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Black Cumin: An Ancient Remedy Revisited

by Karyn Maier

Black cumin (Nigella sativa) is a member of the buttercup family that produces edible flowers and seeds that lend a smokey, pungent flavor to Middle Eastern dishes that has been described as a cross between oregano and toasted onion. The seed, harvested as a spice, is known by several common names -- black caraway, Seed of Blessing, Love in a Mist, kalanji or simply nigella. The seeds have also earned a place in global traditional healing systems for many centuries and interest modern scientists for their pharmacological actions of a wide range that includes anti-inflammatory, bronchodilator, neuroprotective and antioxidant properties.

The seeds contain up to 40% volatile oils that carry a number of active compounds, most notably carvacrol, linoleic acid, α-pinene and thymoquinone. The latter compound is thought to be responsible for the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory actions of black cumin by inhibiting lipid peroxidation and damage caused by free radicals. In fact, studies based on animal models indicate that black cumin may be a potential conjunctive therapy for several conditions, such as asthma, type 2 diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis. Thymoquinone also appears to slow the progression of tumor formation by inhibiting the expression of genes associated with certain cancers, while reducing the adverse effects of chemotherapy drugs.

Studies have also shown that black cumin compounds, especially thymoquinone, reduce blood pressure and LDL cholesterol while increasing HDL cholesterol. One study involving 37 menopausal women with high cholesterol found that the daily consumption of a single gram of powdered black cumin seed lowered LDL cholesterol by 27% after 8 weeks, a result comparable to treatment with statin drugs.


Discover Magazine: Could This Millennia-Old Remedy Become a Pharmaceutical Marvel?

Ramlah Mohamad Ibrahim et al; A randomised controlled trial on hypolipidemic effects of Nigella Sativa seeds powder in menopausal women; J Transl Med. 2014; 12: 82.

Aftab Ahmad et al; A review on therapeutic potential of Nigella sativa: A miracle herb; Asian Pac J Trop Biomed. 2013 May; 3(5): 337–352.


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