The generic name Thapsia is derived from the ancient Greek language and the island of ancient Thapsos in Sicily. The root of Thapsia garganica plant has a long history of being used in ancient traditional medicine. Theophrastus, the “Father of Botany” in ancient Greece, spoke of the laxative properties of the root and that it can also cause vomiting. The Algerians recognized that the entire plant was highly inflammatory and could leave scars, though they could make it into a plaster and use it as a pain-reliever.
Thapsia, commonly known as the “deadly carrot” because it was deadly poisonous to camels, is a small genus of poisonous plants in the family Apiaceae. Species of Thapsia are herbaceous perennials, growing 50 to 200 cm (about 1.5 – 6.5 feet) high and resemble the fennel plant. The inflorescences, or flower clusters, are large, regularly distributed umbels, similar in appearance to the ribs of an umbrella. The seeds have four wings, and are the main characteristic of the genus, which is distributed across the Mediterranean, on the Iberian Peninsula, and in North Africa.
The chemical compound thapsigargin has been isolated from Thapsia garganica. The active ingredient kills tumor cells by destroying their calcium balance.