103 Alkanet (Alkannin)

Posted 19 Oct 2023
103 Alkanet (Alkannin)

What is alkanet, and where is it used?

Alkanet, scientifically known as Alkanna tinctoria, is a plant from the Boraginaceae family that thrives in the Mediterranean region [1-3]. Its highly prized roots contain a vibrant red dye, making it a sought-after natural colouring agent. Historically, the roots of alkanet have been employed in diverse industries, including textile, cosmetics, and alcoholic beverages, to infuse rich hues into fabrics, beauty products, and drinks [1-4].

Within alkanet roots, resides alkannin, E103, an essential red pigment [1-3]. Alkannin, functioning as a natural dye compound, serves as the primary colouring component derived from alkanet. With its deep crimson shade and solubility in oils and alcohol, alkannin finds extensive utilisation in an array of applications. It imparts captivating colours to fabrics, lip balms, soaps, oils, and various other products [1-4].

Purported Health Benefits

While alkanet and alkannin are primarily known for their use as natural dyes, they have also been associated with certain purported health benefits.

  • Antioxidant Properties: Alkannin, the red pigment found in alkanet, is believed to possess antioxidant properties [1-2, 7-8]. Antioxidants help protect the body against oxidative stress and the damage caused by harmful free radicals.

  • Anti-inflammatory Effects: Some traditional practices suggest that alkanet may have anti-inflammatory effects [1-2, 5, 7-8]. It is purported to help reduce inflammation and alleviate associated symptoms.

  • Skin Health Support: Alkanet and alkannin are sometimes used in skincare products due to their potential skin-soothing properties [2, 6, 8]. They are claimed to help promote healthy skin, address minor skin irritations, and support overall skin well-being.

  • Digestive Aid: In certain traditional systems, alkanet has been utilised as a digestive aid. It is believed to help improve digestion and alleviate common gastrointestinal discomfort [7, 9-10].

  • Respiratory Support: Alkanet is sometimes used in herbal remedies to support respiratory health. It is purported to have expectorant properties and help soothe respiratory discomfort [10,11].

  • Wound Healing: Alkannin's potential antimicrobial and wound-healing properties have led to its use in traditional medicine for minor wound care [6, 8]. It is believed to aid in the healing process and protect against infections.

Recommendations for Safe Consumption

  • Allergies and Sensitivities: Be aware of any known allergies or sensitivities to plants or natural dyes. Perform a patch test or start with a small amount to assess your individual tolerance before consuming larger quantities [9].

  • Consult with a Healthcare Professional: Before considering the consumption of alkanet or alkannin for any health-related purposes, it's crucial to consult with a qualified healthcare professional. They can provide personalised advice based on your specific health condition, potential allergies, and medication interactions.

  • Follow Recommended Dosages: If consuming alkanet or alkannin under professional guidance, adhere strictly to the recommended dosages. Excessive consumption may lead to adverse effects or potential toxicity [12].

  • Quality and Source: Ensure that the alkanet or alkannin product you choose is of high quality and obtained from a reputable source. Look for products that undergo rigorous testing and adhere to safety standards.

  • Adhere to Product Instructions: If you purchase products containing alkanet or alkannin, such as herbal supplements or teas, carefully read and follow the instructions provided by the manufacturer. Respect the recommended serving sizes and usage guidelines.

  • Not a Substitute for Medical Treatment: Remember that alkanet and alkannin are not substitutes for medical treatment or professional healthcare advice. They should not be relied upon solely for treating or managing any health condition.

  • Staining: Alkannin's potent red dye can stain fabrics, surfaces, or skin, requiring careful handling and application.


  1. Assimopoulou AN, Boskou D, Papageorgiou VP. Antioxidant activities of alkannin, shikonin and Alkanna tinctoria root extracts in oil substrates. Food Chemistry. 2004 Sep 1;87(3):433-8.

  2. Hanif MA, Nawaz H, Khan MM, Byrne HJ. Medicinal Plants of South Asia. Amsterdam: Susan Dennis. 2020.

  3. Cartabia A, Sarropoulou V, Grigoriadou K, Maloupa E, Declerck S. In vitro propagation of Alkanna tinctoria Tausch.: A medicinal plant of the Boraginaceae family with high pharmaceutical value. Industrial Crops and Products. 2022 Aug 1;182:114860.

  4. Yaglıoglu AS, Eser F, Dolarslan M. Phenolic Compounds, Dyeing Potential, and Cytotoxic Activity of Alkanna orientalis L. Boiss (Boraginaceae). AATCC Journal of Research. 2022 Mar;9(2):106-14.

  5. Adeel S, Liaqat S, Hussaan M, Mia R, Ahmed B, Wafa H. Environmental friendly bio-dyeing of silk using Alkanna tinctoria based Alkannin natural dye. Industrial Crops and Products. 2022 Oct 15;186:115301.

  6. Kheiri A, Amini S, Javidan AN, Saghafi MM, Khorasani G. The effects of Alkanna tinctoria Tausch on split-thickness skin graft donor site management: a randomized, blinded placebo-controlled trial. BMC complementary and alternative medicine. 2017 Dec;17(1):1-5.

  7. Papageorgiou VP, Assimopoulou AN, Couladouros EA, Hepworth D, Nicolaou KC. The chemistry and biology of alkannin, shikonin, and related naphthazarin natural products. Angewandte Chemie International Edition. 1999 Feb 1;38(3):270-301.

  8. Pavithra TK, Kumar BS, Mouna A, Munegowda S. Formulation and Evaluation of Herbal Lipstick Containing Alkanet Root as a Natural Colorant. Dermatitis.;3:4.

  9. Kaur K, Sharma R, Singh A, Attri S, Arora S, Kaur S, Bedi N. Pharmacological and analytical aspects of alkannin/shikonin and their derivatives: An update from 2008 to 2022. Chinese Herbal Medicines. 2022 Sep 20.

  10. Adeel S, Naseer A, Habib N, Ozomay M. Sustainable approach toward antibacterial textiles. InFunctional and Technical Textiles 2023 Jan 1 (pp. 177-211). Woodhead Publishing.

  11. Khare CP. Indian medicinal plants: an illustrated dictionary. Springer Science & Business Media; 2008 Apr 22.

  12. Huu Tung N, Du GJ, Wang CZ, Yuan CS, Shoyama Y. Naphthoquinone components from Alkanna tinctoria (L.) Tausch show significant antiproliferative effects on human colorectal cancer cells. Phytotherapy Research. 2013 Jan;27(1):66-70.


We do our best to source robust information from a number of credible sources.  There is, however, a large amount of information on various aspects of nutritional elements along with  claims in terms of their contribution to helping in body health which may contradict the above.