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Cumin is a small shrubby annual which thrives in dry conditions


Cuminum cyminum Umbelliferae

Cumin counteracts dampness and excessively wet conditions in the body. Its Sanskrit name literally means ‘promoting digestion’ and it is a superb addition to any formula when there is a compromised digestive system.

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
  • Counteracts effects of cold on the body
  • Digestive remedy
  • Reduces nausea
  • How does it feel?

    Cumin is an annual herbaceous plant of the Apiaceae family characterized by presenting its flowers arranged in umbels; the plant grows up to 30–50 cm tall and is harvested by hand.

    Its stem is slender and branched, and somewhat angular.

    The leaves are 5 – 10cm long, pinnate or bipinnate and are of a deep green colour, generally turned back at the ends. The upper leaves are nearly stalk less, but the lower ones have longer leaf-stalks.

    The flowers are small, rose-coloured or white, in stalked umbels with only four to six rays, each of which are only about 4 – 6cm long, and bloom in June and July, being succeeded by fruit, which is a lateral fusiform or ovoid achene 4 – 5mm long, containing a single seed.

    The seeds are oblong in shape, thicker in the middle, compressed laterally and yellow-brown in colour. The odour and taste are somewhat like caraway, but less agreeable.

  • What can I use it for?

    In traditional herbal medicine, cumin is used as a diuretic and to treat stomach upset and flatulence; it is thought to promote a healthy digestive system.

    Cumin is carminative remedy, it can reduce bloating and it can be used to treat aerophagia or flatulence and cramping caused by gases. It is also useful in diarrhoea, colic & dyspepsia.

    The spice appears to stimulate the liver to secrete more bile, which aids in the breakdown of fats and the absorption of nutrients, leading to healthier digestions; Cumin helps the body to absorb nutrients efficiently and it can also make the metabolism work more quickly cutting down on cravings.

    It is considered also very cooling, prescribed for whooping or spasmodic cough, and can be added to gargles to treat laryngitis. It has been also used to treat chest and lung disorders such as pneumonia.

    Cumin is a very good source of iron, which is needed to transport oxygen to all the cells within the body, and it can be useful in case of anaemia.

    Cumin can be useful for the reproductive system, in fact can stimulates menstruation and also can be used as a lactagogue. Poultices of cumin are used to treat swellings of the breasts or testicles, and enters into most of the prescriptions for gonorrhoea.

  • Into the heart of cumin

    Cumin helps in digesting food properly. It is one of the best herbs for digestive sluggishness; it also helps in the cure of digestion related problems. These actions are due to the aromatic compound cuminaldehyde, which helps to induce secretion of digestive juices just by the aroma and the stimulation of our salivary glands.

    Thymol is another compound present in cumin that stimulates the glands as well helping to promote the production of saliva, bile and other enzymes responsible for food digestion.

    Cumin contain fatty oils (mainly petroselic acid and oil acid) which have anti-fungal, anti-microbial and disinfecting properties.  Numbers of investigations have shown the antimicrobial activity of cumin against a range of useful and pathogenic gram-positive and gram-negative bacterial strain.

    Cuminaldehyde, carvone, limonene, linalool, and some other minor constituents have been suggested to contribute to the antimicrobial activity of cumin, preventing fungal and microbial infections from harming the skin.

    Cumin is anti-congestive agent and is a good expectorant, due to its rich essential oils, therefore it is useful in case of cough, cold and bronchitis: the essential oils present in cumin also play an important role in strengthening the immunity.

    Cumin contains riboflavin, vitamin B6 and niacin – useful in improving cognitive functions of brain.

    Cumin seeds are reported to be estrogenic; the presence of phytoestrogens in cumin has been shown and also related to its anti-osteoporotic effects. In the animals receiving a methanolic extract of cumin, a significant reduction in urinary calcium excretion and augmentation of calcium content and mechanical strength of bones was found.

  • 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“.

  • Did you know?

    • Cumin is a very small annual plant thriving in the hot and dry areas of Rajasthan and Gujerat.
    • Although it is a pungent herb it does not aggravate pitta unless used excessively.
    • Use roasted after a meal as a great folk remedy ‘cure-all’ for digestive problems.
    • It has been found in excavation sites in Syria from around 2000 BC and in Egyptian sites from the 16th to 11th Centuries BC. Persians are thought to be the first people to have cultivated cumin and Egyptians also used it for mummification.

Additional information

  • Safety

    No drug herb interactions are known.

  • Dosage

    Tincture: 3–15ml of a 1:3 at 45%

    Dried: 0.5–5g/day

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.
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.
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.
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. .
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.
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!
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'.
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.
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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