Guizotia abyssinica is an erect, stout, branched annual herb, grown for its edible oil and seed. Its cultivation originated in the Ethiopian highlands, and has spread to other parts of Ethiopia. Common names include: noog (Ethio-Semitic nūg); niger, nyjer, or niger seed; ramtil or ramtilla; inga seed; and blackseed.
The seed, technically a fruit called an achene, is often sold as bird seed as it is a favourite of finches, especially Goldfinch and Greenfinch. In the bird seed market, Nyjer is often sold or referred to as thistle seed. This is a misnomer due to early marketing of the seed as ‘thistle’ to take advantage of the finches’ preference for thistle.
The seed, which can be called “birdnip,” is well loved by goldfinches and will result in a feeding frenzy when presented in specially designed feeders. Goldfinches spend every waking moment in their surroundings looking for seeds, but once the word is out that there is Nyjer in a yard they will abandon all other sources of food and head straight for that feeder. Different kinds of feeders are available, the easist access is a mesh feeder from fine mesh or nylon which they can cling to with their claws.
The suppliers have patented the name Nyjer so as not to confuse it with the less desirable thistle seed, and to get away from the ‘Niger’ name, which means black and sounds similar to the racial slur nigger.
The seed is quite expensive as it is imported usually from Ethiopia and India and must be heat sterilized to prevent the seed from being introduced as an invasive species. Sterilization also kills dodder seed which can contaminate the Nyjer. This conservative approach is to be applauded as some parts of the US have similar ecological regimes to those from which the seeds originate. Other parts of the US may not be at risk.
Niger Seeds are also used in southern parts of India. In Karnataka and Maharashtra, Niger seeds (called Uchellu and Karale in Kannada (local language of Karnataka) and Marathi respectively) are used to make a dry Chutney which is used as an accompaniment with breads. They are also used as a spice in some curries.
Species: G. abyssinica