Nigella Sativa

Posted to Subscribers on 26 February 2011


Dear Subscribers,

Going back hundreds, probably thousands of years, herb books would give a plant name and a description of its habitat and appearance. Usually, alternate names were also provided, including the names by which the plant is known in other cultures (and languages). Let me take a non-incendiary example: yarrow. The botanical name for the medicinal yarrow is Achillea millefolium. This one has white flowers. As we know, yarrow can be found in other colors and while these are often used for divination or in flower essences, the one that goes into herbal preparations is not just the one with white flowers, but a specific variety called "millefolium" because of its foliage.

The English name, yarrow, is Saxon in origin, gearwe, which in turn comes from Dutch, gerw, which is related to the Old High German garawa. However, in Spanish, the name is plumajillo and there are countless other names for the same plant.

Now, to the controversy: Nigella sativa. The other names by which it is known are black seed, black caraway, Roman coriander, fennel flower, nutmeg flower, and on and on and on. It is called Schwarzkummel in German, faux cumin in French. However, all these and many more names are common names for Nigella sativa and if this is not confusing, then keep in mind that "black seed" may refer to many other seeds that are either black in color or similar looking. So, the question is what is in the many products sold as black seed oil or black cumin seeds? I am 100% sure that it is Nigella sativa because, I took the whole seeds from the jar and planted them. The issue is whether or not the seeds should be called black cumin (the name of one of my web sites). Here is my story and you can take it or leave it. When I was searching for a domain name, all the names I wanted were already taken. I settled for black cumin because this is, in fact, one of the names by which Nigella sativa and several other seeds are known. That's the only problem. Some sticklers want the name black cumin to apply only to kala jeera, a spice used in Peshwari naan and Moghul cuisine. The botanical name for that somewhat more rare spice is Bunium persicum. The problem is that other spices are also called kala jeera so travel south in India and what is called cumin in the north is our old friend Nigella sativa in the south.

What I want to say at this point is that behind the label, there is absolutely no confusion at all. The people who grow the plants, those who import the seeds (whole) and extract the oil, and those who label the products are all talking about Nigella sativa. The real question people ought to be asking is what was found in the tomb of King Tutankhamen and what spice is mentioned in the Old Testament (Isaiah 28:25) and Koran? There is good reason to believe that these references were also to Nigella sativa, not the North Indian kala jeera. Why? Habitat, habitat, and habitat! Nigella sativa is far more widely distributed. This is why kala jeera refers to one plant in places like Pakistan and Kashmir and to Nigella sativa in Assam and Kerala.

Photo credit: Jerzy Opioła


There is a good analysis of the botanical issues on this Austrian web site. You will notice, for instance, a long list of names, including the Swedish name which is cumin, not caraway. Besides the 62 languages cited, there are good pictures, which for the record, are what grew when I planted seeds in my front yard. They did not thrive in my climatic zone, but they saw the light of day. The flowers are very, very small.

Much more important than words are the pharmacological properties of the herbs and the research that supports their use. There is abundant research on Nigella sativa and the oil derived from the seeds. The uses cover an absolutely immense range of conditions, from auto-immune disorders to the most difficult cancers, such as pancreatic cancer. What I want to say is that whether this oil is called black seed oil or black cumin seed oil, the research was performed on oil from Nigella sativa seeds and there is zero confusion here.

For a chemical analysis of the oils, click here:

Keep in mind that the percentage of each constituent will vary according to all the usual issues: seed type and sources, climate, soil, time of harvest, method of extraction, etc., etc., etc. It is more than likely that every pressing is just slightly different. Just think wine and you will understand that this is Nature at Her best!

Now for some uses, but before going further, I want to say that black seed is very popular in countless cultures and there is a lot of demand for this plant in all its forms, from culinary use (whole or ground seeds) to skin and hair care products to oil for both internal and external use. I use it in my cooking and for my hair, but I also gave a lot to Savika when she first came to live with me because her fur was dry and stiff. I also use the honey on the rare occasion that I make French toast or pancakes. It is also a major ingredient in my formula Potent Protection. All I am saying is that I am not at all confused and several books that were authored used "cumin" in the titles despite the preference some have for other descriptives.

Here are some interesting links to research:

and finally, the NIH study that refers to "black cumin" and pharaohs:

No one writing to me has cited the source of the controversy, but all I want to say is that the fact that a name might not be agreed upon hardly translates as the basis for rejecting historic, ethnobotanical, or modern uses of the herb.

Many blessings,



Copyright by Ingrid Naiman 2011








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