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Background & General Info

Psoralea is a genus belonging to Fabaceae, or the legume or pea family, and comprises mostly poisonous species. Psoralea corylifolia in particular is an annual herb found throughout the semi-arid plains of India and tropical and subtropical areas of China and southern Africa and has been widely employed for ages due to its immense biological significance and therapeutic value. [1] It is also referred to as babachi or babchi in Hindi, “ku tzu” in Chinese, and fountain bush or scurf pea in English, and currently, its concentrated seed and fruit extracts are commonly available in the market in various herbal preparations. [1] Its powdered seeds have a characteristic fragrance, hence the plant’s other name “katsuri,” which means deer musk. [1]


Psoralea corylifolia is a small, erect herb that can attain a height of up to 60–120 cm. It has grooved and gland-dotted stems and simple, broadly elliptic, rounded leaves covered with white hairs at their upper and lower surfaces. [2] From August to December, dense racemes consisting of 10 to 30 yellowish or bluish-purple flowers emerge, and after some time, small pitted black fruits that are subglobular, slightly compressed, and beaked without hairs come out. [2] The seed pods contain dark elongated seeds, which are collected in fall when they are large, solid, and black and possess a pungent and bitter taste. [3]

History & Traditional Use

In traditional Ayurvedic and Chinese medicinal systems, Psoralea corylifolia has long been popularly used as an herb with “magical” curative properties for a range of skin diseases, including psoriasis, leukoderma, and leprosy. [1] The dry fruits from this leguminous plant are officially listed in the Chinese Pharmacopoeia as a celebrated medicine for tonifying the kidneys, healing bone fractures, relieving lower back and knee pain, and treating impotence, hair loss, and vitiligo. [4][5]

General Herbal Uses

Fruits of Psoralea are used by modern herbalists, either singly or in combination with other herbs, to remedy or relieve postmenopausal osteoporosis, vitiligo, and psoriasis. [6] A number of pharmacological studies have provided evidence for the chemoprotective, antioxidant, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory properties of Psoralea corylifolia. [1] In particular, the active fraction obtained from the plant’s fruits, seeds, and roots had been shown to exhibit antibacterial, antioxidative, and immunomodulatory properties, whereas the seeds from which an essential oil can be yielded are used for leprosy, fever, and scorpion and snake bites and as an anthelmintic, diuretic, and stomachic. [3] The Chinese also used Psoralea fruit extract to treat different bone diseases and the seeds to address aging-related symptoms. [7][8] Additionally, the fruits are used in Chinese medicine to manage premature ejaculation, spermatorrhea, enuresis, backache, knee pain, pollakiuria, vitiligo, callus, psoriasis, and alopecia. [9]

Constituents/Active Components

Qiao et al. (2006) isolated two benzofuran glycosides (psoralenoside and isopsoralenoside) and two major coumarins (psoralen and isopsoralen) from 23 samples of Psoralea fruits collected from different Chinese areas. [4] Similarly, Ruan et al. (2007) isolated corylinin (an isoflavone), isopsoralen, psoralen, sophoracoumestan A, neobavaisoflavone, daidzin, and uracil from the dried fruits of Psoralea corylifolia. [10] According to Lin et al. (2007), who employed a high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) method, fruits of Psoralea corylifolia contain 36.2–71 mg/g bakuchiol, 2.5–13 mg/g psoralen, and 2.2–9.2 mg/g angelicin, whereas their commercial concentrated products comprise 0.6–21.1 mg/g, 0.6–5.2 mg/g, and 0.6–5.3 mg/g, respectively. [11]

Medicinal/Scientific Research


A 2013 in vitro evaluation of n-hexane and ethyl acetate extracts of Psoralea corylifolia seeds had determined their antioxidant activity through the DPPH and reducing power methods, which used butylated hydroxyanisole as a positive control and ascorbic acid as a standard reducing agent, respectively. Total flavonoid content based on spectrophotometric measurement in aluminum chloride colorimetric assay had a value of 73.09 mg CE/100 g. Both extracts displayed an excellent concentration-dependent DPPH radical scavenging and reducing power activities, although the ethyl acetate extract exhibited more noticeable action than the n-hexane extract. [12] A 2005 study also found strong antioxidant property in the powder and extracts of Psoralea corylifolia tested in lard using oxidative stability instrument, as well as their individual compounds. Results indicated strong antioxidant activities from psoralidin, bakuchiol, corylifolin, and corylin. Psoralidin particularly exhibited stronger antioxidant effect than butylated hydroxytoluene and α-tocopherol (vitamin E), which are both well-known antioxidants. [13]


Administration of Psoralea corylifolia seed extract had been revealed by Latha et al. (2000) in mice to stimulate the immune system and to hamper the tumor growth of Ehrlich ascites carcinoma. Its anticancer property had been linked to its stimulatory effect on the activity of natural killer cells and antibody-forming cells, as well as antibody complement-mediated and antibody-dependent cytotoxicity during tumor development. [14] Psoralen and isopsoralen, two major active compounds isolated from Psoralea corylifolia chloroform extract at yields of 0.048% and 0.11%, respectively, had been shown by a 2003 Chinese study to exert antitumor effect against BGC-823 cancer cells. In morphological and MTT assays in vitro, both inhibited the proliferations of the cancer cells and had IC50 values of 5.82 µg/mL and 148.8 µg/mL, respectively. [15] Psoralidin, another constituent of Psoralea corylifolia seeds, has been known to be cytotoxic activity against stomach carcinoma cell lines. In the study of Yang et al. (1996), its IC50 values were 53 and 203 µg/mL against SNU-1 and SNU-16 carcinoma cell lines, respectively. [16]


A recent quantitative analysis and investigation of 70% ethanol extract derived from Psoralea corylifolia seeds demonstrated its neuroprotective and anti-neuroinflammatory activities in the hippocampal cell line HT22 and microglia cell line BV-2. Among the seven standard components of Psoralea corylifolia quantitatively analyzed, bakuchiol (11.71 mg/g) proved to be the most potent phytochemical, which, aside from angelicin and isobavachalcone, blocked the production of nitric oxide induced by lipopolysaccharide in treated BV-2 microglia. It and neobavaisoflavone also potently prevented the death of HT22 hippocampal cells induced by hydrogen peroxide. [17]


The findings of Seo et al. (2014) highlighted the ability of Psoralea corylifolia seed extract to attenuate streptozotocin-induced diabetes in mice by preventing oxidative stress, which notoriously causes death of pancreatic beta-cells, diminishing insulin production in diabetes mellitus. Oral administration of the extract significantly ameliorated the hyperglycemia in treated diabetic mice, improved their glucose tolerance, and elevated serum insulin levels. Furthermore, treatment with Psoralea corylifolia seed extract prevented hydrogen peroxide-induced apoptosis or death in INS-1 cells while diminishing levels of reactive oxygen species and activating antioxidative enzymes. Psoralen and isopsoralen in the extract also inhibited beta-cell death. [18]


Bakuchiol, an active meroterpene and antioxidant found in Psoralea corylifolia seeds and leaves, had been isolated and confirmed by Katsura et al. (2001) to suppress some oral pathogenic microorganisms, as evaluated in vitro. In particular, this botanical compound had been shown to concentration-dependently inhibit the growth of Streptococcus mutans, fully stopping its growth at a dose of 20 μg/mL. It also effectively eliminated the adherent cells of the said bacteria in water-insoluble glucan and prevented pH decrease in the broth. Aside from Streptococcus mutans, bakuchiol was bactericidal against Streptococcus sanguis, Streptococcus salivarius, Streptococcus sobrinus, Enterococcus faecalis, Enterococcus faecium, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus casei, Lactobacillus plantarum, Actinomyces viscosus, and Porphyromonas gingivalis. Its minimum inhibitory concentration ranged from 1 to 4 μg/mL. [19] Khatune et al. (2004) similarly reported psoralidin, bakuchicin, psoralin, and angelicin, which are other compounds isolated from Psoralea corylifolia seeds, to exhibit notable antibacterial effects against several Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria. [20] whereas Yin et al. (2004) isolated prenylflavone derivatives that had been noted to show noteworthy antibacterial activities against Staphylococcus aureus and Staphylococcus epidermidis. [21]


By employing an agar well diffusion method and measuring the zone of inhibition, Sharath et al. (2016) confirmed the in vitro antifungal property of both hexane and methanol extracts of Psoralea corylifolea seeds against Candida albicans and Aspergillus niger. [22] Borate et al. (2014 ) also presented their findings regarding the antifungal efficacy and potential of Psoralea corylifolea seed extract in methanol solvents and oil against three common pathogenic fungi in the skin, namely, Candida albicans, Aspergillus niger, and Malassezia furfur. [23]


Psoralen is a major furocoumarin found in Psoralea corylifolia seeds. Its antidepressant-like activity was confirmed by Xu et al. (2008) by employing forced swimming test in a mouse model of depression. The forced swimming test has been observed to induce abnormalities in the levels of serotonin and 5-hydroxyindoleacetic acid in the frontal cortex and hippocampus of mice, but psoralen reversed such alterations and ameliorated the increase in concentrations of serum corticotropin-releasing factor and corticosterone in the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis. Most importantly, psoralen considerably diminished the immobility and increased swimming in mice undergoing the test without changing their climbing activity. [24]

Another study of Chen et al. (2007) focused on the total furocoumarins obtained from Psoralea corylifolia seeds and their behavioral and biochemical effects in mouse model of depression. Findings from this study verified the potent and fast antidepressant action of Psoralea corylifolia furocoumarins in mice exposed to chronic mild stress and associated such property with mediation of monoamine oxidase (MAO), HPA axis, and oxidative systems. Furthermore, total furocoumarins of Psoralea corylifolia reversed the deficits in sucrose consumption and increases in MAO-A and MAO-B activities, plasma cortisol and malondialdehyde levels, and superoxide dismutase activity in the liver triggered by chronic mild stress. Treatment using high and low doses of furocoumarins produced statistically significant effects after 3 days and 6 days. [8]


Oral intake of Psoralea fruits had been proven by Wong and Rabie (2010) to increase bone density and to trigger systemic modification of bone histomorphology. In this study, 20 microtomographic slices were procured from the proximal end of the left tibia of male mice experimentally fed with Psoralea fruit extract mixed with distilled water. Results from micro-computed tomography indicated a significant 11.8% increase in bone volume/tissue volume ratio due to consumption of extract, whereas findings from quantitative morphometry of the bone structure revealed a 7.1% increase in thickness of bone trabeculae. [7] In ovariectomized rats, Tsai et al. (2007) showed the protective activity of Psoralea corylifolia extract against postmenopausal osteoporosis and its beneficial effects on bone mineral density and bone formation. Orally administered to rats at a dose of 25 mg or 50 mg/kg/day for 3 months, the extract did not affect weight gain or uterine weight but significantly elevated the levels of serum calcium and reduced its excretion through the urine. Moreover, 50 mg/kg extract notably increased the bone mineral density in rats and inhibited the ovariectomy-induced upregulation of serum osteocalcin level. [25]


A hydrophilic ointment (10% w/w) prepared from Psoralea corylifolia seed powder had been shown by Hussain et al. (2016) to be effective for small circular white lesions of vitiligo, a dermatological condition that affects 1–2% of population across the world. In this study, the tested formulation was applied on the affected body parts of 20 healthy patients once a day. A few days after application, positive skin changes were observed such as well-vascularized white patches and growth of normal pigmented skin from the edges of patches, which had become slightly hard. Moreover, such pigmented skin progressively covered the entire patch and the white patch eventually faded and darkened. The skin normalized 4 weeks after the termination of ointment therapy, and a follow-up 3 months after the completion of the trial indicated normal recovered skin. [26]

Contraindications, Interactions, And Safety

The use of Psoralea preparations at their prescribed doses is considered safe, with no herb–drug interactions having been known. [1] Caution should still be exercised, especially when externally applied or used during pregnancy because of the limited information on its safety. Although several countries accept Psoralea fruits as proprietary medicine, they are also identified to contain hepatotoxins. Cheung et al. (2009) reported three cases of acute hepatitis or liver injury associated with exposure to Psoralea fruits and attributed such hepatotoxicity in some individuals to the fruits’ psoralen content. [6] The components of Psoralea, especially psoralen and its derivatives, may cause acute dermatitis with blistering, edema, kidney complications, and other side effects such as nausea and vomiting, insomnia, malaise, loose motions, and headache. [1]


[1] P. Khushboo, V. Jadhav, V. Kadam and N. Sathe, "Psoralea corylifolia Linn.—“Kushtanashini”," Pharmacognosy Reviews, vol. 4, no. 7, p. 69–76, 2010.

[2] V. Rajpal, Standardization of Botanicals, vol. II, New Delhi: Eastern Publishers, 2005, p. 284–295.

[3] S. Sangeetha and D. Sarada, "Psoralea corylifolia linn. (seeds): a phytochemical review," Journal of Pharmacy Research, vol. 5, no. 3, p. 1694–1695, 2012.

[4] C. Qiao, Q. Han, J. Song, et al., "Quality assessment of fructus psoraleae," Chemical and Pharmaceutical Bulletin, vol. 54, no. 6, p. 887–890, 2006.

[5] X. Cheng, Easy Comprehension of Traditional Chinese Medicine: Chinese Materia Medica, Calgary, Alberta: Canadian Institute of Traditional Chinese Medicine, 2001, p. 343.

[6] W. Cheung, M. Tse, T. Ngan, et al., "Liver injury associated with the use of Fructus Psoraleae (Bol-gol-zhee or Bu-gu-zhi) and its related proprietary medicine," Clinical Toxicology, vol. 47, no. 7, p. 683–685, 2009.

[7] R. Wong and A. Rabie, "Systemic effect of Fructus Psoraleae extract on bone in mice," Phytotherapy Research, vol. 24, no. 10, p. 1578–1580, 2010.

[8] Y. Chen, H. Wang, X. Xia, H. Kung, Y. Pan and L. Kong, "Behavioral and biochemical studies of total furocoumarins from seeds of Psoralea corylifolia in the chronic mild stress model of depression in mice," Phytomedicine, vol. 14, no. 7–8, p. 523–529, 2007.

[9] H. Chang and P. But, Pharmacology and application of Chinese materia medica, Singapore: World Scientific, 1986.

[10] Ruan B, L. Kong, Y. Takaya and M. Niwa, "Studies on the chemical constituents of Psoralea corylifolia L.," Journal of Asian Natural Products Research, vol. 9, no. 1, p. 41–44, 2007.

[11] C.-F. Lin, Y.-L. Huang, M.-Y. Chien, et al., " Analysis of bakuchiol, psoralen and angelicin in crude drugs and commercial concentrated products of fructus psoraleae," Journal of Food and Drug Analysis, vol. 15, no. 4, p. 433–437, 2007.

[12] A. Pai, J. Rajendra and J. V. L. N. S. Rao, "In vitro evaluation of antioxidant activity and estimation of total flavonoids in seeds of Psoralea corylifolia plant extracts," International Journal of Phytomedicine, vol. 5, p. 108–112, 2013.

[13] G. Jiangning, W. Xinchu, et al., "Antioxidants from a Chinese medicinal herb – Psoralea corylifolia L," Food Chemistry, vol. 91, no. 2, p. 287–292, 2005.

[14] P. Latha, D. Evans, K. Panikkar and K. Jayavardhanan, "Immunomodulatory and antitumour properties of Psoralea corylifolia seeds," Fitoterapia, vol. 71, no. 3, p. 223–231, 2000.

[15] J. Guo, H. Wu, et al., "Studies on extraction and isolation of active constituents from Psoralen corylifolia L. and the antitumor effect of the constituents in vitro," Zhong Yao Cai, vol. 26, no. 3, p. 185–187, 2003.

[16] Y. Yang, J. Hyun, M. Sung, et al., "The cytotoxicity of psoralidin from Psoralea corylifolia," Planta Medica, vol. 62, no. 4, p. 353–354, 1996.

[17] Y. Kim, H. Lim, J. Lee and S. Jeong, "Quantitative analysis of Psoralea corylifolia Linne and its neuroprotective and anti-neuroinflammatory effects in HT22 hippocampal cells and BV-2 microglia," Molecules, vol. 21, no. 8, p. E1076, 2016.

[18] E. Seo, E.-K. Lee, C. Lee, et al., "Psoralea corylifolia L. seed extract ameliorates streptozotocin-induced diabetes in mice by inhibition of oxidative stress," Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, vol. 2014, p. 9, 2014.

[19] H. Katsura, R.-I. Tsukiyama, A. Suzuki and . M. Kobayashi, "In vitro antimicrobial activities of bakuchiol against oral microorganisms," Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, vol. 45, no. 11, p. 3009–3013, 2001.

[20] N. Khatune, M. Islam, M. Haque, P. Khondkar and M. Rahman, "Antibacterial compounds from the seeds of Psoralea corylifolia," Fitoterapia, vol. 75, no. 2, p. 228–230, 2004.

[21] S. Yin, C. Fan, et al., "Antibacterial prenylflavone derivatives from Psoralea corylifolia, and their structure-activity relationship study," Bioorganic & Medicinal Chemistry, vol. 12, no. 16, p. 4387–4392, 2004.

[22] K. Sharath, G. Krishna Mohan, et al., "Evaluation of antibacterial and anti fungal activity of hexane and methanol extracts of Psoralea corylifolea seed," International Journal of Applied Pharmaceutical Sciences and Research, vol. 1, no. 1, p. 25–30, 2016.

[23] A. Borate, M. Udgire and A. Khambhapati, "Antifungal activity associated with Psoralea corylifolia linn. (bakuchi) seed and chemical profile crude methanol seed extract," Mintage Journal of Pharmaceutical and Medicinal Sciences, vol. 3, no. 3, p. 4–6, 2014.

[24] Q. Xu, Y. Pan, L. Yi, et al., "Antidepressant-like effects of psoralen isolated from the seeds of Psoralea corylifolia in the mouse forced swimming test," Biological and Pharmaceutical Bulletin, vol. 31, no. 6, p. 1109–1114, 2008.

[25] M. Tsai, G. Huang, et al., "Psoralea corylifolia extract ameliorates experimental osteoporosis in ovariectomized rats," American Journal of Chinese Medicine, vol. 35, no. 4, p. 669–680, 2007.

[26] I. Hussain, N. Hussain, A. Manan, et al., "Fabrication of anti-vitiligo ointment containing Psoralea corylifolia: in vitro and in vivo characterization," Drug Design, Development and Therapy, vol. 10, p. 3805–3816, 2016.

Article researched and created by Dan Albir for © 2018

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