Esfand, Epand or Esphand has a strong presence in every Persian house and cultural rituals. Iranians believe that this dried herb has the magical power to stave off harm and avert the negative vibes. Burning Esfand is a supernatural protector against negativity and bad luck.

What is Esfand?

Esfand is the seeds and dried fruits of Garden Rue or Peganum harmala. This short evergreen plant is endemic to the Mediterranean and the Middle East regions. When the flowers of Rue get dried, in the middle of the petals, there is a tiny three-chamber pale yellow fruit. The fruit has many tiny blackish-brown seeds that have magical and medicinal usages.

Esfand seeds

Benefits of Esfand

In different regions, people use Esfand’s extract, oil, or crushed seeds for medical purposes. The seeds of this herb are hot in nature and help to balance the body system.
It has antispasmodic effects to heal stomach cramps and to expel parasitic worms. It is antibacterial and is efficient in curing algae or moulds. This herb can treat throat diseases and the flu because of its strong disinfectant property.
Espand is also effective in treating vomit and diuretic problems.
Burning Espand and releasing its warm herbal aroma stimulate the mind, soothe the senses and cast down negative moods.

Superstitions & Beliefs about Esfand

As historians said, belief in the Evil Eye and curses dates back to the Sumerians, at least 5,000 years ago.
Almost in every culture, the traces of belief in the curse existence can be found. But the representation of the evil eye and curses vary across regions, religions, and millennia. Along with these strong opinions on talismans, there are rituals, prayers, and charms to dispel these amulets.
Like sage burning among native Americans, Aboriginal tribes, or Mesoamerican region, smudging or burning herbs is a common tradition in many cultures.

In different parts of the world, people burn various aromatic herbs to cleanse a person and place from devilish vibes.
Iranians traditionally considered Esfand as a sacred herb. They believed in the magical power of this herb to protect you and your place from evils and curses. Burning Esfand is a Zoroastrian tradition that Iranians brought to the Islamic era. They thought that burning this divine herb would cast away sorrow, illness and negative energies; therefore, it has a strong presence in rituals and special ceremonies like wedding or Nowruz. They strongly believed that Esfand can protect the ones exposed to its smoke in the safe hand.

Burning these tiny seeds is not restricted to specific ceremonies. You can see it in everyday occasions too. For instance, when a shop keeper opens his shop in the morning or when one moves to a new home, Esfand burning is a common act.  Actually it is a kind of cleansing act besides guarding the place or the person against evil spirits.
You may also see a person waving this aromatic herb around while you are stuck in traffic. In this case, the driver usually gives money to that person as almsgiving and gratitude.

How To Use It

To burn Esfand, you simply need an aluminium foil or a metallic container for hot coals and then you need to put these tiny seeds on them. The modern electronic types of Esfand seed burners make it easier to burn this aromatic herb.
Sprinkling Espand seeds on hot coals make an exciting popping sound. It gives somehow a sacred sense to the place when its light smoke and warm herb scent fill the air.

Burning Esfand

To protect you from “Cheshm Zakhm” or being jinxed, the smoke of burning seeds should be circled around your head or carried around the house several times.
While moving the burner around, it is common to say Salawats, a special Arabic salutation upon the prophet of Islam, Muhammad and his family. As a part of this ritual, Iranian also recite a special song to curse the evils :

Esfand o Esfand doone
Esfand si o se doone
betarake cheshme bakhil, hasood, o bigane

The simple translation of this chant is:
Esfand and Esfand seeds
Thirthy_three seeds
Eyes of means, eyes of none
Eyes of enemies, eyes of the jealous one
Burn in this crackling fire

Esfand seeds

Âtel o Bâtel” is a special mixture of coloured Esfand, angelica, green leaves, salt, nigella, and alum to ward off bad energies. Some believe that the smoke exiting from this mixture can cure seventy-two various ailments.
You can find Esfand in local bazaars of different cities as well as grocery stores.

Photos by Samaneh Zohrabi