Arabic: Shabba, Shabb;
Other English: Potassium Alum, Potash Alum
First-time visitors to Middle Eastern markets may be puzzled to see piles of stones displayed prominently among the herbs and spices. One of them is alum, a crystal-white mineral often imported from China. Alum is a compound of several metals, including aluminum. It is an astringent, widely used in the Middle East to control bleeding and to clean and heal wounds. Shabba powder is mixed with henna for skin decoration, and when applied to the underarms, it acts as a deodorant. Alum is not ingested, nor is it used in cooking.
Did you know?
- In ancient Babylon, physicians used alum in a mouthwash, as a styptic, as a pessary for menorrhagia, as a nasal douche, and as a treatment for itchy scabs, gonorrhea and purulent ophthalmia. Greek and then Arab medical authorities continued these practices, and went on to use alum for the treatment of leprosy, bad gums, pustules and ear trouble.
- The alums are valuable in paper manufacturing, textile dyeing, fireproofing, water purification, and in medicine as astringents, styptics and emetics.
- The Alum Mountain, in Bulahdelah, Australia, is the only known above-ground outcrop of alum stone (alunite) in the world.
- Using shabba deodorant stones is considered safe and will not cause high levels of aluminum in your system. This is because potassium alum molecules have a negative ionic charge, and the aluminum is unable to pass through cell walls.
- Bauxite, the ore from which alum is drawn, can be purified and converted directly into alum.