History of The Black Seed
Nigella Sativa has been used extensively as a herbal remedy and as a condiment for thousands of years. It has an abundance of names but is most commonly referred to as black seed, black cumin seed or fennel flower in western countries. In the east, it is known as kalonji, among many other names.
Mentioned In the Bible
The earliest written reference to black seed is in the book of Isaiah in the Old Testament where it is called “ketzah”, which is Hebrew for black cumin, a spice for used for bread and cakes. Easton’s bible dictionary clarifies that the Hebrew word for black cumin, ketsah, refers to nigella sativa. Isaiah compares the reaping of black cumin with wheat. “For the black cumin is not threshed with a threshing sledge, nor is a cart wheel rolled over the cumin, but the black cumin is beaten out with a stick, and the cumin with a rod.”(Isiah 28:25,27 NKJV).
Recommended By The Prophet Muhammad (SWS)
The Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “Hold on to the use of the black seed for indeed it has a remedy for every disease except death.”
“Hold on,” indicates constancy and continuity and suggests a long-term use and that means taking it regularly.
Hadith (Sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (SWS) narrated by his companions.)7.591:
Narrated Khalid Bin Sad:
We went out and Ghalib bin Abjar was accompanying us. He fell ill on the way and when we arrived at Medina he was still sick. Ibn Abi ‘Atiq came to visit him and said to us, “Treat him with black cumin. Take five or seven seeds and crush them (mix the powder with oil) and drop the resulting mixture into both nostrils, for Aisha has narrated to me that she heard the Prophet saying, ‘This black cumin is healing for all diseases except As-Sam.’ ‘Aisha had asked ‘What is As-Sam?’ The Prophet (SWS) replied, ‘Death.’ ” – Hadith 7.592
The Assyrian Herbal
The Assyrian Herbal, by R. Campbell Thompson and published in 1924, was a monograph on the Assyrian vegetable drugs. It was translated from medicine records found on cuneiform clay tablets from Kouyunjik, an ancient city of Assyria on the Tigris River, an important waterway in Mesopotamia.
The Assyrian Herbal documents the medicinal, culinary and other uses of nigella sativa, for example: “in India the Nigella is used medicinally as powder, decoction, paste, and medicated oil; it is an aromatic digestive, stomachic, emmenagogue, lactagogue, anthelmintic…given just after delivery to stimulate uterus: applied with sweet oil in skin diseases; brayed in water it removes swellings of the hands and feet. The seeds scattered between woollen shawls are used against insects.” http://www.samorini.it/doc1/alt_aut/sz/thompson-a-dictionary-of-assyrian-botany.pdf
Black Seed was so important to the Ancient Egyptians, it was part of the preparations for Tutankhamen’s afterlife. Nigella sativa oil, as well as black seeds in honey, was found among the carefully chosen items entombed with the king, believed to assist the king in the hereafter.
From Nefertiti to Cleopatra
Both Cleopatra and Queen Nefertiti, renowned for their allure and beauty, are believed to have relied on the beautifying effects of black cumin seed oil. The Queen of the Nile, as Cleopatra is known, was very image-conscious and extremely wealthy. Physicians in the time of the Pharaohs also used black seed as a remedy for colds, headaches, digestive disorders, toothaches, infections, inflammatory disorders and allergies.
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Used By All Naturopathic Masters
Hippocrates (5th century B.C.) regarded nigella sativa as a valuable remedy in hepatic and digestive disorders. In the first century it was used extensively by Pliny the elder and in his “Naturalis Historia” (Natural History), he referred to it as “Gith”.
His list of conditions to be treated with black cumin includes snakebites and scorpion stings, calosites, old tumors, abscesses, and skin rashes. A series of remedies for colds and inflammation in the area of the head were also recommended. These remedies survived almost unchanged in the large German medicinal plant encyclopedias of the 16th to 18th centuries.
Roughly 2,000 years ago, the Greek physician Dioscoredes described the plant clearly under the name of melanthion in his 5-volume pharmacology “De Materia Medica” that was used as a reference for healing with herbs into the Middle Ages. He used black cumin seed to treat headaches, nasal congestion, toothache and intestinal parasites.
They were also used, he reported, as a diuretic to promote menstruation and increase milk production. Dioscoredes is known as “Father of Pharmacology” and his works were hugely influential on the development of medicine, both in the east and the west.
The Muslim Scholar Al-Biruni (973-1048)
He composed a treatise on the origins of Indian and Chinese drugs where he mentions that the black seed is a kind of grain called alwanak in the Sigzi dialect. Later, this was confirmed by Suhar Bakht who explained it to be habb-i-Sajzi. This reference to black seed as “grains” points to the seed’s possible nutritional use during the 10th and 11th centuries.
Appreciated In Ayurveda
In Ayurvedic medicine, black seed has long been valued for its many qualities and its bitter, warming stimulant nature. In the tradition and typology of the three doshas, black cumin balances Vata and Kapha and increases Pitta.
It is used for a wide variety of diseases and disorders such as cancer, intestinal parasites, liver damage, anemia, and arthritis but has also been employed for unusual and more modern maladies like anorexia, certain disorders of the nervous system, and venereal disease.
As a result of its uterus-contracting effect, it is also administered when labor is weak and in cases of sepsis. Black seed oil should not be taken during pregnancy but is useful following birth because of its uterus cleansing and toning abilities.
The seeds are:
They are useful in:
- skin diseases
- helminthiasis (especially tapeworm)
- intermittent fevers, agalactia and vitiated conditions of vata and pita
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Ibn Sina (980-1037)
Persian physician Ibn Sina (Avicenna) is the author of the celebrated work “The Canon of Medicine”, one of the most famous and significant medical textbooks. He claimed black seed is good for:
- Inner purification and detoxification of body.
- Reduction of mucous and strengthening lungs.
- Fever, coughs, colds, toothache, and headache.
- Skin diseases and wound treatments.
- Intestinal parasites and remedy for poisonous bites and stings.
Ibn Sina described the black seed as that which “stimulates the body’s energy and helps recovery from fatigue or dispiritedness,” and this still holds true for Tibb (Islamic Medicine) health practitioners today.
The rich nutritional value of nigella sativa, as illustrated by scientific analysis, also points to it as a great source of energy.
From the Tibb health perspective, the black seed has the capacity to restore and maintain body heat. Our western diet, predominantly made up of cold foods, ice in our drinks, yoghurt, pizza, cheese, processed and refined foods, depletes the innate heat our body requires in order to function optimally.
Tibb holds the view that a reduced metabolic rate (innate heat) is the cause of most illnesses. The body, in losing energy, also loses its ability to fight off toxins, making it vulnerable to disease.
Traditionally used in the Orient for:
- gastrointestinal complaints
- mental degeneration
- stimulation of kidneys and increased urine flow
- congestion and bronchial disorders
- menstrual complaints
- promotion of lactation
- skin parasites
- skin care
- dandruff and hair loss
German Medicinal Encyclopedias
Published in 1546, Kreutterbuch or “herbal” by Hieronymous Bock, mentions “the most lovely Nigella”. Bock, the pioneer of Renaissance botany, was also a physician, herbalist and Lutheran minister.
Jacobus Theodorus, called Tabernaemontanus, was Bock’s student and became known as the “father of German botany”. He wrote the last of the great German encyclopedias of medicinal plants, Neuwe Kreuterbuch or “The New Complete Herbal Book” (1588) that was reprinted through the 17th century. Here he wrote about the medicinal herb nigella.
Black cumin and its oil have been used to purge parasites, detoxify, heal amoebic dysentery, shigellosis, abscesses, old tumors, ulcers of the mouth, and rhinitis.
Research, scanty in the mid 20th century but abundant today, has continued to confirm that The Blessed Seed has potent medicinal applications. These apply not only to the old diseases that have plagued mankind for centuries but also to the new diseases and conditions of the 21st century. Black Seed is indeed a timeless remedy and, as The Prophet (PBUH) said, a “remedy for all diseases except death.”