The crescent-shaped seeds of pretty, feathery-leaved Nigella sativa are well known to herbal remedy practitioners in the Middle East, the Mediterranean and India, where they have been used for centuries to prevent and treat diseases and conditions ranging from asthma to diarrhoea and dyslipidaemia (an abnormality in the amount of lipids – cholesterol or fat – in the blood. The seeds have a nutty, slightly bitter flavour that makes them popular as a seasoning spice.
The black seeds, also called black cumin and black seed, and oil extracted from the seeds are used in herbal remedies.
The seeds of Nigella sativa contain fixed and essential oils, proteins, alkaloids and saponin. Much of the biological activity is attributed to thymoquinone, a compound that is said to protect against nephrotoxicity and hepatotoxicity (damage to the kidneys and liver caused by either medications or toxic chemicals).
Nigella seeds and oil have anti-inflammatory, analgesic (pain-relieving), antipyretic (fever-reducing), antimicrobial and antineoplastic activity, helping to prevent the development of tumours. Interestingly, recommended supplemental doses of Nigella are similar to amounts used as a culinary spice. Nigella is prescribed to:
- Help treat colic, stomach upsets, flatulence, diarrhoea, haemorrhoids, constipation and other digestive disorders.
- Help reduce elevated triglycerides and glucose and possibly normalise cholesterol metabolism.
- Act as a general anti-inflammatory (useful for people suffering with rheumatoid arthritis).
- Boost immunity.
- Help fight bacterial infections.
- May help fight cancer.
- Treat illnesses related to the respiratory system such as asthma, bronchitis and colds.
- Stimulate menstrual periods.
- Help increase the flow of breast milk in nursing mothers.
- May stimulate energy and help in recovery from fatigue and low spirits.
Domestic & culinary uses
Nigella seeds have a slightly bitter flavour that one writer refers to as ‘the bits of burned onion, poppy and sesame seeds that fall off a toasted bagel’. The seeds are excellent in curries and other Asian dishes (first toast them lightly to release the oils, then grind or toss whole into the dish). This naan bread is both easy and delicious!
Sew Nigella sativa seeds in spring in well-drained soil in a sunny spot. The plant reaches up to 30 cm in height and bears delicate pale blue and white flowers. The fruit is a large and inflated capsule comprising up to seven follicles that each contain numerous seeds.
Acknowledgements & credits
Compiled for Flora Force by Judy Beyer
- Ali, B.H., Blunden, G. Pharmacological and toxicological properties of Nigella sativa. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12722128
- Examine.com. Nigella sativa. http://examine.com/supplements/Nigella+sativa/
- Isaacs, T. Black Cumin Seeds provide many wonderful health benefits. www.naturalnews.com/030800_cumin_seeds_health.html#ixzz3XpmYkitW
- Van Wyk, B-E. and Wink, M. Medicinal Plants of the World. 2004. Briza Publications, Pretoria, South Africa.
- Nigella photo by H. Zell (Own work)