Not to be confused with the seeds of Carum carvi (caraway) or Bunium persicum or Nigella sativa, both of which are erroneously referred to as black cumin, an herb used in traditional Chinese medicine.
Cumin is a member of the parsley family and a staple in Indian and Mexican cuisines. It is native to Turkistan and northern Egypt, now cultivated throughout the Mediterranean, Iran, Pakistan, China, South America and the U.S.
In traditional herbal medicine, cumin is used as a diuretic to stimulate increased urine output and as a carminative to treat gastrointestinal complaints, such as upset stomach, bloating, gas and diarrhea. It is also used in holistic veterinary medicine to address colic. In Ayurveda, the traditional system of healing in India, cumin is used to treat bladder and kidney stones, leprosy and eye diseases. Cumin contains several active compounds that lend the herb medicinal properties. The presence of fatty oils produce antimicrobial and analgesic effects. Extracts of cumin ether have been found to inhibit platelet aggregation in human plasma in vitro (in cultured cell samples).
Studies have shown that cumin may reduce the risk of developing liver or stomach cancer. The seeds, which are a rich source of iron, appear to stimulate metabolism by increasing the secretion of pancreatic enzymes. However, people with a history of peptic ulcers, gallstones or bile duct obstruction should avoid or limit the consumption of cumin.
Cumin seeds were traditional wedding fare in ancient Greece and Rome because the herb was believed to promote fertility and fidelity. Warriors were fortified with loaves of cumin seed bread while they prepared for battle.
Cumin is antimicrobial, diuretic, carminative, analgesic, stimulating to the metabolism and influences blood clotting. An acetone extract of cumin was found to exert estrogenic effects in female albino rats that had their ovaries removed, resulting in an increase in uterus weight.
Volatile oils (up to 5%): cuminaldehyde, gamma-terpenes, beta-pinenes, p-cymene
Fatty oils (up to 15%): palmitic acid, petroselic acid
Proteic substances (up to 20%)
Used internally and topically, in ground form or pressed oil. The seeds are used in cooking.
There are no significant health risks recorded. However, because this herb may increase pancreatic function, consult a health care practitioner before using if you have ever had stomach ulcers, gallstones or a blocked bile duct.