History of medicine
Origian black cumin (Carum bulbocastanum) is rarely available, so N. sativa is widely used instead; in India, Carum carvi is the substitute. Cumins are from Apiaceae or Umbelliferae (both names are allowed by the ICBN) family, but N. sativa is from Ranunculaceae family. Black cumin (not N. sativa) seeds come as paired or separate carpels, and are 3-4mm long. They have a striped pattern of nine ridges and oil canals, and are fragrant (Ayurveda says, "Kaala jaaji sugandhaa cha" (black cumin seed is fragrant itself), blackish in colour, boat-shaped, and tapering at each extremity, with tiny stalks attached; it has been used for medicinal purposes for centuries, both as a herb and pressed into oil, in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. It has been traditionally used for a variety of conditions and treatments related to respiratory health, stomach and intestinal health, kidney and liver function, circulatory and immune system support, as analgesic, anti-inflammatory, antiallergic, antioxidants, anticancer, antiviral and for general well-being.
In Islam, it is regarded as one of the greatest forms of healing medicine available. In the Unani Tibb system of medicine, black cumin is regarded as a valuable remedy for a number of diseases. Sayings of Mohammed clearly underline the significance of Nigella sativa. According to a hadith narrated by Abu Hurerah, he says, "I have heard Hazrat Muhammad saying that the black granules (kalonji) is the remedy for all diseases except death."
The seeds have been traditionally used in the Middle East and Southeast Asian countries to treat ailments including asthma, bronchitis, rheumatism and related inflammatory diseases, to increase milk production in nursing mothers, to promote digestion and to fight parasitic infections. Its oil has been used to treat skin conditions, such as eczema and boils, and to treat cold symptoms. Many researchers have recently also studied its reaction towards cancer, and it is said to have many anticancer properties. Its many uses have earned black cumin seed the Arabic approbation Habbatul barakah, meaning the "seed of blessing".
Nigella sativa oil (not black cumin seed oil) contains nigellone, which protects guinea pigs from histamine-induced bronchial spasms (perhaps explaining its use to relieve the symptoms of asthma, bronchitis, and coughing).
The presence of an antitumor sterol, beta-sitosterol, lends credence to its traditional use to treat abscesses and tumors of the abdomen, eyes, and liver.
N. sativa oil has been reported to be effective in treating opioid dependence.
N. sativa also has been reported to reduce calculi formation in rats' kidneys.
The oil contains melanthin, nigilline, damascene and tannin. Melanthin is toxic in large doses and nigelline is paralytic, so this spice must be used in moderation.
Thymoquinone and pancreatic cancer treatment
Researchers at the Kimmel Cancer Center at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia have found that thymoquinone, an extract of N. sativa seed oil, blocked pancreatic cancer cell growth and killed the cells by enhancing the process of programmed cell death, (apoptosis). While the studies are in the early stages, the findings suggest thymoquinone could eventually have some use as a preventative strategy in patients who have gone through surgery and chemotherapy or in individuals who are at a high risk of developing cancer.
Nigella sativa has a pungent bitter taste and smell. It is used primarily in confectionery and liquors. Peshawari naan is, as a rule, topped with kalonji seeds.
According to Zohary and Hopf, archeological evidence about the earliest cultivation of N. sativa "is still scanty", but they report supposed N. sativa seeds have been found in several sites from ancient Egypt, including Tutankhamun's tomb. Although its exact role in Egyptian culture is unknown, it is known that items entombed with a pharaoh were carefully selected to assist him in the afterlife.
The earliest written reference to N. sativa is thought to be in the book of Isaiah in the Old Testament, where the reaping of nigella and wheat is contrasted (Isaiah 28: 25, 27). Easton's Bible dictionary states the Hebrew word ketsah refers to N. sativa without doubt (although not all translations are in agreement). According to Zohary and Hopf, N. sativa was another traditional condiment of the Old World during classical times; and its black seeds were extensively used to flavor food.
Nigella sativa is an annual flowering plant, native to south and southwest Asia. It grows to 20–30 cm (7.9–12 in) tall, with finely divided, linear (but not thread-like) leaves. The flowers are delicate, and usually coloured pale blue and white, with five to ten petals. The fruit is a large and inflated capsule composed of three to seven united follicles, each containing numerous seeds. The seed is used as a spice.