Black seed is a type of plant and a relative of the buttercup family; the seed of which has been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years, particularly throughout ancient Egypt. In fact, the ancient Egyptians believed that black cumin seed oil was necessary to take with them to the afterlife! As with many such traditional medicines, modern science has more recently been able to test several of the potentially curative properties of the ingredient and in this case, the results have been very promising – though not without caveats.
Reportedly, the prophet Mohammed is quoted as saying that black cumin could cure ‘anything but death itself’. That’s a rather lofty claim and quite the testimonial, but while its benefits may not go quite that far, it certainly looks like a good addition to any health diet.
Specifically, black seed (also known as nigella sativa, black cumin or fennel flower) appears to have potential benefits for the immune system and may also be useful as a natural antihistamine. Interestingly, it may also reduce the likelihood of pregnancy.
The black cumin plant contains over 100 chemical compounds many of which haven’t yet been identified. Of those that we do know, some of the most potent ingredients include:
• Crystalline nigellone
• Beta sitosterol
• Myristic acid
• Palmitic acid
• Vitamin B1, B2 and B3
• Folic acid
A number of studies have found that black cumin seed oil can help to improve autoimmune disorders and potentially also combat cancer. In one particular study, it was found to be effective in reducing pancreatic cancer cells (1).
Another interesting potential benefit of black cumin seed oil is that it may help to calm the nervous system. This might make it useful for aiding recovery for athletes.
It has also been used for fighting colic pain, lowering blood pressure and treating pertussis. It is anti-parasitic and good for a number of skin conditions including eczema, acne and psoriasis.
Of all the ingredients, it is the crystalline nigellone that gets the most attention. This compound appears to inhibit the release of histamines in rats, which in turn can help to combat allergic reactions. This appears to work through the inhibition of protein kinase C (2). Black cumin is also an effective antioxidant and may help combat some respiratory problems.
Precautions and Warnings
All this sounds like good news for proponents of black cumin seed oil and it’s not uncommon to see articles with headlines such as ‘Black Cumin Seeds Better Than Drugs!’ in response to the study on pancreatic cancer cells.
But it’s important to note that these studies are so far very limited with small sample sizes or only looking at the effects on rats rather than humans. This is an important distinction as the benefits do not always carry over. Most researchers agree that there isn’t enough evidence yet to wholeheartedly recommend the use of black seed.
Another thing to keep in mind is that black cumin seed oil can also have a number of unwanted side effects. Some data supports the idea that it can actually prevent pregnancy, which is obviously off putting for any couples trying for a baby. It isn’t recommended for pregnant women either (due to its relaxant effect on smooth muscle tissue) and may cause stomach pains when consumed in large quantities. Those with low blood pressure may be at risk of hypotension and allergic reactions are also not uncommon.
Right now, black seed is an interesting ingredient to watch but not one that you should yet buy into unreservedly. As always, it’s wise to be wary of those with a ‘herbal remedy’ agenda to push and important to assess the science yourself.