Nigella Seed

Latin Names: Nigella sativa

Other Names: Shuniz (Arabic); Cumin Noire (French); Melanthion (Greek); Kalonji (Hindi); Siya Danah, Sisazun (Persian); Chimen Negru (Romanian); Krishna Jiraka (Sanskrit); Shuniz (Arabic); Cumin Noire (French); Melanthion (Greek); Kalonji (Hindi); Siya Danah, Sisazun (Persian); Chimen Negru (Romanian); Krishna Jiraka (Sanskrit); Comino Negro, Caraveggia negra (Spanish); English Names: Black Seed, Black Cumin, Black Caraway, Love-in-the-Mist, the Fitches (Bible).Comino Negro, Caraveggia negra (Spanish); English Names: Black Seed, Black Cumin, Black Caraway, Love-in-the-Mist, the Fitches (Bible).

Taxonomy: Vegetable Kingdom, Ranunculaceae (Buttercup) family

Part Used: The seeds and their oil; the rootstock

Basic Qualities: Hot and Dry in the third degree (Avicenna).

Other Qualities: Light, scraping, loosening and opening

Taste: The seeds are very acrid, as well as pungent, bitter and aromatic. The oil has a spicy, nutty and aromatic flavor that can be quite pleasant once you get used to it.

Humoral Dynamics: Sanguine – invigorates the Blood, regulates and stimulates the female menses; abortifacient in large doses.  Phlegmatic – a powerful expectorant, due to its hot temperament as well as its strongly pungent and acrid taste, which cuts through and scrapes away accumulations of phlegm.  Clears phlegmatic accumulations away from the uterus.  Choleric – stimulates appetite and digestion, reduces pathological inflammation throughout the organism.  Cleanses and normalizes the bile.  Melancholic – a powerful antispasmodic that can loosen up spasms in the lungs and bronchi, as well as relieve intestinal and menstrual cramping and colic.  Nigella is a very warming, stimulating herb, and the most manifestly powerful therapeutic actions that it has are against aggravations of phlegm as an expectorant as well as the nervous or Melancholic humor as a loosening antispasmodic.  It also has a beneficial action on the warm or hot humors, making it a powerful panacea for improving many diverse health conditions and imbalances.

Tropism: the lungs, bronchi and respiratory tract; the stomach and digestive organs; the intestines; the brain and nervous system; the female reproductive system; the skin and hair.

Constituents and Pharmacology:

Medicinal Properties: Abortifacient, adaptogen, antiallergenic, antiasthmatic, antifungal, antihistamine, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antispasmodic, bronchodilator, carminative, corrective, emmenagogue, expectorant, immunomodulator, immunostimulant, inflammomodulatory, tonic, vermifuge.

Cautions and Contraindications: Because Nigella is an abortifacient, it should not be taken by pregnant women, especially in large doses. For everyone else, Nigella is very well tolerated, even in relatively large doses. Although there are no known negative drug interactions with Nigella, it can potentiate the effect of some drugs whose effects it mimics or reinforces. Please check with your physician if you are on prescription medications.

Medicinal Uses: Nigella Seed and its oil have a great reputation in South Asia and the Middle East as being a virtual panacea and health tonic for just about everything. Besides being used as an energy tonic for general health and prevention, Nigella is most well-known and appreciated as a great healer and balancer of the immune system, and of pathological or overblown inflammatory reactions throughout the body. Not only is it a great systemic anti-inflammatory, but it is also an antiallergenic that reduces allergic reactions, as well as an immunomodulator that reduces autoimmune reactions while benefiting normal, healthy immunity – which is something that no pharmaceutical drug can do. It treats various respiratory disorders, such as cough, asthma and respiratory allergies quite well. Being called Black Cumin, Nigella has carminative and antispasmodic effects that stimulate the appetite and digestion, and relieve colic, gas, distension and bloating in the GI tract. Its powerful effects as a carminative and intestinal antispasmodic also make it a great corrective to soften or moderate the overly harsh effects of strong laxative or purgative herbs and reduce intestinal cramping. It is also used as a vermifuge to expel intestinal worms and parasites. Having a strong loosening or antispasmodic character, Nigella seeds or its oil can also be used to subdue menstrual cramps in women, as well as to regulate and promote the menstrual flow. Because Nigella is an abortifacient, it should not be used during pregnancy. Nigella seeds are a powerful expectorant, due to their very acrid taste, which scrapes away excess phlegm; this acridity may be too powerful for some individuals, and for them, it is recommended that the seeds be boiled or cooked. These are the main medicinal uses of Nigella seeds and their oil, but because of the herb’s great value as a general tonic and adaptogen, people have found it to be useful in treating many more conditions and complaints than just these; some of these other conditions and complaints include: arthritis, hypertension, insomnia, mood swings and anxiety disorder, skin rashes, and much more. On the internet, you can find many glowing testimonials for the Black Seed for a whole range of conditions and disorders.

Other Uses: The other main uses of Nigella Seeds are culinary, with the best known of these being baking the seeds into bread in order to impart a spicy, nutty flavor to it. Since Nigella is called Black Cumin, it can also be used instead of regular cumin, or in addition to it, in soups, stews and sauces, wherever Cumin would be used; the only thing is you have to get used to the unique, distinctive flavor!

Preparation and Dosage: Despite its rather powerful taste and energetics, Nigella Seed and its oil are relatively mild and innocuous in their medicinal effects, and are well tolerated by the human organism. By far the most popular way to take Nigella is by taking its oil. A teaspoonful of the oil is a good and sufficient dose, or two softgel capsules, but a whole tablespoon, while being a stronger dose, does no harm, and may be preferable if stronger, quicker results are desired. Many find the taste of the oil to be a bit bitter or unpleasant, but believe me, it is something that many quickly get used to, or develop a taste for. But if you still can’t get used to the taste, you can wash it down with some fruit juice, or mix it in honey if you wish. Two doses per day is a good regimen, maybe three if you wish, either with meals or between meals. The oil is much more popular than the seeds themselves because the seeds have a strongly acrid taste that can mildly irritate the throat and pharynx of sensitive individuals. Either a few seeds can be chewed and swallowed, and perhaps washed down with water afterwards, or a halva or electuary can be made by mixing ground Nigella seeds with honey to make a paste; the Nigella seeds can be ground in an electric coffee grinder. You can play it by ear with the seeds or the halva when it comes to the size of a dose; of the halva, a quarter teaspoon, maybe a half teaspoon, is plenty, and with the seeds, munch on them until your mouth and throat start to feel it. The strongly acrid taste of the seeds is actually therapeutic, and acts as a purgative for getting rid of excess phlegm. Another popular way of preparing the seeds is to take them as a tea; take a quarter tablespoon of the seeds, crush them in a mortar and pestle, and boil them up in a cup of water, simmering for at least 10 to 15 minutes, until the brew is a rich brown color. Strain and drink. An alcoholic tincture can even be made of the seeds, and I don’t see why an acidic tincture with apple cider vinegar can’t do as well – prepare in standard doses and proportions and take in standard doses – 10 to 20 drops.

Herbal Formulation: Nigella, or the Black Seed, is usually prepared by itself and taken as a daily tonic, whether one takes the seeds, the halva, the oil, the tea or the tincture. However, there are some instances in which Nigella Seed can be combined synergistically with other herbs; in fact, if one visits Indian spice shops, one may even run into spice mixtures that contain the Black Seed. Black Seed, which is also called Black Cumin, may also be combined with regular Cumin, or other seeds with a similarly pungent, aromatic flavor and energetics. Nigella Seeds may also be used in combination with strong laxatives and purgatives in laxative formulas, since they have strong carminative and antispasmodic properties. Being an anti-inflammatory and an antispasmodic, or a muscle relaxant, Black Seed Oil can be combined with other base oils in massage oils; it also benefits the skin and hair.

Classic Combinations: With Fenugreek Seed (Trigonella foenum-graecum) as an expectorant in phlegm congestion, and as a metabolic stimulant in type 2 diabetes.  While both herbs have expectorant effects, Fenugreek Seeds have soothing mucilaginous constituents that help to soften or counterbalance the acridity of the Nigella Seeds.  With Long Pepper (Piper longum) as a bronchodilator in asthma and respiratory conditions.  With Guggulu (Commiphora mukul), Myrrh (Commiphora myrrha) and Turmeric (Curcuma longa) to decongest the uterus.


The Nigella plant is quite like a space creature from another world.  The seeds are contained in a round, pod-shaped capsule, which is framed by frilly tendrils.  No doubt this led to the more imaginative names for the plant, such as “Love-in-the-Mist”.  The plant’s strange and distinctive features and appearance could also be Nature’s way of saying, “Take a good look at this plant – it’s special”.  Although it is often called Black Cumin, or Black Caraway, botanically speaking, it bears no kinship to ordinary Cumin or Caraway, which are both of the Parsley family; Nigella belongs to the Buttercup family instead.  In the Bible, the Black Seed is called the Fitches; perhaps the most famous passage concerning the Nigella seed comes from the book of Isaiah, where it is mentioned in connection with Cumin:
For the fitches are not threshed with a threshing instrument, neither is a cart wheel turned about upon the cummin; but the fitches are beaten out with a staff, and the cummin with a rod.

                         - Isaiah 28: 27, KJV

The Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) is reputed to have said that in the Black Seed lies the cure for every disease except death itself.  This statement alone has catapulted the Black Seed to a position of stellar importance in the Islamic natural healing tradition.  Given this amazing statement or recommendation made by the Prophet Mohammad, it is somewhat puzzling why Avicenna, in volume 2 of his Canon of Medicine, which is the Materia Medica section, does not give Nigella a separate entry of its own, but instead, lumps it together with ordinary Cumin (Cuminum cyminum), as well as Wild Cumin (Heracleum spendilum).  Sorting out what he says about Nigella seed or Black Cumin from what he says about these other Cumins, we find Avicenna giving the following indications for its use:
Cosmetics – Black Cumin cleanses and removes inverted warts, freckles, any of various skin diseases marked by the shedding of skin and especially patches of vitiligo. 
Swellings and Pimples – Used with vinegar on acne, Black Cumin also dissolves phlegmatic and hard swellings. 

Organs of the Head – Inhaling roasted Black Cumin kept in a linen cloth is useful in treating a head cold.  It is rubbed on the forehead for cold headaches.  Soaked overnight in vinegar and pulverized the next day, Black Cumin is useful as a snuff for treating all types of chronic headache and facial paralysis.  Black Cumin is one of the purgative drugs for treating the very thin bone structure of the nose.  It is useful in treating toothaches when its boiled down form is mixed with vinegar.  This is particularly the case when Black Cumin is used in the form of a mouthwash with the bark of a Pine tree. 
Respiratory Organs and the Chest – The oral intake of Black Cumin with Sodium Nitrate is helpful in treating difficult or painful breathing. 
Foods and Alimentary Organs – The root of Sisazun (Nigella) is useful in treating stomach ailments. 

Excretory Organs – Black Cumin kills tapeworms and other worms if rubbed on the navel.  (I would think that taking it internally is much more effective as a vermifuge.)  Prolonged intake for several days with honey promotes the menstrual flow.  In bladder and kidney stones, it is taken with hot water (as a tea?).  The boiled down form of the roots of Sisazun (Nigella) is a diuretic. 
Fevers – Black Cumin eliminates fevers.
Poisons – Black Cumin smoke drives out insects. 

Wow!  As you can see, about a third to a half of all the material in the Cumin section of Avicenna’s Materia Medica is devoted to the Black Cumin, which is Nigella.  As my source, I have used the beautifully illustrated and extensively annotated and cross-referenced translation of Avicenna’s Canon of Medicine, as translated by Laleh Bakhtiar and published by Kazi Publications.  I have only made minor revisions and added a little commentary in parentheses.
It has now been about a thousand years or so since Avicenna wrote his Canon of Medicine.  Ever since then, suffering humanity, being plagued by a whole host of diseases and complaints, has continued to use the Black Seed, and has been amazed by its medicinal and therapeutic effects.  And in the last couple of days, I have been surfing the internet and watching YouTube videos touting the many health benefits of Nigella Seeds and their oil.  Frankly speaking, some of the claims made for the seeds seemed more credible and reasonable, while others seemed more amazing and fantastic – but if the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) said that it was good for every disease except death itself, who am I to argue otherwise? 

My own first healing encounter with the Black Seed, through its oil, came in the herb and spice bazaars of Jerusalem’s old town.  I had just come back from visiting a friend in Nablus, Palestine, where I stayed overnight in a cheap hotel and was plagued with many mosquito bites.  My immune system had over-reacted, and by the time I returned to Jerusalem, the bites had gotten quite swollen and inflamed; many were oozing a brownish colored exudate.  I asked the herb seller what he recommended, and he promptly suggested that I massage Black Seed Oil into the affected area, at least two to three times daily.  Lo and behold, it worked – in a few days, the inflammation, oozing and swelling had greatly subsided.  I communicated the good news to my Palestinian friend via email, and he said that calming down excessive inflammation as well as allergic and autoimmune reactions was one of Nigella’s most valuable and distinctive healing virtues; in this department, Nigella’s one of the best herbs that the Greek / Unani healing tradition has. 

In our modern world, our immune systems are under attack like never before – internally from impure or overly processed food, genetically modified foods and the like, and externally from pollution of our air and water, and toxic industrial chemicals in our environment and surroundings.  Under all these stressful circumstances, it’s no wonder that our immune systems often break down and succumb to autoimmune diseases.  Many of these autoimmune diseases are characterized by runaway or out of control inflammation; in fact, modern medical researchers have started to discover that chronic inflammatory processes play a huge part in many chronic and degenerative diseases, like arthritis and rheumatism, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome, and much more.  Nigella seeds and their oil act not only as an anti-inflammatory to quell and subdue outbreaks of inflammation when they happen; they also act as an inflamo-modulatory herb, reducing inflammatory tendencies throughout the organism on a deep, constitutional level.  Similarly, Nigella seeds are not only an immunostimulant that boosts immunity, but they also act as an immunomodulator to heal and balance the immune system, reducing unwanted allergic and autoimmune reactions while strengthening beneficial, healthy immunity at the same time; and no pharmaceutical drug can do that.

Nigella is probably one of the best examples of a universal tonic or panacea that exists in the herbal materia medica.  When you get on YouTube and search the internet, you hear marvelous and amazing testimonials from many people claiming that Nigella seeds or their oil healed them from just about every kind of complaint or disorder imaginable.  Being a tonic, Nigella starts to tune up the organism and bring it back into harmony, balance and integration within itself the moment you start taking it – the beneficial changes start pretty soon, and keep on improving.  A caveat is offered here regarding Nigella’s therapeutic benefits for treating diseases and disorders, especially chronic or degenerative ones: By the time a condition or disorder becomes chronic, it usually has a long history of development and acclimatization to the particulars of the individual human organism it inhabits; therefore, one can say, especially from a natural healing perspective, that one person’s diabetes, for instance, can be quite different from the next person’s diabetes, and that what may work wonders for one individual may not be effective for the next person.  And so, although many have been helped in various chronic health conditions by taking Nigella seed or its oil, improvement, and especially remission, cannot be guaranteed.

It could be said that Nigella’s therapeutic action and benefits center around four major bodily systems: the respiratory system, the digestive system, the reproductive system and the immune system.  Other systems that also receive important benefits are the nervous and endocrine systems, as well as the integumentary system, especially the hair and skin.  Since these encompass the core organ systems of the body, it could be argued that Nigella’s therapeutic benefits extend through these core systems to benefit or reverse conditions or complaints involving just about any part of the body.  So let’s take a closer look at the therapeutic actions and benefits of Nigella for these core bodily systems:
Respiratory System – Nigella is well known for relieving coughs, even chronic ones, and also for treating asthma.  Nigella is a bronchodilator, which expands and clears the breathing passages, and also heals and balances the immune system, reducing or eliminating allergic symptoms and complaints – and many cases of asthma have a strong allergic component or aspect to them.  Nigella is also helpful in treating hay fever and respiratory allergies as well.  The strong acrid taste and expectorant action of the seeds can be utilized therapeutically for throat problems and phlegm congestion in this area by making a tea from the seeds, as directed above, and gargling with this tea before swallowing it.  A halva made from the seeds will also have this effect.    

Digestive System – Being called Black Cumin, and being used as a culinary spice as well as a medicine for centuries, even millennia, it’s only natural that Nigella be used to treat digestive complaints and disorders.  Nigella’s therapeutic actions on the digestive system and the GI tract go way beyond the usual carminative actions of many culinary herbs into being an intestinal antispasmodic, as well as an anti-inflammatory, anticatarrhal and decongestant for the digestive mucosa.  And just as Nigella is helpful in treating respiratory allergies, it’s also helpful for treating food allergies as well.  According to Ayurvedic Medicine, Nigella has a cleansing and normalizing effect on Ranjaka Pitta and the bilious secretions of the digestive system, which encompass both Black and Yellow Bile in Greek Medicine, balancing the liver and spleen.  The result is an improved appetite and digestion.  In addition, Nigella is also a vermifuge that can be used for expelling tapeworms as well as other kinds of worms from the intestines.

Reproductive System – Of the two reproductive systems, the therapeutic benefits of Nigella for treating irregular or suppressed menses and disorders of the female reproductive system are well known and accepted.  In Ayurvedic Medicine, Nigella is used to clear away phlegmatic nodules and accumulations from around the uterus.  I have even seen videos up on YouTube touting the benefits of Nigella seeds for treating male impotence or erectile dysfunction – it seems as if the seeds are boiled up in a milk decoction and taken as a sexual stimulant and tonic.  And energetically speaking, this treatment may very well work, since Nigella seeds are Hot and Dry in the third degree, and medicinal substances that are strongly Yang or heating, in most traditional healing systems, are reputed to have a virilific effect. 

Immune System – As I said earlier, Nigella is one of the best plants in the herbal kingdom for healing and balancing the immune system – in reducing or subsiding allergic and autoimmune reactions while benefiting righteous, healthy immunity as an immunomodulator, as well as reducing both acute and chronic inflammation as an anti-inflammatory and inflamomodulatory herb.  As such, it may be one of the best herbs we have for fighting autoimmune diseases and keeping them under control, in addition to dietary modification and other natural and herbal therapies.  Nigella has also been touted for treating candidiasis and other chronic or intractable infections by improving immune system functioning, and for this, it is believed that the volatile oils in the seed and its oil are the main active constituents.  There is even literature and research that suggests that Nigella may have some value and potential in treating cancer. 

Nervous and Endocrine Systems – The nervous and endocrine systems are the two core bodily systems which, besides the immune system, are the most central to integrating and coordinating the whole human organism on a holistic level.  Hormonally speaking, Nigella seeds contain two important phytosterols – B-Sitosterol and Stigmasterol, which help to heal and balance the endocrine system.  As for the brain and nervous system, in Ayurvedic Medicine it is recognized that Nigella has a special beneficial effect on Majja Dhatu or the nervous tissue, and has a beneficial effect on the brain, enhancing mental power and concentration.  In connection with this, I have seen testimonials up on YouTube from users of Black Seed Oil stating that one of the first changes they noticed was deeper, sounder sleep; other testimonials noted a decreased susceptibility to stress, anxiety, depression and mood swings.  There are even testimonials stating that Nigella is helpful in treating epilepsy as well – if not as first aid to dispel a seizure, then to lessen the frequency and severity of their occurrence.

Integumentary System – Nigella Seed Oil can be massaged into the scalp to beautify the hair, and there are some who claim that its use in this manner can even stop or reverse hair loss.  Similarly, the topical application of the oil can be used to beautify and rejuvenate the skin, as well as to treat heat rashes and insect bites, as well as chronic skin disorders like eczema, psoriasis and vitiligo. 

These are the main therapeutic uses and benefits of Nigella seeds and their oil.  In addition to the above, there are also videos up on YouTube that tout its value as a weight loss facilitator, as well as a treatment for diabetes, of both types one and two.  This makes some sense, considering that Nigella’s strongly heating and anti-phlegmatic properties could make it useful in stimulating the metabolism and shedding excess weight; it is also useful in reducing chronic inflammation and allergic sensitivities, which can play a role in diabetes and weight gain.  I have also seen claims on YouTube that the oil is useful in treating hypertension – perhaps through an ability to dilate the blood vessels.  Its content of B-Sitosterol may also make it valuable in fighting high cholesterol.  In short, the therapeutic uses and possibilities of Nigella seem virtually endless.  Maybe the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) was right!


Ayurvedic Medicine: The Principles of Traditional Practice by Sebastian Pole, pp. 209 – 210.  @ 2006 by Elsevier Ltd.
The Canon of Medicine, Vol. 2 – Natural Pharmaceuticals by Avicenna.  Translated and compiled by Laleh Bakhtiar @2012 by Laleh Bakhtiar, Published and distributed by Kazi Publications, Chicago, IL, USA
YouTube Videos:   

DISCLAIMER:  The information in this article is for educational purposes only, for general health maintenance and prevention, and is not intended to diagnose or treat any medical disease or condition. The reader assumes all personal responsibility and liability for the application of the information contained in this article, and is advised to seek the services of a physician or licensed healthcare practitioner should his or her symptoms or condition persist or worsen.