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Black seed has been used for thousands of years, notably by the Ancient Greek physician Dioscorides

Black seed

Nigella sativa Ranunculaceae

This delicate flowering herb is native to Asia and the seeds have been considered a panacea in multiple traditional medicine systems for centuries.

Sustainability Status

Sustainability status

Not currently on risk lists but complete data may be missing on the status of the species. Read more about our sustainability guide.

Key benefits
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Carminative
  • Anti-microbial
  • Galactogogue
  • How does it feel?

    Black seed has a reputation as a culinary herb as well as a medicinal one. It is a warming spice. The taste is slightly peppery and aromatic.

  • What can I use it for?

    The traditional uses of black seed are wide reaching, supporting its reputation as a panacea.

    As an aromatic culinary herb, dried black seed can aid in relieving flatulence, bloating, digestive spasm or colic. It has been used in treatments for intestinal worms, and has evidence for this in children.

    Black seed is antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory, which makes it useful in cases of both topical and internal inflammation. The oil can be readily employed in cases of acne, eczema and psoriasis.

    In India, it is used to support breast milk production.

  • Into the heart of black seed

    Black seed, also known as “Habbatul Barakah”, is a remedy for all ailments according to common Islamic and Arabic belief. Nigella Sativa is mentioned in the bible, and was also described by Ancient Greek physicians such as Hippocrates, Pliny the Elder and Dioscorides.

    Traditionally in regions across the Middle East, black seed is recommended for conditions largely related to the respiratory system like bronchitis, coughs, asthma and chest congestion. It is also recommended for dysmenorrhea, obesity, hypertension and gastrointestinal problems. It can also be used externally for eczema and swollen joints. Now over 150 studies have been conducted to investigate the pharmacological properties of black seeds.

  • Traditional uses

    The traditional systems of medicine that feature black seed include Traditional Chinese, Islamic, Arabic, Malay, Unani, and African medicine, and Ayurveda.

    Black seed has been found in ancient archaeological sites in Turkey and Africa, most notably in the tomb of Tutankhamun, which is a testimony to how long humans have valued the plant.

    Both Dioscorides and Ibn-Sinna (Avicenna) valued black seed. Dioscorides mentions its use as a food, and also recommends it as a medicine for a variety of ailments including headaches, catarrh, respiratory issues, toothache, intestinal worms, leprosy, and skin eruptions to name a few! Ibn-Sinna valued it for treatment of arthritis.

    Black seed is also mentioned in several religious texts. It features in the Mishna, the Talmud, and the Bible.

    In India, black seed has used to treat fevers, to promote breast milk production, relieve digestive disturbance. They were also used as purgatives and for promoting uterine contraction to stimulate the afterbirth.

  • Traditional actions

  • Traditional energetic actions

    Herbal energetics are the descriptions Herbalists have given to plants, mushrooms, lichens, foods, and some minerals based on the direct experience of how they taste, feel, and work in the body. All traditional health systems use these principles to explain how the environment we live in and absorb, impacts our health. Find out more about traditional energetic actions in our article “An introduction to herbal energetics“.

  • What practitioners say

    Digestive system: As black cumin is a culinary herb, it has similar properties for the digestive system as other spices. This makes it helpful for easing wind or digestive spasm, bloating, and associated colicky pains. It can be added to cooking for these actions.

    It also has a reputation for assisting the treatment of intestinal worms. For this, it is advised to see a qualified herbalist.

    Reproductive system: In India, Nigella is frequently used to promote the production of breast milk. It is also considered an emmenagogue, which means that it may promote menstruation. Any herb with this action should not be used in pregnancy.

    Respiratory system: Traditionally the seed has been used as an expectorant and may help to reduce catarrh. The antibacterial, antitussive and bronchodilators effects of black seed are helpful in respiratory infections and asthma.

    Integumentary system (skin): Black seed oil is a well known product that can be used topically to aid in inflammatory skin conditions, such as eczema and psoriasis. It is a common addition to skin care routines, and may be added to an oil mix depending on what is needed.

  • Research

    There has been a good deal of study into Nigella sativa’s medicinal value, as it is has been considered a panacea for such a long period of time.

    Studies exploring the antimicrobial properties of the oil have found that black seed is antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral. The extract has been studied against antibiotic resistant Staphylococcus aureus and Pseudomonas aeruginosa with success. The extract was also found to be antifungal against Candida albicans. In another study, participants with hepatitis C were given black seed capsules for three months. The study found that the viral load decreased.

    Black seed has been investigated in asthmatic conditions with favourable results. It has demonstrated anti-inflammatory activity, a key aspect of the pathogenesis of asthma. It also improved expiratory flow. Bronchodilation and an improvement in pulmonary function in asthmatics was observed after a dose of Nigella.

    Nigella has been the subject of exciting studies investigating COVID-19 prevention and treatment. As inflammation of respiratory tissue is also included in the pathogenesis of Covid, Nigella’s benefits in patients with asthma also apply here. Nigella may also block the binding of SARS-COV-2 to ACE2 receptors. These properties are largely due to its secondary metabolites

    Nigella sativa’s potential as a cardioprotective agent has been studied. In a study containing 108 participants with mild hypertension, Nigella supplementation reduced both systolic and diastolic blood pressure. An animal study suggests that thymoquinone may improve lipid profiles.

    Black seed is highly antioxidant, due to the constituents found in the volatile oil. This has far-riding benefits for a number of pathologies, such as diabetes, asthma, and cancer.

    The use of black seed as an anthelmintic has been studied in children with cestode infections. The study found that the seed was beneficial at a dose of 40 mg/kg with no adverse effects.

    A small randomised control study observing participants with rheumatoid arthritis were treated with Nigella sativa oil for eight weeks. The study found that inflammatory cytokines and oxidative stress was significantly reduced in the treatment group.

  • Did you know?

    Cuneiform tablets in ancient Assyria have been found to explain the process of making a preparation for fumigation that included black seed. This preparation was used to dispel “ghost possession”.

Additional information

  • Botanical description

    The genus Nigella is a rather small one within the Ranunculaceae (buttercup) family, consisting of 15
    species (1). Nigella Sativa is an annually flowering plant that grows up to 20-30cm in height. It is native to western Asia and is grown across the Mediterranean and Asia as a common garden plant.

    Nigella has pale blue or white flowers, with long striated leaves. The flowers emerge in summer, and the seed heads form in late summer. The seed capsule holds several compartments of black, triangular seeds. It can seed so readily that some consider it a weed.

    Love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena) is a related species of plant and is often found as an ornamental. Nigella damascena is not a suitable medicinal alternative to Nigella sativa.

  • Common names

    • Black seed
    • Black cumin
    • Black caraway
    • Roman coriander
    • Small fennel
    • Fennel flower
    • Kalojira (India)
  • Safety

    An animal study of the toxic potential of Nigella sativa concluded a wide margin of safety in using the plant. However, as it has a traditional use as an emmenagogue, use in pregnancy is not recommended.

  • Preparation

    • Black seed is often taken as a cold pressed oil
    • Dried seeds
  • Dosage

    1-10g per day of dried seed

    3-12ml per day of 1:3 tincture of seed

    Cold pressed oil: Start at 1tsp per day, working up to 3 tsp a day.

  • Plant parts used

    Seeds

  • Constituents

    • Volatile oil (0.4-2.5%) – thymoquinone (30-48%), dithymoquinone (aka nigellone), trans-antheole, limonene, carvone, P-cymene, carvacrol, α-thujene, β-pinene
    • Sterols and saponins – α- and β-sitosterol, stigmasterol, campesterol, α-hederin
    • Phenolic compounds – vanillic acid, quercetin, kaempferol, apigenin
    • Alkaloids –
      • Isoquinoline – nigellicimine, nigellicimine-N-oxide
      • Pyrazole – nigellicine, nigellidine
    • Fatty acids
Black Seed
  • Habitat

    Black seed is native to South Asia, North Africa and Southern Europe, often found growing in waste places, arable land and waysides.

  • Sustainability

    This species has not yet been assessed for the IUCN Red List of at Risk or endangered species.

  • Quality control

    Herbal Medicines are often extremely safe to take, however it is important to buy herbal medicines from a reputed supplier. Sometimes herbs bought from unreputable sources are contaminated, adulterated or substituted with incorrect plant matter.

    Some important markers for quality to look for would be to look for certified organic labelling, ensuring that the correct scientific/botanical name is used and that suppliers can provide information about the source of ingredients used in the product. 

    A supplier should be able to tell you where the herbs have come from. There is more space for contamination and adulteration when the supply chain is unknown.

  • How to grow

    Black seed is easy to grow in moderate to warm climates, and is fairly resilient to pests and diseases.

    • Black seed will grow in any well-drained soil in full sun.
    • Seeds may be sown in situ from mid-spring going into early autumn. Lightly cover the seeds. It should take about one or two weeks for Nigella species to germinate once the temperature reaches 15 degrees.
    • Black seed prefers soil with good drainage and of a pH around 6 to 7. It can survive dry spells, however, it is advised to water them during very dry spells, and supply organic fertiliser every few weeks.
    • Ideally, black seed will be located in a garden flower bed or in a wildflower meadow. These plants do best in a sunny area. If you are growing as an ornamental garden plant then, they do well in numerous circumstances, such as in containers, as a patio feature plant, in borders, beds, coastal, and cottage gardens.
  • Recipe

    Black Seed magic dressing from Sidechef

    Black seed salad dressing (from Sidechef)

    Ingredients:

    • 1 tsp Black seed powder
    • 1 tsp honey
    • 1 tsp coarse Dijon mustard
    • 1 lemon, juiced
    • 1 glove garlic, finely chopped
    • 1/4 cup water
    • 1 pinch sea salt

    Method:

    • Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Whisk together and serve fresh.
Aromatic
An ‘aromatic’ remedy, high in volatile essential oils, was most often associated with calming and sometimes ‘warming’ the digestion. Most kitchen spices and herbs have this quality: they were used both as flavouring and to ease the digestion of sometimes challenging pre-industrial foods. Many aromatics are classed as ‘carminatives’ and are used to reduce colic, bloating and agitated digestion. They also often feature in respiratory remedies for colds, chest and other airway infections. They are also classic calming inhalants and massage oils, and are the basis of aromatherapy for their mental benefits.
Astringent taste
The puckering taste you get with many plants (the most familiar is black tea after being stewed too long, or some red wines) is produced by complex polyphenols such as tannins. Tannins are used in concentrated form (eg from oak bark) to make leather from animal skins. The process of ‘tanning’ involves the coagulation of relatively fluid proteins in living tissues into tight clotted fibres (similar to the process of boiling an egg). Tannins in effect turn exposed surfaces on the body into leather. In the case of the lining of mouth and upper digestive tract this is only temporary as new mucosa are replenished, but in the meantime can calm inflamed or irritated surfaces. In the case of open wounds tannins can be a life-saver – when strong (as in the bark of broadleaved trees) they can seal a damaged surface. One group of tannins, the reddish-brown ‘condensed tannins’ are procyanidins, which can reduce inflammation and oxidative damage.
Bitter
Bitters are a very complex group of phytochemicals that stimulate the bitter receptors in the mouth. They were some of the most valuable remedies in ancient medicine. They were experienced as stimulating appetite and switching on a wide range of key digestive functions, including increasing bile clearance from the liver (as bile is a key factor in bowel health this can be translated into improving bowel functions and the microbiome). Many of these reputations are being supported by new research on the role of bitter receptors in the mouth and elsewhere round the body. Bitters were also seen as ‘cooling’ reducing the intensity of some fevers and inflammatory diseases.
Blue-purple colouring
Any fruits with a blue-purple colouring contain high levels of the polyphenols known as anthocyanins. These work 1) on the walls of small blood vessels, helping to maintain capillary structure to reduce a key stage in inflammation, and improving the microcirculation to the tissues; 2) to improve retinal function and vision; 3) to support connective tissue repair around the body.
Cooling
Traditional ‘cold’ or cooling’ remedies often contain bitter phytonutrients such a iridoids (gentian), sesiquterpenes (chamomile), anthraquinones (rhubarb root), mucilages (marshmallow), some alkaloids and flavonoids. They tend to influence the digestive system, liver and kidneys. Cooling herbs do just that; they diffuse, drain and clear heat from areas of inflammation, redness and irritation. Sweet, bitter and astringent herbs tend to be cooling.
Hot
Traditional ‘hot’ or ‘heating’ remedies, often containing spice ingredients like capsaicin, the gingerols (ginger), piperine (black or long pepper), curcumin (turmeric) or the sulfurous isothiocyanates from mustard, horseradich or wasabi, generate warmth when taken. In modern times this might translate as thermogenic and circulatory stimulant effects. There is evidence of improved tissue blood flow with such remedies: this would lead to a reduction in build-up of metabolites and tissue damage. Heating remedies were used to counter the impact of cold, reducing any symptoms made worse in the cold. .
Mucilaginous
Mucilages are complex carbohydrate based plant constituents with a slimy or ‘unctuous’ feel especially when chewed or macerated in water. Their effect is due simply to their physical coating exposed surfaces. From prehistory they were most often used as wound remedies for their soothing and healing effects on damaged tissues. Nowadays they are used more for these effects on the digestive lining, from the throat to the stomach, where they can relieve irritation and inflammation such as pharyngitis and gastritis. Some of the prominent mucilaginous remedies like slippery elm, aloe vera and the seaweeds can be used as physical buffers to reduce the harm and pain caused by reflux of excess stomach acid. Mucilages are also widely used to reduce dry coughing. Here the effect seems to be by reflex through embryonic nerve connections: reduced signals from the upper digestive wall appear to translate as reduced activity of airway muscles and increased activity of airway mucus cells. Some seed mucilages, such as in psyllium seed, flaxseed (linseed) or guar bean survive digestion to provide bulking laxative effects in the bowel. These can also reduce rate of absorption of sugar and cholesterol. .
New-mown hay aroma
The familiar country odour of haymaking, of drying grass and other plants, is largely produced by coumarins (originally isolated from tonka beans – in French coumarou) and widely used in perfumery. They are chemically categorised as benzopyrone lactones and are important phytochemicals, with strong antioxidant activity in the laboratory and likely effects in modulating inflammation. They were most often associated with the calming effect linked to their use in stuffing mattresses and pillows and plants, high In coumarins were commonly used for these properties.
Resinous
Resins are most familiar as tacky discharges from pine trees (and as the substance in amber, and rosin for violin bows). They were most valued however as the basis of ancient commodities like frankincense and myrrh (two of the three gifts of the Three Wise Men to the baby Jesus) and getting access to their source was one benefit to Solomon for marrying the Queen of Sheba (now Ethiopia). Resins were the original antiseptic remedies, ground and applied as powders or pastes to wounds or inflamed tissues, and were also used for mummification. With alcohol distillation it was found that they could be dissolved in 90% alcohol and in this form they remain a most powerful mouthwash and gargle, for infected sore throats and gum disease. They never attracted much early research interest because they permanently coat expensive glassware! For use in the mouth, gums and throat hey are best combined with concentrated licorice extracts to keep the resins in suspension and add extra soothing properties. It appears that they work both as local antiseptics and by stimulating white blood cell activity under the mucosal surface. They feel extremely effective!
Salty
The salty flavour is immediately distinctive. A grain dropped onto the tongue is instantly moistening and a sprinkle on food enkindles digestion. This easily recognisable flavour has its receptors right at the front of the tongue. The salty flavor creates moisture and heat, a sinking and heavy effect which is very grounding for the nervous system and encourages stability. People who are solid and reliable become known as ‘the salt of the earth'.
Sharpness
The sharp taste of some fruits, and almost all unripe fruits, as well as vinegar and fermented foods, is produced by weak acids (the taste is generated by H+ ions from acids stimulating the sour taste buds). Sour taste buds are hard-wired to generate immediate reflex responses elsewhere in the body. Anyone who likes the refreshing taste of lemon or other citrus in the morning will know that one reflex effect is increased saliva production. Other effects are subjective rather than confirmed by research but there is a consistent view that they include increased digestive activity and contraction of the gallbladder.
Sweet
In the days when most people never tasted sugar, ‘sweetness’ was associated with the taste of basic foods: that of cooked vegetables, cereals and meat. In other words sweet was the quality of nourishment, and ‘tonic’ remedies. Describing a remedy as sweet generally led to that remedy being used in convalescence or recovery from illness. Interestingly, the plant constituents most often found in classic tonics like licorice, ginseng are plant steroids including saponins, which also have a sweet taste.

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