Nigella sativa, commonly known as Black Cumin, Black Seed, or Black Cumin Seed is a flowering plant native to South Asia. Its fruit is large and contains numerous small black seeds.
Raw seeds, seed oil, or seed extract have been traditionally used alone or in combination with other ingredients for various health conditions, such as eczema, cough, headache, diabetes, asthma, infections, and high blood pressure.
Some of the claims that come from its traditional reputation in various cultures have been researched, while others lack scientific evidence. Although this herb has sparked the curiosity of scientists worldwide, most of the research on black cumin so far has only been carried out in cells or animals.
Black Seed Active Ingredients
The main and most researched active ingredient in black seed oil is Thymoquinone. Thymoquinone has been studied for protecting the liver, reducing inflammation, fighting cancer, and as an antioxidant. The seeds also contain alpha-hederin, a potential cancer-fighting ingredient.
Black cumin seeds are also rich in various vitamins and minerals, such as: copper, phosphorus, zinc, iron, and carotene (provitamin A).
Fatty acids makeup about 30% of the seeds. These are mostly unsaturated fatty acids, including linoleic acid and oleic acid, and some saturated fatty acids.
Black Cumin seeds have been used in Middle Eastern, Asian, and European folk medicine as a natural remedy for a wide range of diseases for over 2000 years. In Islamic literature, regular use of black seed is considered a cure for every disease (except death!), earning it the Arabic approbation “The Blessed Seed”. Black cumin is also considered an important remedy in Ayurveda.
Black cumin has a specific bitter taste and smell and is often added to confectionery and liquors. The oil can be used to add flavour to various dishes and can also be applied on the skin as a painkiller and antiseptic.
Black Cumin Seed Oil Snapshot
Solid evidence for reducing allergies.
A safe antihistamine.
Evidence against bacterial, fungal, and viral, and parasitic infections.
Black cumin seeds can likely help reduce slightly increased blood pressure and blood lipids.
The evidence for weight loss benefits, reducing inflammation and pain is still limited.
Shows some anti-cancer activity (but limited to cell studies).
Black cumin seed oil can lower blood sugar. Although this can be beneficial, diabetics should consult with their physicians before they start supplementing.
Black Cumin Seed oil is not safe to use during pregnancy.
Health Benefits of Black Seed Oil
1) Black Cumin Reduces Allergies
Several quality human studies back up the benefits of black seed oil for safely reducing allergic symptoms, especially in those with breathing difficulties.
In a study of 29 asthmatic patients. It reduced the frequency of asthma symptoms, wheezing, and improved lung function over 3 months. The patients who took black cumin seed extract also had a reduced need for additional medications and inhaler.
In another review (of 4 studies, total of 152 patients with allergic diseases), black cumin seed oil reduced subjective allergy symptoms, including asthma, eczema, and stuffy nose. Patients received black cumin oil capsules 40 to 80 mg/kg daily, which would be about 2-4 g of oil daily for someone who weighs about 110 lb.
In a study of 66 patients with allergic rhinitis, black cumin oil reduced symptoms such as itching, running nose, sneezing and congestion after 2 weeks, In 39 patients with similar symptoms, black seed oil after immunotherapy reduced symptoms and increased neutrophil.
Black Cumin may also help with breathing problems that are not caused directly by allergies. The vapour of boiled extract of the seed oil improved breathing and lung function, reducing the need for inhalers, in a study of 40 chemical war victims who had breathing difficulties.
Black Seed oil relaxed the airways in a tissue study (on guinea pig trachea), which can shed some light on its respiratory benefits.
2) Black Seed Can Protect the Heart
Daily use of black seed extract for 2 months lowered blood pressure in patients with mildly elevated blood pressure (diastolic BP 140-159 mmHg). The test group received either 100 mg or 200 mg of the extract 2 times per day. Aside from reducing blood pressure, the extract also lowered LDL cholesterol levels, helping to protect the heart. The oil also lowered blood pressure in 70 healthy volunteers after 2 months with no adverse effects. The treated group took 2.5 ml of black seed oil twice daily.
Overall, black seed seems to help lower blood pressure in only mild cases and may take 2 months to achieve its benefits.
Animal studies point to additional potential benefits of black seed for the heart. For example, black cumin seeds improved the recovery of damaged heart tissue in rats (in response to a heart surgery or post-heart attack treatment. Both exercise and black seed oil increased heart blood flow and new blood vessels in rats, potentially helping to prevent heart attacks.
Black seed can protect the heart not only by lowering blood pressure, but by also reducing blood lipids. This prevents the lipids from building up and hardening the arteries.
According to a review of clinical studies black seed supplementation helps lower:
The active ingredient in black cumin (thymoquinone) prevented the hardening of arteries from high cholesterol in rabbits. Even on a high cholesterol diet, the treated rabbits maintained normal blood lipid levels and blood vessels.
How It Works
Based on the available scientific evidence, black seed oil may protect the heart by:
Flushing excessive fluids from the body (diuretic)
Reducing the fight-or-flight (sympathetic) response
Increasing blood vessel-relaxing nitric oxide
Lowering blood lipids
Acting as an antioxidant
3) Black Seed May Help Diabetes
Black Seed is quite popular among traditional medicine practitioners for reducing diabetic symptoms, such as high blood sugar, as well as insulin resistance in type 2 diabetes.
Research does back up the benefits for diabetes but remember that sudden drops in blood sugar can be dangerous if you have diabetes. If you are already on diabetes medications, be sure to talk to your doctor before supplementing with black seed oil.
Several large analyses on thousands of people confirmed that black seed is a good option for keeping glucose levels in check, especially in people with type 2 diabetes. It helped lower both blood glucose and blood lipids, possibly with long-term benefits (by also reducing HBA1C).
Even in patients with type 2 diabetes on oral anti-diabetes drugs, black seed supplementation helped to reduce heart complications. In a study of 114 patients, black seed oil daily over one-year reduced lipids, blood pressure, and BMI.
In rats, black seed extract helped sensitize the muscles to insulin and activated energy balance pathways — both important for fighting type 2 diabetes.
4) Black Seed May Reduce Inflammation
Black seed (Thymoquinone) has promising anti-inflammatory properties and is good for both Th1 and Th2 dominance.
However, only several small studies confirmed that black seed oil can help with inflammatory conditions like arthritis. The anti-inflammatory effect can be attributed to the active ingredient, thymoquinone (based on animal studies).
Black seed essential oil reduced inflammation and pain in mice. It also reduced autoimmune brain inflammation in rats with Multiple Sclerosis.
It may reduce brain inflammation by blocking NF-κB , one of the most important factors that lead to inflammation. It reduces inflammation by preventing the immune cells from creating more nitric oxide, which is overly produced in inflammation and autoimmune diseases.
5) Black Seed Oil Is an Antioxidant
Black Seed acts on many antioxidant pathways (according to numerous animal and cell studies, increasing liver antioxidant enzymes, such as glutathione).
Protecting various tissues from oxidative injury, such as the stomach, liver, kidneys, and blood vessels.