For over two thousand years a little known black seed has been used as a culinary delight as well as an herbal remedy for just about every disease. The ancient Egyptians knew this panacea well. Legend has it that King Tutankamun insisted on having the seeds placed in his tomb, to guide him into the after-life. Early Romans referred to this miracle seed as ‘Greek Coriander’. Hippocrates referred to it for digestive and liver disorders. In ‘The Canon of Medicine’, Ibn Sina alluded to it as ‘the seed that stimulates the body’s energy and helps in recovery from fatigue’. Which seed were all these traditional healers referring to? It has been called by confusing names like ‘onion seed’ or ‘black cumin’. In reality, this wondrous black seed is Nigella sativa – in Arabic it was called Habbat-ul-Baraka (meaning, ‘blessed seed’ or ‘seed of healing’). Not only is it a tasty condiment (in food), it has also been traditionally used for building immunity and for treating a wide array of disorders that affect virtually every system of the body – like respiratory, digestive, circulatory and skin. It is thus easy to understand how, over time, the Nigella seed gained repute as a hypertensive, liver tonic, diuretic, digestive, anti-diarrhoeal, analgesic and an anti-bacterial. In recent years there has been a huge revival of interest in Nigella seeds. A series of studies and reports have led to a better appreciation of this ancient seed as a natural immune-boosting antioxidant as well as an anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-fungal, anti-tumour, anti-histaminic and anti-ulcer agent. All this is in addition to its traditional use – of treating digestive tract issues such as flatulence (gas), colic, diarrhoea, dysentery, constipation and haemorrhoids. The most promising evidence appears to favour the usage of these seeds for the reduction of allergy symptoms, especially for respiratory conditions such as asthma, allergies, bronchitis, flu and congestion. It also appears this seed may help protect the kidneys and increase insulin sensitivity – thus helping in the fight against diabetes. It may also have a role in lowering blood pressure and cholesterol levels and in managing cancer.
Tip of the Week
For culinary usage, Nigella seeds are readily available in most grocery stores. It is best to select uniform sized, jet-black seeds. If purchasing a packaged container, the antecedents of the brand as well as ‘Use By’ dates should always be checked. For therapeutic use, as appropriate, Nigella oil from a reputed manufacturer may be accessed on the advice of a Natural Healthcare Practitioner.
Nature’s Wonder Food(s) of the Week: Black Seeds or Nigella sativa
Traditionally used as a spice as well as for its medicinal functions, Nigella is also known by several local names - such as Kalonji, Black Onion Seed, Black Cumin or Fennel Flower. In South Asian and Middle Eastern cuisine, Nigella seeds are most commonly used as a garnishing on traditional flatbread (‘naan’) and in curries, stews, soups and dals. In Bengali cuisine, it is an essential ingredient in an important mix of five spices called ‘panch phoran’ or ‘panch puran’. The ‘cognizanti’ appreciate these little black seeds for their nut-like, somewhat peppery taste – especially when roasted. Black Nigella seeds mixed with honey and garlic are excellent as a general health tonic, for people with asthma or coughs, as well as those who want to enhance their immunity during the cold and flu season. A teaspoon of Nigella seed oil can be mixed into coffee; though, for managing diarrhoea, it is best mixed with yoghurt. As a herbal supplement, Nigella is finding top rankings due to the presence of thymoquinone, which is a major bioactive component of the oil.
Nigella sativa is non-toxic and generally safe. Some people have experienced adverse reactions when applying the seed oil directly to their skin. As with any supplement, physician advice should be sought to check for interaction with certain pharmaceutical drugs.
For Education purposes only; always consult a Healthcare Practitioner for medical conditions