Nigella sativa

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Nigella sativa (Ranunculaceae) commonly known as black cumin and sometimes as black caraway, is a small annual herbaceous plant believed to be indigenous to Southern Europe but has been cultivated in other parts of the world including the Mediterranean region, Arabian Peninsula, northern Africa, and parts of Asia including India. It bears trigonous, rugulose tubular, black seeds 2-3 mm in length, which have been used for centuries for medicinal and culinary purposes. It is wildly used for various ailments including colds, infections (microbial and viral) as well as pulmonary diseases [1]


Black cumin was discovered in Tutenkhamen’s tomb, implying it played an important role in Egyptian practices. Although its exact role in Egyptian culture is unknown, we do know that items entombed with a king were carefully selected to assist him in the after life. The earliest written reference to black cumin is found in the book of Isaiah in the Old Testament. Isaiah contrasts the reaping of black cumin with wheat.[2] Easton’s bible dictionary clarifies that the Hebrew word for black cumin, ketsah, refers to without doubt the Nigella sativa.

Culinary uses

The flavor is similar to that of caraway, but some bakers find it gives a superior result when substituted for caraway seed in rye breads.

Traditional medicine

In the Unani Tibb system of medicine, black cumin has been regarded as a valuable remedy in a number of diseases. Ibn Sina (980-1037 A.D.), most famous for his volumes called ‘The Canon of medicine’ regarded by many as the most famous book in the history of medicine, refers to black cumin as the seed that stimulates the body’s energy and helps recovery from fatigue and dispiritedness and several therapeutic effects on digestive disorders, gynecological diseases and respiratory system have been ascribed to the seeds of N. sativa.[3] It is also included in the list of natural drugs of ‘Tibb e nabwi’, or prophetic medicine, according to the tradition “hold onto the use of the black seeds for in it is healing for all diseases except death”.[4] The seeds have been traditionally used in the middle east and South east Asian countries to treat ailments including Asthma, Bronchitis, Rheumatism and related inflammatory diseases, to increase milk production in nursing mothers, to promote digestion and to fight parasitic infections. Its oil has been used to treat skin conditions such as eczema and boils and to treat cold symptoms. The many uses of black cumin as earned for this ancient herb the Arabic approbation ‘Habbatul barakah’ meaning the seed of blessing.[5]


  1. (Mouhajir, F., Pedersen J. A., et al., 1999).
  2. (Isaiah 28: 25, 27 nkjv)
  3. (Ave-sina, Sharafkhandy A.1990)
  4. (Sahih Bukhari vol. 7 book 71 # 592)
  5. (Sayed M.D.1980)