Nigella Seeds: Black, Tiny and Mighty

Benefits of Nigella Seed (black seed)

A few things top a heart-warming smell of freshly baked pastry sprinkled with Nigella seeds. Tiny, black and fragrant, Nigella seeds complement many dishes aside from pastries and breads. They are irresistible too—I dig them out of fresh bread and eat even though I have a container of seeds stored in my cupboard.

Nigella: A tale of discovery

In so many ways, Nigella seeds are both old and new. Its healing powers were known since ancient times by physicians and herbalists. The seeds of Nigella played a significant role in the old Egypt as the seeds were found in the tomb of Tutankhamun (1332 BC–1323 BC). Dioscorides (40–90 AD), a Greek pharmacologist, botanist and physician recorded that Nigella seeds were taken to treat headaches, nasal catarrh, toothache, worms, to increase breast milk and as a diuretic. Romans used Nigella for culinary purposes.

The name Nigella derives from the Latin nigellus or niger, meaning black. It is commonly referred to as “black cumin”, “black seed”, “onion seed” and “black sesame seed” and known by different names in different countries—kalonji (Hindi), çörek otu (Turkish) and ketzakh (Hebrew). Thus, the definite and best method to refer to this seed is to use its Latin name: Nigella sativa.

Today, Nigella is receiving increased attention thanks to the fact that this well-known and ancient folk remedy is becoming celebrated for its scientifically documented health benefits.

Nigella sativa flower

Uses and Benefits of Nigella

Nigella seeds and oil are known to possess several pharmacological properties such as sedative, anti-inflammatory and expectorant. Here are some of them:

Skin conditions: In vitiligo, Nigella powder is used as vinegar and applied to affected areas. A decoction of seeds mixed with sesame oil is used externally in various skin eruptions[i].

Insect Repellent: From ancient times the seed has been used in woolen and silk clothes to protect them from insects[ii].

Respiratory: Clinical trials show Nigella’s therapeutic use in conditions of cough and bronchial-asthma[iii].

Antibacterial and Antiviral: Alcoholic extracts of the seeds show antibacterial activity against Micrococcus pyogenes var. aureus and Escherichia coli[iv]. The seed also shows a strong effect against Murine cytomegalovirus[v].

Carminative: Nigella is used in Indian medicine as a carminative and stimulant and is used against indigestion and bowel complaints[vi].

Cancer: Nigella was shown to exhibit anti-cancer properties in various in vitro and in vivo research studies[vii][viii]. It is a constituent known as quinone, known also as thymoquinine or TQ, identified in Nigella, that exhibits this remarkable property.

According to a renowned botanist and professor of botanical healing, Dr. James A. Duke[ix], Nigella seeds posses efficacy proven out experimentally, (including experiments involving animals and in vitro that are not corroborated by clinical trials) for the following conditions: Amoeba, Anorexia, Arthrosis, Asthma, Bronchitis, Bronchospasm, Cancer, Candida, Cough, Cramp,  Diabetes, Escherichia, Fever, Fungus,  Gas, Gout, High blood pressure, High cholesterol, HIV, Immuno-depression, Infection; Inflammation, Pain,  Parasite, PMS, Salmonella,  Staphylococcus, Tapeworm and Yeast.

Dr. Duke recommends the following dosages of Nigella seeds: 0.6 to 1.2 g or 1 teaspoon of seeds to prepare a hot tea.

nigella seeds

Some Folk Uses of Nigella:

Nigella seeds are known from ancient times as a successful remedy for intestinal parasites, headache and toothache.

For relief from cold and nose catarrh, the seeds of Nigella are fried, bruised and than tied in a muslin bag. This remedy should be inhaled[x].

For relief from fever, Nigella seeds are slightly roasted and given in two-drahm (1 drahm=60 grains or 1/8 of an ounce) doses with the addition of an equal quantity of treacle[xi].

In doses of 10–20 grains, Nigella seeds are recommended to increase menstrual flow (emmenagogue), in cases of painful menstrual period (dysmenorrhoea)[xii].

A mixture made of Nigella seeds, black pepper, cumin seeds, raisins, pomegranate juice, tamarind pulp and sonchal salt mixed with treacle and honey is very useful in cases of decreased appetite[xiii].

Powdered Nigella seeds in vinegar can be used for skin and hair disorders such as ringworm (a condition that affects scalp or the feet, such as athlete’s foot), eczema and baldness[xiv].

A tea made from crushed Nigella sativa seeds (nigella), Lepidium sativum (gardencress), Trigonella foenum-graecum (fenugreek), Commiphora spp. (myrrh) and dried leaves of Cleome spp. (spiderflower), Ambrosia maritima (ragweed) and Centaurium pulchellum (lesser centaury) is recommended for the treatment of diabetes[xv].

Nigella is Mighty

It is best to use Nigella with caution. More doesn’t equal better. The Nigella seeds produce a volatile oil containing melanthin and nigelline. Melanthin can be toxic in large doses and nigelline has paralytic properties[xvi].

Also, according to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, the seeds in doses greater than 2 grams per kg of weight may cause liver damage[xvii].

Nigella and Honey Booster — Immunity and Well-being

My India-born colleague from grad school was kind to share this recipe with me. It is said to promote overall well-being and immunity. It is also remarkably simple to prepare at home. Nigella seeds are easy to obtain and store really well.

Nigella Seeds and Honey

Place whole Nigella seeds (1/3 cup) in the oven and heat at low temperature for 10-15 minutes. Taste the seeds occasionally and remove from the oven when the sharp taste of Nigella is reduced a bit. Let the seeds cool down. Place the seeds in the grinder or blender and grind to the consistency of coffee. Transfer the seeds in a dry, clean jar and add an equal amount of honey. Mix really well! Store at room temperature. Take one teaspoon, ideally on an empty stomach in the morning (with a glass of water or lemonade).

Adulteration of Nigella

Nigella seed is may be adulterated by non-viable and aged onion seeds (Allium cepa), because of their high similarity with Nigella seeds. In addition, the exhausted Nigella seed (seed after the oil extraction) may be adulterated and sold in ground form[xviii]. Thus, it is advisable to get this seed from a trustworthy supplier.

References


[i] PRUTHI, J.S. (2001), Minor Spices and Condiments. ICAR, New Delhi, pp. 1–782.

[ii] PRUTHI, J.S. (2001), Minor Spices and Condiments. ICAR, New Delhi, pp. 1–782.

[iii] Peter, K. V., ed. Handbook of Herbs and Spices: Volume 2. Vol. 2. Woodhead publishing, 2004.

[iv] PRUTHI, J.S. (2001), Minor Spices and Condiments. ICAR, New Delhi, pp. 1–782.

[v] Salem, M. L., & Hossain, M. S. (2000). Protective effect of black seed oil from Nigella sativa against murine cytomegalovirus infection. International journal of immunopharmacology, 22(9), 729-740.

[vi] Peter, K. V., ed. Handbook of Herbs and Spices: Volume 2. Vol. 2. Woodhead publishing, 2004. Peter, K. V., ed. Handbook of Herbs and Spices: Volume 2. Vol. 2. Woodhead publishing, 2004.

[vii] Yi, T., Cho, S. G., Yi, Z., Pang, X., Rodriguez, M., Wang, Y. & Liu, M. (2008). Thymoquinone inhibits tumor angiogenesis and tumor growth through suppressing AKT and extracellular signal-regulated kinase signaling pathways. Molecular cancer therapeutics, 7(7), 1789-1796.

[viii] Ait Mbarek, L., Ait Mouse, H., Elabbadi, N., Bensalah, M., Gamouh, A., Aboufatima, R. & Zyad, A. (2007). Anti-tumor properties of blackseed (Nigella sativa L.) extracts. Brazilian Journal of Medical and Biological Research, 40(6), 839-847.

[ix] Duke, J. A. (2010). Handbook of medicinal herbs. CRC press.

[x] Peter, K. V., ed. Handbook of Herbs and Spices: Volume 2. Vol. 2. Woodhead publishing, 2004.

[xi] NADKARNI, K.M. (2001), Indian Plants and Drugs with their Medicinal Properties and Uses. Asiatic Pub. House, Delhi, India, pp. 259–60.

[xii] NADKARNI, K.M. (2001), Indian Plants and Drugs with their Medicinal Properties and Uses. Asiatic Pub. House, Delhi, India, pp. 259–60.

[xiii] NADKARNI, K.M. (2001), Indian Plants and Drugs with their Medicinal Properties and Uses. Asiatic Pub. House, Delhi, India, pp. 259–60.

[xiv] WEISS, E.A. (2002), Spices Crops. CABI Publishing, Wallingford, pp. 356–60.

[xv] WEISS, E.A. (2002), Spices Crops. CABI Publishing, Wallingford, pp. 356–60.

[xvi] Peter, K. V., ed. Handbook of Herbs and Spices: Volume 2. Vol. 2. Woodhead publishing, 2004.

[xvii] http://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/herb/nigella-sativa.

[xviii] Peter, K. V., ed. Handbook of Herbs and Spices: Volume 2. Vol. 2. Woodhead publishing, 2004. Peter, K. V., ed. Handbook of Herbs and Spices: Volume 2. Vol. 2. Woodhead publishing, 2004.

Note: For educational purposes only.

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