The Flower of Maryam (Anastatica hierochuntica) is a small shrub collected across North Africa, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Pakistan, and among its most popular medicinal uses is its application for childbirth. Whether its medicinal properties encourage dilation, or if it’s a powerful visualization tool for mothers, traditional midwives have used the Flower of Maryam with their laboring mothers for hundreds of years. A quick glance at its names (below) suggests its religious significance: it is referred to as the “leaf of Maryam” (mother of Jesus), the “hand of Fatima” (daughter of the Prophet ﷺ), as well as simply “daughter of the Prophet ﷺ,” and “resurrection plant.” It is referenced in the Bible in II Kings 19:34-36 and in Psalms 83:13, “make them like tumbleweed,” here referring to the dried twiggy balls of Anastatica that disperse in the wind, scattering its seeds.
Anastatica is notable for its ability to survive in arid conditions—it simply dries up into a ball and awaits the next rain, at which point it reveals small slender leaves and tiny white flowers. It is hygroscopic; its branches immediately reconstitute in the presence of water. It is picked (leaves, woody parts, and seeds) from February to April from shallow gravel desert soils and allowed to dry.
As a medicinal preparation, it is reconstituted in water and taken internally for colds, as an emmenagogue (to bring on menstruation), for epilepsy, uterine hemorrhage, and to bring pain relief and support for childbirth. In some places, it is burned as an incense during labor, made into a powder mixed with olive oil and honey, and as a liquid from fresh leaves is used as a treatment for conjunctivitis and other problems of the eye. It has also made its way to Europe where it is used in Christmas celebrations. It is also used medicinally in countries where it does not grow; in Malaysia, it is commonly used for childbirth, where many women purchase herbal preparations directly from traditional midwives.
Its constituents including alkaloids, anastatins, bioflavonoids, glucosinolates, saponins, sterols/triterpenes, and tannins. It also contains a number of elements useful for pregnancy and labor, including calcium, magnesium, potassium, zinc, and iron; in particular, calcium and magnesium work together to coordinate and regulate smooth muscle contractions.