Abelmoschus moschatus (Ambrette, Musk Okra; Muskmallow; Tropical Jewel Hibiscus; Annual hibiscus; Bamia Moschata, Galu Gasturi)
Category: Medicines - plant based
Introduction and description
Ambrette - Abelmoschus moschatus - is an aromatic and medicinal plant in the family Malvaceae native to Asia and Australia.
Oil is extracted from the seeds of the plant, and this oil is commonly used as a flavour additive in foods such as baked products and sweets; in chewing tobacco [The flowers are used for making ‘Zarda’ a flavoured tobacco in India]; in alcoholic drinks such as vermouth, liqueurs and bitters, and in some non-alcoholic drinks.
The oil is also used for perfume. Musk mallow seed oil was once frequently used as a substitute in perfumes for animal musk; however this use is now mostly replaced by various synthetic musks due to its high cost.
Finally in industry the root mucilage is used for sizing paper, the stem is used for making fibre, the seeds are used to protect woollen garments against moth due to its insect repellent properties and the seeds are also used as cattle or poultry feed.
Ambrette has a considerable number of other common names - including Musk Okra; Muskmallow; Tropical Jewel Hibiscus; Annual hibiscus; Bamia Moschata, Galu Gasturi, ornamental okra, Yorka okra; Muskus; Kasturi Dana; Mushk Dana or muskdana; Zatakasturika; Bisam Eibisch; Ambercicegi; Kapas Hantu; Moskus; Abelmosco/Abelmusk; and Moschus.
Botanical synonyms include
- Hibiscus abelmoschus Linn.
- Hibiscus abelmoschus L.
- Hibiscus flavescens Cav.
- Hibiscus spathaceus Wall.
- Hibiscus ricinifolius Wall.
- Hibiscus chinensis Wall.
- Abelmoschus moschatus Medik.
- Abelmoschus rugosus W.&.A.
Hibiscus abelmoschus Linn. (Syn. Abelmoschus moschatus Medic.) is native throughout the hotter parts of India and commercially grown there. In India, it is most commonly known as Latakasturi (Ayurveda), Kattu Kasturi (Siddha), Muskdana, and Habb-ul-mushk (Unani).
It is found in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam. It is also found in China, growing in plains, valleys, mountains streams or ‘slop thickets’. It is distributed and cultivated in Jiangxi, Taiwan, Hunan, Guangdong, Hainan, Guangxi, Yunnan plus a number of other places.
It has spread as an invasive to Australia.
Abelmoschus moschatus is a herbaceous trailing plant, 0.5- 2.5 meters high with soft hairy stems and a long slender tap root. Despite its tropical origin, the plant is frost-hardy.
- Leaves are polymorphous, ovate-cordate or more usually palmately cut into 3-5 acute lobes, dentate-serrate, hairy on both sides. Petiole is usually longer than leaves, with long deflexed hairs. Stipules are small and subulate.
- Flowers are solitary, axillary, large, 3-4 inch, usually bright yellow, with a purple center. Pedicels are stout, curved, much thickened beneath the flower. Epicalyx segments are 6 – 10, fulvous-hairy. Calyx is spathaceous, deciduous. Corolla yellow with purple center. Stamens are monadelphous. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Insects.
- Fruit is long, lanceolate in form of capsule. Seeds are many, and kidney-bean-shaped.
- Seeds - The seeds have a sweet, flowery, heavy fragrance similar to that of musk (hence its specific epithet moschātus, scientific Latin for ‘musk’). Seeds are greyish-brown-blackish, kidney-shaped, slightly compressed with shallow depressions on both sides. They are not velvety to touch. They smell musk-like but with no taste.
- Propagation: By seeds and cuttings. The germination of seeds takes place around 24 – 24°c.
- Flowering: September
Ambrette has many culinary uses. It is a non-toxic plant with edible leaves, flowers and seeds. The flowers and seeds can be eaten raw. The seeds are sometimes added to coffee; and the unripe pods ("musk okra"), leaves and new shoots are eaten as vegetables.
It should be noted that Abelmoschus moschatus is a close relative of okra and the unripe fruit pods of musk mallow can be cooked and eaten in a very similar way to okra.
The leaves and young shoots can be cooked and eaten as vegetables or can be substituted for melokhia (Jew's mallow) in African-style soups and stews.
The seeds are most commonly used as a flavouring additive to coffee, but can be used as a flavour base for confectionary, biscuits and cakes as well as some savoury dishes. During Stuart times, it was used as a cheaper alternative to animal musk in flavouring spiced wines, such as hyppocras. We have an observation for Hyppocras
Musk-Vanilla Ice Cream Recipe from Britain [Traditional]
This recipe uses musk mallow seeds to flavour a traditional custard-based ice cream
650ml single cream
2 tsp sugar
2 tspns vanilla essence
4 egg yolks
90g caster sugar
2 1/2 tsp ground musk mallow seeds
|Method: Add the 2 tsp sugar to the cream and pour this into a pan. Gently heat to boiling point. Combine the egg yolks, vanilla essence and the caster sugar in a bowl. Beat with an electric mixer until the egg yolks are pale and have increased in volume. Pour two ladles full of the cream onto the egg yolks whilst whisking constantly. Add this back to the cream, whisking all the time. Place cream/egg mixture in a double boiler. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens into a custard. Allow to cool, stirring frequently then add the ground musk mallow seeds. Refrigerate for at least four hours. After this time, pour the custard through a strainer [to remove any hard seeds] into your ice cream maker and churn according to the manufacturer's instructions.|
Musk mallow tea/infusion
thinly-sliced fresh ginger to taste
2 tsp musk mallow seeds
2 tbsp honey
|Combine the ginger, cinnamon sticks and whole musk mallow seeds in a pan with the water. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook for about 20 minutes. Stir in the honey then take off the heat, strain and serve|
The oil extracted from the seeds, known as Musk Seed Oil or Ambrette Seed Oil is economically valuable. It is used in aromatherapy for anxiety, depression, nervousness and stress.
Different parts of the plant have uses in Ayurveda herbal medicine. The decoction of seeds is given internally for disorders of the spleen, vomiting and pectoral lesions. The leaves and roots are used for headaches, rheumatism, varicose veins, fever and gonorrhea. The plant is considered a heart tonic and an excellent snakebite remedy. The seeds are used both internally and externally for snake bite.
Below is a summary of the traditional medicinal properties of seeds along with the meaning.
- Antipyretic/antifebrile/febrifuge: Effective against fever.
- Antihysteric: Controls hysteria (fit of uncontrollable laughter or weeping).
- Antispasmodic: Used to relieve spasm of involuntary muscle.
- Aphrodisiac: stimulates sexual desire.
- Antivenom: Counteracts venom.
- Cooling: Reduces heat in body.
- Carminative: Preventing the formation or causing the expulsion of flatulence.
- Demulcent: Relieving inflammation or irritation.
- Diuretic: Promoting excretion of urine/agent that increases the amount of urine excreted.
- Laxative: Tending to stimulate or facilitate evacuation of the bowels.
- Stomachic: Stimulates gastric activity.
- Nervine: calm the nerves.
- Tonic: Restore or improve health or well-being.
In Trinidad and Tobago, the plant is used for childbirth and infertility, as well as menstrual pain and “unspecified female complaints”.
In China, the Medicinal part is the whole plant. Its Chinese name is Hungkui. The plant is harvested in summer and autumn, well washed, and used fresh or sun-dried. Chinese researchers have carried out considerable research into the constituents of the plant, confirming and in some cases extending Dr Duke’s analysis.
In TCM it is described as “Little sweet, cold. Eliminating heat and detoxifying, and promoting lactation”. Its recommended usage is “Pyrexia, cough with lung heat, dysentery, constipation, problematic lactation after delivery, fractures, ulcerative carbuncle and abscess, unknown pyogenic infections and burns due to hot liquids or fire”.
Note that possibly all the activity – apparently very different in traditional medicines – is due to the fact it has shown antioxidant, free radical scavenging, antimicrobial and antiproliferative activities [see observation], as such the plant is combatting the cause of the disease.
Research has shown myricetin, a constituent of Ambrette, may lower blood glucose. It is possible that combining use of Ambrette with other herbs and supplements such as ginger, fenugreek, bitter melon, and willow bark, could ‘substantially lower blood glucose levels’.
References and further reading
- L. D. Kapoor (2000). Handbook of Ayurvedic Medicinal Plants: Herbal Reference Library. Taylor & Francis.
- Ethnomedicines used in Trinidad and Tobago for reproductive problems - Cheryl Lans; Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine20073:13 https://doi.org/10.1186/1746-4269-3-13
Please see Dr. Duke's Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical Databases for up-to date lists of chemicals and uses:
- Abelmoschus moschatus (Malvaceae), an aromatic plant, suitable for medical or food uses to improve insulin sensitivity 027877
- Antiurolithiatic activity of Abelmoschus moschatus seed extracts against zinc disc implantation-induced urolithiasis in rats 027876
- Characterization of ambrette seed oil and its mode of action in bacteria 027878
- Dr Duke's list of Plants Containing QUERCETIN 021446
- Dr Duke's list of Plants with Anticystitic activity 018442
- Dr Duke's list of Plants with Copper chelator activity 018387
- Dr Duke's list of Plants with HIV-RT-Inhibitor Activity 018288
- Dr Duke's list of Plants with Plasmodicidal activity 018296
- Evaluation of Abelmoschus moschatus extracts for antioxidant, free radical scavenging, antimicrobial and antiproliferative activities using in vitro assays 027874
- Hippocras 027875