepeta species are related to terpenoids and flavonoides. Compounds such as 1-8-cineale, are very common in Nepeta and have expectorant, antiseptic and anthelmintic activities (8). Acetone fractions of Satureja mutica C.A. Mey. and S. macrantha were active against the epimastigotes of Trypanosoma cruzi, the ethological agent of Chagas disease (20). Thymus kotschyanus Boiss. & Hohen has extensive traditional applications, mostly for digestive problems. Pharmacological studies demonstrated anti-bacterial, hypotensive and cardiotonic effects for this plant. A high aromatic compound content of the phenol-rich oils (carvacrol & thymol), which are found in aerial parts of the plant, seems to be accounting for the strong antibacterial activity (21, 22). An interesting result, which comes from comparison of recorded traditional uses and experimental works, is that despite the high rate of recorded traditional application, for gastrointestinal uses, few experimental works have been performed on this aspect (figure 16). This could be due to the known properties of essential oils on gastrointestinal problems. Most of the works had been carried out on systemic and antibacterial properties.


C- Comments on some species:

Many species of the family, especially endemics, are used locally by indigenous people in different parts of Iran and there is little information or documented references about their uses. For example Maur (Salvia aegiptica L.) seeds are used locally in Baluchestan for eye diseases. The genus Salvia is well known for production of mucilage, when seeds are wetted. The mucilaginous layer around the seeds contains complex polysaccharides, which form a soft layer around the seeds. This layer may well have a cleansing effect, and polysaccharides are known to be useful in the treatment of inflammatory conditions and bacterial or viral infections (23). The same use for seeds of Salvia viridis L. is reported in the Turkmen Sahra area. Nepeta pogonosperma Jamzad & Assadi is used as an anti-fungal and anti-bacterial agent by Bedouins of Alborz Mountains (8) and Leonorus cardiaca L. and species of Lamium are used locally in Mazandaran (24).

Some species mentioned in table 1 do not occur naturally in Iran and could have been cultivated or imported from other countries such as India. For example, there are only two species of Lavandula growing naturally in Iran, L. stricta Del. and L. sublepidata Rech. K. These species are not mentioned as medicinal plants in references; however L. soechas L., L. vera DC., L. angustifolia Mill. and L. dantata L. have been referred to in table-1. ?From the genus Ocimum, only the O. basilicum L. occurs naturally in Iran. Other species may be cultivated or imported from other countries. Based on Flora Iranica, Calamintha graveolens and C. acinos do not occur in Iran and only C. officinalis Moench, C. debilis (Bunge.) Benth. and C. grandiflora (L.) Moench grow in Iran.? Species of Mentha are also used as vegetables and as culinary herbs. M. aquatica and M. longifolia are used as vegetables in most parts of Iran, especially in the northern regions. M. arvensis L. and M. sativa do not exist naturally in Iran, based on Flora Iranica. Origanum vulgare L. is an extremely variable species. In Flora Iranica, it is represented by three subspecies which are not always clearly distinct. Origanum dictamnus L. does not occur in Iran.

Some genera have a great number of species and a wide range of distribution in Iran, but there are either no or few records of the use of the species of these genera. For example, Hymnocrater has 9 species in Iran, with a wide range of distribution, but we found no record on the use of this genus. These shrubby Labiate plants have a strong odor and it seems that they contain compounds with anti-feeding activity, because in areas with a high grazing pressure, these plants remain intact. Another example is the genus Phlomis, again with a relatively high number of species, but with only one record of use. This demonstrates the necessity of ethnobotanical studies in different parts of Iran to record all the knowledge of folk medicine practiced among indigenous people.

Citation of species which do not occur in Iran may also be a result of misidentification of these plants. The importance of a correct scientific identification of the plant can hardly be exaggerated, since it is the only key connecting the ethnobotanical information gained with already existing and chemical knowledge recorded in the literature. However, vernacular synonyms in a literature search pose a major problem. In some of the traditional texts, it is not possible to match these names with scientific names. Another problem is the uncertainty regarding scientific naming of plants, because of the different vernacular names or a local name which is given to two or more species. For example, the name Zuffa is matched with two species of Nepeta bracteata Benth. and Hyssopus officinalis L. in different references or Badi-ranj Buyeh has been variously referred to the species of Nepeta, Calamintha and Melissa or the name Avishan is a common name given to different species of Thymus in different parts of Iran. Local names are not a reliable source for identification of plants, because they differ significantly from one region to another.




The authors would like to thank Dr. Mohsin Raza , Dr. Rainer Bussman and Dr. Barbara Feri Haller for their reviews and helpful suggestions on this work.




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