Nigella sativa is an annual flowering plant, native to south and southwest Asia. It grows to 20–30 cm (7.9–12 in) tall, with finely divided, linear (but not thread-like) leaves. The flowers are delicate, and usually coloured pale blue and white, with five to ten petals. The fruit is a large and inflated capsule composed of three to seven united follicles, each containing numerous seeds. The seed is used as a spice.
In English, Nigella sativa seed is variously called fennel flower, nutmeg flower, Roman coriander, blackseed or black caraway. Other names used, sometimes misleadingly, are onion seed and black sesame, both of which are similar-looking, but unrelated.
Nigella sativa has a pungent bitter taste and smell. It is used primarily in confectionery and liquors. Peshawari naan is, as a rule, topped with kalonji seeds.
According to Zohary and Hopf, archeological evidence about the earliest cultivation of N. sativa “is still scanty”, but they report supposed N. sativa seeds have been found in several sites from ancient Egypt, including Tutankhamun’s tomb. Although its exact role in Egyptian culture is unknown, it is known that items entombed with a pharaoh were carefully selected to assist him in the afterlife.
The earliest written reference to N. sativa is thought to be in the book of Isaiah in the Old Testament, where the reaping of nigella and wheat is contrasted. Easton’s Bible dictionary states the Hebrew word ketsah refers to N. sativa without doubt (although not all translations are in agreement). According to Zohary and Hopf, N. sativa was another traditional condiment of the Old World during classical times; and its black seeds were extensively used to flavor food. Original black cumin (Carum bulbocastanum) is rarely available, so N. sativa is widely used instead; (in India, Carum carvi is the substitute).
Nigella Seed Soup
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp nigella seeds
pinch chilli powder
800g squash, peeled, deseeded and cut into chunks
1 potato, cubed
850ml vegetable stock
small bunch flat-leaf parsley600ml freshly boiled water
1 teaspoon sea salt flakes or 1⁄2teaspoon pouring salt
juice 1 lime, or to taste
Heat the oil in a large pan, add the onion, then fry until lightly coloured. Add the nigella seeds and chilli, then fry for 1 min. Tip in the squash, potato and stock, then bring to the boil. Stir well, cover, then simmer for 20 min, or until the vegetables are tender.
Purée the soup in batches, adding a handful of parsley with each batch. Return the soup to the pan, then reheat. The soup can be frozen for up to 1 month.
- Backache & Rheumatism:
Warm kalonji oil slightly & apply to the area thoroughly. Massaging the bone, not the skin & drink half teaspoon of kalonji oil for 30 days
- Worms of the Stomach:
Mix 1 spoon vinegar with half teaspoon kalonji oil twice daily for 10 days & avoid sweets.
Mix half spoon of kalonji oil in 2 spoons of honey and keep it on the tongue twice a day.
Rub the kalonji oil on the effected part & drink half teaspoon of kalonji oil once daily for 15 days.
- Pimples & Acne:
Take one cup sweet lime (mosambi) juice or pineapple juice add half teaspoon of kalonji oil twice daily before breakfast & after dinner for 4 weeks.
In Islam, N. sativa is regarded as one of the greatest forms of healing medicine available. In the Unani Tibb system of medicine, black cumin is regarded as a valuable remedy for a number of diseases. Sayings of Islamic Prophet Muhammad underline the significance of Nigella sativa. According to a hadith narrated by Abu Hurairah, he says, “I have heard the Messenger of Allah, Prayers of Allah be upon him and Peace, saying that the black granules (kalonji) is the remedy for all diseases except death.”
The seeds have been traditionally used in the Middle East and Southeast 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 many uses have earned black cumin seed the Arabic approbation Habbatul barakah, meaning the “seed of blessing”.
Its oil has been used to treat skin conditions, such as eczema and boils, and to treat cold symptoms. Many researchers have recently also studied its reaction towards cancer, and it is said to have many anticancer properties.