The ancients described black seed as a “remedy for everything but death.” It has been used across epochs, with its roots in ancient Egypt, where it was found in Tutankhamen’s tomb. Commonly referred to simply as black seed, but also known as black cumin, black caraway, and onion seed, the tiny black seeds, derived from the annual flowering plant Nigella sativa, boast immense healing powers. Esteemed by Egyptian royalty, black seed has also been used in folk medicine in Europe and Asia, and has made appearances in the Bible and the writings of Hippocrates.
Within the ancient healing systems of the Persian Gulf, black seed was used to treat a host of illnesses. An article entitled “Nigella Sativa Seeds: Folklore Treatment in Modern Day Medicine” by Mohammad Tariq, published in The Saudi Journal of Gastroenterology, notes such illnesses include: “fever, cough, bronchitis, asthma, chronic headache, migraine, dizziness, chest congestion, dysmenorrhea, obesity, diabetes, paralysis, hemiplagia, back pain, infection, inflammation, rheumatism, hypertension, and gastrointestinal problems such as dyspepsia, flatulence, dysentery, and diarrhea.” Tariq also states that black seed “has been used as a stimulant, diuretic, emmenagogue, lactagogue, anthelmintic, and carminative” and that it “has also been used externally where it is applied directly to abscesses, nasal ulcers, orchitis, eczema, and swollen joints.”
Though revered by royalty and heralded by physicians in the ancient world, does black seed’s reputation stand up to empirical scrutiny? What does modern science have to say on the matter? Well, as it happens, quite a lot. Returning to Tariq’s research paper, he cities numerous studies that have identified black seed as having “analgesic, antilipemic, postcoital contraceptive, diuretic and antihypertensive, bronchodilator and calcium antagonist, histamine release inhibitor, hepatoprotective, anthelmintic, antifungal, antimicrobial (against a wide range of organisms), anticancer, and antiinflammatory activities.”
This arsenal of therapeutic effects makes black seed a mighty warrior on the battlefield against disease. Below is a list of some of black seed’s most impressive illness fighting capabilities and health benefits.
Black seed contains chemicals that have been proven to catalyze anticancer activity. A study conducted at the Natural Products Chemistry Laboratory in Lexington, Kentucky, found compounds within the seed (thymoquinone and dithymoquinone) to be toxic for several types of tumor cells. An essay published in the African Journal of Traditional, Complementary and Alternative Medicines documents black seed’s effectiveness against leukemia and cancers of the lung, kidney, liver, prostate, breast, cervix, and skin. Although the mechanisms behind such an anticancer role are not entirely clear, it is likely that the antioxidant compound within black seed known as thymoquinone (TQ) is the key.
Methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is an antibiotic resistant superbug that’s a persistent threat worldwide and is one of the most problematic pathogens encountered in hospitals and clinics. This bacteria is often carried on the skin and inside the nostrils and throat, potentially resulting in skin infections, boils, and impetigo. If the bacteria enters the body through a skin break, it can cause fatal conditions such as blood poisoning or endocarditis.
New antimicrobials are needed to combat this problem, and a compound found in black seed shows promise in this regard. A study conducted at the University of Health Sciences in Pakistan, found that black seed extract had an inhibitory effect on MRSA.
Assists Type 2 Diabetes
Diabetes mellitus is a common chronic disease that affects millions of people worldwide. According to researchers from King Faisal University in Saudi Arabia, “Standard treatment is failing to achieve required correction of blood glucose in many patients. Therefore, there is a need for investigating potential hypoglycemic drugs or herbs to improve hypoglycemic control in diabetic patients.”
The researchers tested black seed as an adjuvant therapy in patients with diabetes mellitus type 2. A total of 94 patients were divided randomly into three dose groups and medications containing black seed were administered in doses of 1, 2 and 3 grams a day for three months. The researchers found that two grams of black seed a day was the optimal dose, and that it resulted in reduced fasting glucose, increased beta-cell function, decreased insulin resistance, and reduced hemoglobin in humans.
Reduces Epileptic Seizures
Black seed has traditionally been utilized for its ability to reduce the severity and frequency of seizures. Various types of anti-epileptic drugs are widely available, yet 15 percent of childhood epilepsy cases remain resistant to conventional treatment. A double-blinded crossover clinical trial exploring the efficacy of black seed in reducing the frequency of seizures in childhood refractory epilepsy was performed at Mashad University of Medical Sciences in Iran. Patients were administered a water extract of black seed and a placebo for a period of four weeks and between these periods received their pre-existing anti-epileptic drugs for two weeks. The mean frequency of seizures was dramatically reduced during the treatment period when the black seed extract was used. The researchers concluded that the water extract of black seed has anti-epileptic effects in children with refractory seizures.
Asthma is a chronic lung disease that inflames and narrows the airways, resulting in chest tightness, shortness of breath, and coughing. Researchers at the Mashhad University of Medical Sciences in Iran conducted a study on the therapeutic effect of black seed in patients with asthma. They found that, with an onset of 30 minutes, the extract proved to provide a potent anti-asthmatic effect on asthmatic airways.
Reduces High Blood Pressure
A study conducted at Shahrekord University of Medical Sciences in Iran found that black seed extract lowered blood pressure in human patients suffering from hypertension, a lifestyle-related disease that is found in a third of all people over the age of 20 in the U.S. alone. Two test groups received 100 and 200 mg doses of black seed extract twice a day. After a period of 8 weeks, systolic blood pressure value in both groups was found to be dramatically reduced when the results were compared to the baseline values. Diastolic blood pressure values were also found to be significantly reduced within the test groups. The results of the study suggest that the daily use of black seed extract for a period of two months might be beneficial for those suffering from mild hypertension. The authors also note that no health complications were caused by the use of the black seed extract.
Black seed has revealed itself to posses critical potential in the treatment of opioid addiction in a study summarized by a paper titled, “A new and novel treatment of opioid dependence: Nigella sativa 500mg.” The study gathered 35 opiate addicts and aimed to show that black seed was a viable non opiate treatment for withdrawal. The results showed that the black seed “non opioid treatment for opioid addiction decreases the withdrawal effects significantly.” The authors concluded that: “Nigella sativa is effective in long-term treatment of opioid dependence. It not merely cures the opioid dependence but also cures the infections and weakness from which majority of addicts suffer.”
Prevents Radiation Damage
Long-term exposure to low doses of ionizing radiation can increase the risk of death from cancers. This is especially troubling for those undergoing radiation therapy to reduce the size of tumors. A group of researchers from the Department of Radiation Oncology at Gaziantep University Medical School in Turkey therefore investigated whether black seed might mitigate such damage in patients receiving radiotherapy. They published their finding in a paper entitled, “Radiation-modifying abilities of Nigella sativa and thymoquinone on radiation-induced nitrosative stress in the brain tissue.” The results of their study, which was conducted on rats, showed black seed oil and its active constituent thymoquinone “clearly protected brain tissue from radiation-induced nitrosative stress.”
Psoriasis is a skin condition that causes cells to rapidly build up on the surface of the skin, resulting in itchy, dry red patches which have a scaly appearance. Black seed has traditionally been used to topically treat this, with its anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antifungal properties having a calming effect on such dermal eruptions. A study performed at JSS College of Pharmacy in India evaluated the antipsoriatic affect of an ethanolic extract of black seed. The researchers noted that the results were consistent with black seed’s traditional use and that the results showed the extract was effective at treating the condition when compared to a control group.
How To Take Black Seed
Black seed make a great decorative and healthy addition to many different types of bread and cakes, such as naan and muffins. They also serve as an additional superfood when sprinkled over salads. Its nut-like, peppery taste can also make a great addition to many different types of curries and stews.
A popular and easy way to ensure a regular and large intake of black seed is by ingesting the cold pressed oil. One teaspoon per day, preferably mixed with a teaspoon of raw honey, is the recommended dose.