History of nigella sativa (black cumin)
The black seed (nigella sativa) is an extraordinarily therapeutic and versatile medicinal herb that has been around for almost 4000 years. Nigella sativa is a plant that belongs to the ranunculus family (ranunculaceae). The amazing plant is native to southwestern asia, the mediterranean, and africa. Due to its popularity, it is being cultivated all around the world. The nigella sativa plant grows up to twelve inches tall and produces fruit with seeds that are used as a flavorful spice in many cuisines! It has been cultivated for centuries for its aromatic and flavorful seeds that can be used as a spice or as herbal medicine.
The seeds are mostly used in an oil and span a very extensive list of benefits. This is one simple, yet powerful seed. Nigella sativa oil acts as a natural remedy for everything you could think of.
Mentioned in the Bible Old Testament
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 used for bread and cakes. Easton’s Bible dictionary clarifies that the Hebrew word for black cumin, ketzah, refers to Nigella sativa. Isaiah compares the reaping of black cumin with wheat. “For the black cumin is not threshed with a threshing-sled, nor is a cartwheel 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 (ﷺ)
Narrated Khalid bin Sa`d:
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 (ﷺ) saying, ‘This black cumin is healing for all diseases except As-Sam.’ Aisha said, ‘What is As-Sam?’ He said, ‘Death.” Sahih al-Bukhari 5687
Narrated Abu Huraira:
I heard Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) saying, “There is healing in black cumin for all diseases except death.” Sahih al-Bukhari 5688
Black Seed was so important to the Ancient Egyptians; it was a part of the preparations for Tutankhamen’s afterlife. Nigella sativa oil, as well as black seeds in honey, were 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.
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 essential 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 woolen shawls are used against insects.”
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, diabetes, 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.
In Ayurveda, the black cumin seeds are thought to be:
Acrid, bitter, thermogenic, aromatic, carminative, diuretic, emmenagogue, anodyne, antibacterial, antiinflammatory, deodorant, appetizing, digestive, anthelmintic, sudorific, febrifuge, stimulant, galactagogue, expectorant
And considered to be useful in:
Skin diseases, hemorrhoids, cephalalgia, jaundice, inflammation, fever, paralysis, ophthalmic, halitosis, anorexia, dyspepsia, flatulence, diarrhea, dysentery, cough, amenorrhea, dysmenorrheal, helminthiasis (especially tapeworm), strangury, intermittent fevers, agalactia, vitiated conditions of vata and pitta.
German medicinal encyclopedias
Published in 1546, Kreutterbuch or “herbal” by Hieronymous Bock, mentions “the loveliest 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. It was called Neuwe Kreuterbuch or “The New Complete Herbal Book” (1588) and was reprinted through the 17th century. The book has detailed mentions about the medicinal herb nigella. Nigella sativa oil has been used in a variety of disease like parasites, to detoxify and heal amoebic dysentery, and in severe treatments like Shigellosis, Abscesses, and old tumors. It has also been topically applied to ulcers of the mouth. Several instances of nigella seed helping improve sperm count and rhinitis have also been found.
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, callosities, 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 sizeable 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 headache, 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) composed a treatise on the origins of Indian and Chinese drugs where he mentioned 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.
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 that black seed is suitable for:
- Inner purification and detoxification of the 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. The western diet, predominantly made up of cold foods, ice in drinks, yogurt, pizza, cheese, processed and refined foods, depletes the natural 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, flatulence, diarrhea, constipation, jaundice, gallstones, mental degeneration, pancreatic cancer, stimulation of kidneys and increased urine flow, infections, congestion and bronchial disorders, menstrual complaints, promotion of lactation, skin parasites, vermicide, obesity/weight loss, skin care, blood pressure control, dandruff and hair loss.
Black cumin seed has been traditionally and successfully used in the Middle Eastern and Far East countries for centuries. It was used to treat ailments including bronchial asthma and bronchitis, rheumatism and related inflammatory diseases. It has been used to increase milk production in nursing mothers and to treat digestive disturbances. There have also been several mentions of the seed supporting the body’s immune system. It promotes digestion and elimination and fights parasitic infestation and controls blood sugar. The essential oil has also been used to treat skin conditions such as eczema and boils and is topically applied to treat cold symptoms.
The research was scanty in the mid-20th century but are abundant today. These research has continued to confirm that the blessed seed has potent medicinal applications. It applies to the old diseases that have plagued mankind for centuries. It is also helpful with the new diseases and conditions of the 21st century. Black Seed is indeed a timeless remedy.