Other Name(s):

Alkanet, Alkanna lehmanii, Alkanna Radix, Alkanna tinctoria, Alkanna tuberculata, Anchusa, Anchusa bracteolata, Anchusa tuberculata, Buglosse des Teinturiers, Dyer's Bugloss, Henna, Lithospermum lehmanii, Orcanète, Orcanette, Orcanette des Teinturiers, Orchanet, Radix Anchusae.


Alkanna is a plant. The root is used to make medicine.

Despite serious safety concerns, people use alkanna for diarrhea and stomach ulcers.

Alkanna is sometimes applied directly to the skin to heal wounds and treat skin diseases.

How does it work?

Some chemicals in alkanna might act as antioxidants and might also reduce swelling (inflammation).


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Uses & Effectiveness

Insufficient Evidence to Rate Effectiveness for...

  • Stomach ulcers.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Skin diseases, when applied to the skin.
  • Wounds, when applied to the skin.
  • Other conditions.
More evidence is needed to rate the effectiveness of alkanna for these uses.

Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database rates effectiveness based on scientific evidence according to the following scale: Effective, Likely Effective, Possibly Effective, Possibly Ineffective, Likely Ineffective, and Insufficient Evidence to Rate (detailed description of each of the ratings).

Side Effects

There's a lot of concern about using alkanna as medicine, because it contains harmful chemicals called hepatotoxic pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs). Hepatotoxic PAs can block blood flow in the veins in the liver and cause liver damage. Hepatotoxic PAs might also cause cancer and birth defects. Some retailers of alkanna products attempt to remove these poisonous chemicals. If they meet certain purity standards, these products can be labeled “hepatotoxic PA-free.” Alkanna preparations that are not certified and labeled “hepatotoxic PA-free” are considered UNSAFE.

It's also UNSAFE to apply alkanna to broken skin. The dangerous chemicals in alkanna can be absorbed quickly through broken skin and can lead to dangerous body-wide toxicity. Steer clear of alkanna-containing skin products that aren't certified and labeled “hepatotoxic PA-free.” There isn't enough information to know if it's safe to apply alkanna to unbroken skin. It's best to avoid use.


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Special Precautions & Warnings

Pregnancy or breast-feeding: Don't use alkanna if you are pregnant. Preparations that contain hepatotoxic pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs) might cause birth defects as well as liver damage. There isn't enough information to know whether it's safe to use hepatotoxic PA-free preparations during pregnancy. Stay on the safe side and avoid use.

It's also UNSAFE to use alkanna if you are breast-feeding. Hepatotoxic PAs can pass into breast milk and harm the nursing infant. There isn't enough information to know whether it's safe to use hepatotoxic PA-free preparations during breast-feeding.

Liver disease: Alkanna contains chemicals called hepatotoxic pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs). These chemicals harm the liver, making existing liver disease worse.


Medications that increase the breakdown of other medications by the liver (Cytochrome P450 3A4 [CYP3A4] inducers)Interaction Rating: Moderate Be cautious with this combination.Talk with your health provider.

Alkanna is broken down by the liver. Some chemicals that form when the liver breaks down alkanna can be harmful. Medications that cause the liver to break down alkanna might enhance the toxic effects of chemicals contained in alkanna.

Some of these medicines include carbamazepine (Tegretol), phenobarbital, phenytoin (Dilantin), rifampin, rifabutin (Mycobutin), and others.


The appropriate dose of alkanna depends on several factors such as the user's age, health, and several other conditions. At this time there is not enough scientific information to determine an appropriate range of doses for alkanna. Keep in mind that natural products are not always necessarily safe and dosages can be important. Be sure to follow relevant directions on product labels and consult your pharmacist or physician or other healthcare professional before using.

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Altamirano, J. C., Gratz, S. R., and Wolnik, K. A. Investigation of pyrrolizidine alkaloids and their N-oxides in commercial comfrey-containing products and botanical materials by liquid chromatography electrospray ionization mass spectrometry. J AOAC Int 2005;88(2):406-412. View abstract.

Assimopoulou, A. N. and Papageorgiou, V. P. Radical scavenging activity of Alkanna tinctoria root extracts and their main constituents, hydroxynaphthoquinones. Phytother.Res 2005;19(2):141-147. View abstract.

Chen, C. H., Chern, C. L., Lin, C. C., Lu, F. J., Shih, M. K., Hsieh, P. Y., and Liu, T. Z. Involvement of reactive oxygen species, but not mitochondrial permeability transition in the apoptotic induction of human SK-Hep-1 hepatoma cells by shikonin. Planta Med 2003;69(12):1119-1124. View abstract.

Papageorgiou, V. P. Wound healing properties of naphthaquinone pigments from Alkanna tinctoria. Experientia 11-15-1978;34(11):1499-1501. View abstract.

Chojkier M. Hepatic sinusoidal-obstruction syndrome: toxicity of pyrrolizidine alkaloids. J Hepatol 2003;39:437-46. View abstract.

Food and Drug Administration. FDA Advises Dietary Supplement Manufacturers to Remove Comfrey Products From the Market. July 6, 2001. Available at:

Kourounakis AP, Assimopoulou AN, Papageorgiou VP, et al. Alkannin and shikonin: effect on free radical processes and on inflammation - a preliminary pharmacochemical investigation. Arch Pharm (Weinheim) 2002;335:262-6. View abstract.

Roeder E. Medicinal plants in Europe containing pyrrolizidine alkaloids. Pharmazie 1995;50:83-98.

Wang YP, Yan J, Fu PP, Chou MW. Human liver microsomal reduction of pyrrolizidine alkaloid N-oxides to form the corresponding carcinogenic parent alkaloid. Toxicol Lett 2005;155:411-20. View abstract.

WHO working group. Pyrrolizidine alkaloids. Environmental Health Criteria, 80. WHO: Geneva, 1988.

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